Aaron McDuffie Moore (1863-1923)

Written By Jessica Lee Thompson

Born on September 6, 1863 to free yeoman farmer parents, Aaron McDuffie Moore used educational opportunities to improve his social condition and to better his community. As a child, Moore worked on his parents’ farm and attended the county school when it was open. Moore later attended normal schools in Lumberton and Fayetteville, where he was trained to teach in black public schools. After teaching high school for several years, Moore enrolled in one of the nation’s first black medical schools, Leonard Medical School at Shaw University. In 1888, Moore graduated from Leonard Medical School and became the first black physician in Durham.

Although Moore was interested in politics, he chose to pursue “the quiet exercise of franchise” instead of challenging the racially charged political arena. Moore was one of the seven organizers that started North Carolina Mutual Life in 1898, which grew to become the world’s largest black insurance company. From that point forward, according to Historian Walter B. Weare, “he participated in virtually every business venture begun in Durham.”

In the late 1890s, George Watts considered adding a black wing to the Watts Hospital. Dr. Moore convinced Watts that the black community would be better served by a freestanding black hospital in which black physicians could treat their patients. With the help of John Merrick, Moore persuaded Washington Duke to contribute funds to the hospital, instead of funding a monument at Trinity College to honor African Americans civil war veterans. Moore founded the Lincoln Hospital in 1901. The hospital was critical to the health of the black community in Durham; its nursing school helped contain the influenza epidemic in the early 1900s.

In 1908, there were no centrally located drug stores for the African American community in Durham.  To increase healthcare accessibility, Dr. Moore and five other men founded the Bull City Drug Company. The first Bull City Drug store opened on the North Carolina Mutual Block, and later a second store opened in Hayti, the African American neighborhood in Durham.

Concerned with the educational opportunities available for black children, Moore started a library at the White Rock Baptist Church around 1913 to supplement black children’s education. However, the location of the library prevented some blacks from using the library due to denominational divides that existed in Durham. When John Merrick erected a rental building on Fayetteville Street, Moore proposed housing an expanded library there to serve all the black children of Durham. After a year, generous donations from Durham’s black and white citizens enabled the library to become a permanent institution. Moore was named chairman of the library’s Board of Trustees, and C. C. Spaulding (Moore’s nephew and business partner at NC Mutual Life) served as the secretary.

In addition to his financial support for the North Carolina College for Blacks in Durham (now known as North Carolina Central) and rural schools for blacks children, Moore submersed himself in their activities and took personal responsibility for the success of their endeavors. For example, the first rural school inspector of North Carolina’s salary was paid for completely by Dr. Moore. After the first year, Moore worked with the Tuskegee Institute to campaign for the funds required to obtain the Rosenwald matching grant that paid the inspector.