North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company

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NC Mutual
North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company
North Carolina Mutual and Provident Association
FoundedDurham, North Carolina (August 22, 1898 (1898-08-22))
FounderJohn C. Merrick
United States
Area served
United States
Key people
Michael L. Lawrence (President) & (CEO)
ServicesInsurance & Finance
Total assets
  • Steady US$162 million
  • US$162 million
Total equity
  • Steady US$14.3 billion
  • US$14.3 billion
SubsidiariesNorth Carolina Mutual Insurance Agency

NC Mutual (originally the North Carolina Mutual and Provident Association and later North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company)[1][2] is an American life insurance company located in downtown Durham, North Carolina and one of the most influential African-American businesses in United States history. Founded in 1898 by local black social leaders, its business increased from less than a thousand dollars in income in 1899 to a quarter of a million dollars in 1910.[3] The company specialized in "industrial insurance," which was basically burial insurance. The company hired salesmen whose main job was to collect small payments (of about 10 cents) to cover the insured person for the next week. If the person died while insured, the company immediately paid benefits of about 100 dollars. This covered the cost of a suitable funeral, which was a high prestige item in the black community.[4] It began operations in the new tobacco manufacturing city of Durham, North Carolina, and moved north into Virginia and Maryland, then to major northern black urban centers, and then to the rest of the urban South.

For much of the 20th century it was the largest company run by African Americans, and it is the largest and oldest African American life insurance company in the United States to this day.[5]

In fact, the company came to be known as the world's largest African American business in only its first few years and is claimed by its home city of Durham as an important landmark. In the late 1800s and throughout the 1900s, Durham was known as "The Black Wall Street of America."[6] for the progress that African Americans were making within the town. The company's founders, thought to be inspired by North Carolina business tycoon Washington Duke, included John Merrick and Aaron McDuffie Moore, two particularly influential men in Durham's history. North Carolina Mutual and its prosperity brought many good things to Durham's black community, and its founders and organizers were important contributors to social and economic progress in the city and particularly in its African American community.

Downtown Durham view showing the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company Headquarters. In 1965 the N.C. Mutual Life Insurance building became the tallest office building owned by African Americans in the United States. In 2006 the N.C. Mutual Life Insurance Co. building sold to a developer for only $11.4 million. N.C. Mutual remains in the building as a tenant under a long-term lease agreement.


"Black Wall Street" historic marker in Durham, NC

North Carolina Mutual was the brainchild of black entrepreneur John C. Merrick[7][8] in the late 1800s. Merrick was born into slavery as the son of a white man and a former slave in 1859. He grew up in Raleigh and Chapel Hill, two cities near Durham, and he learned various skills such as bricklaying and barbering during his youth. He moved to Durham in 1880 and opened his own barber shop in 1882.[9] His hair-cutting business grew to include several stores, three for whites and two for blacks; the barbers were all black. Merrick himself cut hair for many people. The biggest influence came after John Merrick, along with four other partners, bought the Royal Knights of King David. The society was "a semi-religious fraternal and beneficial society for health and life insurance." In buying it, Merrick learned about insurance and how to relate the insurance business to African Americans.[10]

Merrick knew that blacks had short life expectancies and that they generally had poor health, largely due to their low income. These things made the idea of starting an insurance business for African Americans a very risky one, because many people would be expected to die before they could contribute to the success of the business. However they were also the reasons African Americans needed life insurance to begin with. Industrial insurance had the advantage of a premium collected every week that provided coverage for the following week. There was minimal need for tracking the changes of address of the customers.

Merrick decided that the opportunity to help blacks outweighed the risk, and he joined with investors Aaron Moore, William Gaston Pearson, Watson, Shepard, Johnson, and Dawkins to found the North Carolina Mutual and Provident Society in 1898. In the first year, there was a terrible lack of business, and the company lost money overall. Because of this, many investors left North Carolina Mutual, and by the time the company was reorganized in 1900, only Merrick, Moore, and Moore's young nephew Charles Clinton Spaulding remained. Spaulding was appointed General Manager with Merrick serving as President and Moore as his only other principal. Under this leadership, the growth of the company began.


John Merrick was the first president of N. C. Mutual, and he served as such from the company's founding until his death in 1919.

After Merrick's death, Dr. Aaron McDuffie Moore[11] became president of the company. He was the first African American in Durham to practice medicine. After becoming president of N. C. Mutual, he devoted his full-time to the company until he died in 1923.

When Moore died, Charles Clinton Spaulding took over as president. Spaulding served on the board of trustees at Howard University beginning in 1936. he was active in the National Negro Insurance Association and the National Negro Bankers Association in the early 1900s and was one of few African American members of the New York Chamber of Commerce beginning in 1942. He also served on boards of trustees at Shaw University and North Carolina College. He was awarded the Harmon Foundation Gold medal for distinguished achievement in business, and he received honorary Law doctorates from Shaw University, Tuskegee University, and Atlanta University.[12]

One of the company's famous leaders, Chuck Watts is now a city attorney for Greensboro City used to be a senior vice president and general counsel.[13]

North Carolina Mutual and Durham[edit]

N. C. Mutual has had long-lasting impacts on the Durham society and the way people view Durham. Durham, North Carolina was known in the 1800s to have been a highly segregated city, much like many others in the South at that time. However, by 1900, it had begun to emerge as a rather progressive area by the region's standards. Even though there was a clear, unspoken line between "White Durham" and "Black Durham" that kept the city segregated, African American progress in the city was evident, and N. C. Mutual was an important part of Durham's progress. The business that the company brought to its owners and workers was impressive and impactful.

Because the business was "owned and operated by and for Negroes," it offered the black people of Durham many new job opportunities as it grew. Primarily, it offered much-needed life insurance to the black community of Durham, and it gave them a business on which they could rely and place their trust. The people of Durham took just as much pride in the "multi-million dollar enterprise" that was N. C. Mutual as they did in the progressive nature of their city. As the company grew, it came to be a symbol of African American success and the success of Durham as a whole.

Visits to Durham from Black leaders[edit]

Durham became a national magnet for prominent black leaders, who celebrated the city as a model of racial pride. The city attracted the attention of famous visitors who gave positive reviews of the city that were based on the N. C. Mutual business. Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois, two of the most important black leaders in the 1900s visited Durham County on separate occasions and made comments about the state of the city and its black community.

Booker T. Washington was an advocate for avoiding confrontation with racist whites and instead emphasized long-term educational and economic advancement in the black community. He claimed after his visit that Durham "was the city of cities to look for prosperity of the Negroes and the greatest amount of friendly feeling between the two races of the South."[14] Black entrepreneurs such as Merrick and Moore had not simply enjoyed the fruits of their efforts for themselves, but instead had spread it among all of Durham's people. Even the impoverished in Durham had living conditions surpassing those of the poor black communities in the larger southern cities at the time. Washington, who had expected to find the poorer blacks of Durham to be in shoddy state, notes in his writing that he "drove through their section of the city, observing closely their houses inside and out," and goes on to explain that the neighborhood was in such good state that he "almost doubted [his] eyes." This poorer class of blacks, which Washington describes as the class upon which "the real estimate of [African Americans] is generally formed," was thriving in Durham and gave off a "general healthy appearance." The reason for this was the care of prominent black leaders in the city and the relations between white and black people in the area, both of which were pillars in the formation and mission of North Carolina Mutual.

W.E.B. Du Bois had a different approach, supporting agitation to demand full civil rights for blacks—yet he also celebrated Durham. Reflecting on his visit to Durham, he notes that the "social and economic development [of African American people in the city] is perhaps more striking than that of any similar group in the nation." He goes on to mention the actions of C. C. Spaulding, then general manager of N. C. Mutual, who took children from a school to town "to show them what colored People were doing in Durham." He saw Spaulding's action as an abnormal display of care within the African American community. Du Bois praised the success of North Carolina Mutual and commends the company for avoiding common pitfalls. He specifically attributed the success of Durham as a whole to the drive of Merrick, Moore, and Spaulding. Du Bois believed that their ingenuity in the formation of N. C. Mutual was the beginning and cornerstone of "the economic building of black Durham" for which the city came to be known.

The Company as a symbol[edit]

The N. C. Mutual Life Insurance business came to represent a major divergence from the militant strategy of W. E. B. Du Bois. It mirrored the tendency of the blacks in Durham to follow the gradualist plan of Booker T. Washington. N. C. Mutual was founded to bring about "racial self-help and uplift," which are mentioned on the company's website as "traditions of the Company dating back to its founding." Its goal was to help them overcome the differences of a segregated society through economic pursuits. The company generated massive revenue for black Durham without the involvement of whites. That revenue was then used to better the situation of blacks throughout the community. This process all but embodied Washington's ideals to win equality financially and economically before anything else.

The company came to symbolize the ideals of African American self-help that it stood for from the beginning. One newspaper covering the company's 50th anniversary remarks that it "has fully justified the hopes, anticipations and desires of the founders." It goes on to say that the firm has become a great "enterprise that is the property of the policyholders themselves."[15] The company was not built to spite white people in Durham or for fear of them. Instead, it was built alongside white businesses for the purpose of helping blacks in the community. Du Bois commented himself on the value of "the active friendship of the Duke family, General Julian Carr, and [other influential white people]." He went on to mention "the disposition of white citizens of Durham to say: 'Hands off – give them a chance – don't interfere.'" This disposition is what he believed to be one of the great contributors to Durham success.

The Company Today[edit]

Today, North Carolina Mutual Life Company still stands and operates in Durham. It currently services as clients all across the world through partnerships and offices in many states. The company has total assets of $162 million, with net life insurance of $14.3 billion. North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance now provides many different life insurance products. These include whole and term life, hospital indemnity plans, and pre-need insurance. The company has also introduced medical and dental benefits packages for employer groups. It is licensed to do business in 24 states as well as Washington D. C. and has an alliance with Minnesota Life. It has launched a full service Insurance Agency (the North Carolina Mutual Insurance Agency) offering annuities, disability income, and universal life. The company has had ten presidents in its history, and is currently under the leadership of Michael L. Lawrence.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bloomberg Businessweek “Company Overview of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company”
  2. ^ "N.C. Mutual rebrands as it attempts to secure its longevity". News & Observer. 2017-03-22.
  3. ^ W. E. B. Du Bois, "The Upbuilding of Black Durham," The World's Work, January, 1912, 335. (primary 1)
  4. ^ Charles Richmond Henderson, "Industrial Insurance. VI. Private Insurance Companies," American Journal of Sociology in JSTOR
  5. ^ North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance: About Us, “North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance: About Us”, Accessed November 2013
  6. ^ Walter B. Weare, "Black Business in the New South: A Social History of the NC Mutual Life Insurance Company," Durham: Duke University Press, 1993.
  7. ^ Margaret Peters, "The Ebony Book of Black Achievement", Johnson Publishing Company, Inc., 1974, 112.
  8. ^ Bihm, Jennifer. (2014-02-06) “Business in Black History: North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance” Los Angeles Sentinel
  9. ^ "Meet the Founder of the Oldest and Largest Black-Owned Life Insurance Company". Black History. Retrieved 29 April 2020.
  10. ^ Jean Bradley Anderson, "Durham County: A History of Durham County, North Carolina", Durham: Duke University Press, 2011, 188.
  11. ^ North Carolina History Project “Aaron McDuffie Moore (1863-1923)”
  12. ^ Documenting the American South “C. C. Spaulding (Charles Clinton), 1874-1952” University Library at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  13. ^ "Council Hires Chuck Watts As City Attorney". The Rhino Times of Greensboro. 2019-05-23. Retrieved 2020-04-23.
  14. ^ Booker T. Washington, "Durham, North Carolina, a City of Negro Enterprises," The Independent, Mar 30, 1911, 71.
  15. ^ (1949-04-02). "N. C. Mutual Marks 50th Anniversary," Philadelphia Tribune

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