Where the government failed to provide much-needed services for African Americans, Durham’s black business leaders helped bridge the gap. They invested resources into upbuilding community institutions like schools, hospitals, and libraries. The needed capital came from their business profits, their personal earnings, and their relationships with wealthy whites.
Women connected to black financial institutions as staff members and family members of company leaders led community uplift programs through civic clubs like this one from 1911.
Courtesy Andre D. Vann
We find that contributions, however small the amount, to Negro churches, colleges, and orphanages do more good than a much larger sum spent in newspaper advertising.
NC Mutual President C.C. Spaulding (left) with Reverend Miles Mark Fisher (second from right) and Ada Virginia Fisher (right) at White Rock Baptist Church, ca. 1940. The company and the church were deeply intertwined.
While he was president of NC Mutual, William J. Kennedy (pictured here, second from right), along with President John H. Wheeler of Mechanics and Farmers Bank and other black business leaders, directed the John Avery Boys Club.
Courtesy The William Jesse Kennedy Papers, The Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
On the steps of Stanford L. Warren Library, ca. 1940. NC Mutual and Mechanics and Farmers Bank co-founder, Dr. Aaron M. Moore, started Durham’s black library in the basement of White Rock Baptist Church and NC Mutual contributed a loan for the new building.
Courtesy Durham Historic Photographic Archives, North Carolina Collection, Durham County Library and the Durham Business and Professional Chain
Durham’s black business leaders contributed to the financing of black schools across North Carolina. This letter is from the founder of The Palmer Memorial Institute, a nationally recognized preparatory school outside of Greensboro, NC.
During the Great Depression and beyond, black financial institutions helped organize clubs like this one in Durham’s East End neighborhood to promote savings among young people.
Courtesy North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University, and North Carolina Central University
North Carolina College for Negroes, ca. 1920. One of NC Mutual’s founders, James E. Shepard, organized and became the founding president of what is today North Carolina Central University, the first state-supported liberal arts college for African Americans in the South.
Courtesy Durham Historic Photographic Archives, North Carolina Collection, Durham County Library
The stresses and dangers facing African Americans due to structural racism meant that their life expectancy by 1920 was ten years less than that for whites. NC Mutual started its own medical department, headed by Dr. Clyde Donnell (right), to care for policyholders like Ms. Cooke (left) and increase its bottom line.