During the nadir of race relations in the United States, African Americans had difficulty finding affordable life insurance. African American fraternal orders, such as the Grand United Order of the True Reformers and the Royal Knights of King David, assisted disadvantaged African Americans and provided services to African American communities that might have otherwise been ignored. Inspired by fraternal solutions to societal problems, seven black community leaders started an African American insurance company.
Today, North Carolina Mutual Life (NCML) is the oldest and largest African American life insurance company in the nation. It began in 1898, with the name North Carolina Mutual and Provident Association, and the Durham-based company started doing business in 1899 to relieve “the distress of Negroes.” A local barbershop owner, John Merrick, served as the first president. According to historian Loren Schweninger, the association was “primarily responsible for the expansion of the property-holding [blacks] in the area.” Property holdings in the city soon surpassed population growth. In a few decades, writes historian Jeffrey Crow, NCML became the “largest black-owned business in the United States” and later influenced the establishment of similar entrepreneurial endeavors, including the Mechanics and Farmers Bank.
In 1919, the company changed its name to NCML and continued supporting various community projects and charities. It helped financially the YWCA and White Rock Baptist Church—to name only two examples. In a century, the firm has had nine presidents, including Asa T. Spaulding who played an integral yet behind-the-scenes-role in the Civil Rights Movement.
Jeffrey J. Crow, Paul D. Escott, and Flora J. Hatley, A History of African Americans in North Carolina (Raleigh, reprint, 2002); North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, “About Us,” http://www.ncmutuallife.com/about.aspx (accessed September 4, 2008); William S. Powell, Encyclopedia of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, 2006); Loren Schweninger, Black Property Owners in the South, 1790-1815 (Urbana, IL, 1990).