For African Americans in Durham and beyond, investing in a black-owned company meant investing in the wealth of their community.
Black financial institutions grew out of a tradition of mutual aid. After emancipation, freed people came together to pool their resources.
The North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company’s founders, including Dr. Aaron M. Moore (left), John Merrick (center), and C.C. Spaulding (right), invested in real estate and government bonds. When NC Mutual struggled early on, its founders’ earnings from real estate and rentals bailed out the company.
Courtesy Durham Historic Photographic Archives, North Carolina Collection, Durham County Library
The first black-owned life insurance companies like NC Mutual and banks like Durham’s Mechanics and Farmers started small, issuing policies and loans to African Americans turned away by large, white-owned companies. They grew based on savvy investments, outside support, and community participation.
Durham hosted the largest chapter of the NNBL.
Letter from W. E. B. Du Bois to the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, May 16, 1928.
Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries
Some of Durham’s white tobacco magnates like the Duke family invested financially in NC Mutual’s success. The Dukes owned the Bull Durham brand, advertised here on Broadway in New York City, ca. 1920.
Courtesy Photographer unknown / Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.941.
Durham’s white tobacco magnates like the Duke family invested financially in the North Carolina Mutual’s success. The Dukes owned the American Tobacco Company, shown here ca. 1940.
Courtesy Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
White-owned and tobacco company-funded Fidelity Bank financed the downtown buildings that served as the home to NC Mutual and Mechanics and Farmers Bank. They also provided helpful connections to Durham’s black entrepreneurs.
WJ Kennedy Papers, Box 4, Folder #50, 1902-1932, UNC
Members of the growing NC Mutual office staff, 1909. Durham’s black financial institutions created jobs for educated African Americans and grew the black middle class.
Courtesy North Carolina Mutual female office employees in 1909, C.C. Spaulding Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University
Black financial institutions reinvested their wealth into providing the capital needed to launch other black companies. NC Mutual President C.C. Spaulding (front row, fifth from right) affirmed that Durham’s “Mechanics and Farmers Bank can always turn for support to the Race’s financial bulwark, the North Carolina Mutual.”
Courtesy North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University, and North Carolina Central University.
New York Life Insurance (far left) and Metropolitan Life Insurance (far right) company headquarters, 1909. By 1900, two years after the founding of NC Mutual, white-owned US insurance giants had created wealth for generations of white families. In its beginnings, New York Life sold 508 policies covering enslaved people as property.
Courtesy Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) for Federal Art Project / Museum of the City of New York. 18.104.22.168
Advertisement for Prudential Insurance Company, ca. 1880. In 1896, two years before the founding of NC Mutual, Prudential published a racist study about why African Americans were insurance risks and should be refused coverage.
Courtesy Brett Lithographing Co. / Museum of the City of New York. 43.234.39.
The leadership of early black financial institutions, including NC Mutual, came from post-war black fraternal societies like the United Order of True Reformers. Notice how members of this True Reformers chapter in Oxford, North Carolina pooled their resources as mutual aid.
Courtesy William Jesse Kennedy Papers. The Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Image of the first Black-owned bank in Richmond via the True Reformers, VA Historical Society
Blackwell Bank of Durham Note, 1886
Calendar/advertisement for insurance, 1914, NC Mutual Collection
The Mortgage Company of Durham advertised itself as part of a wheel of interconnected black businesses, ca. 1930.
From its beginnings, Mechanics and Farmers Bank and its employees, pictured here, set out to provide loans and financial services to farmers and workers, not just the middle class. It supported black entrepreneurship through lending, money that stayed in the black community.
Courtesy Andre D. Vann