Capital, courage, connection. The NC Mutual and its sister financial institutions were part of a community that supported generations of Durham’s black entrepreneurs during and after Jim Crow.
Today, the NC Mutual is on the brink. The State of North Carolina has taken it over. It can no longer issue new insurance policies. There were fifty black insurance companies in the US in the 1980s. NC Mutual is now one of just two black-owned insurance companies left in the country, and black banks are also under threat.
The greatest entrepreneurial activity demonstrated by Negro businessmen has been in the field of finance.
Businesses on Fayetteville Street in Hayti, next to St. Joseph’s A.M.E. Church, ca. 1950. The City of Durham tore down this block during Urban Renewal.
Courtesy Durham Herald Co. Newspaper Photograph Collection, Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Before NC Mutual experienced trouble, smaller black businesses in Durham began to close. Many were unable to compete with white-owned companies after desegregation. In Hayti, the City of Durham’s Urban Renewal program razed more than one hundred black businesses.
What will it take to support black entrepreneurs today?
NC Mutual staff members from its Durham district at the new home office building, ca. 1970. By the late 1990s, white-owned mainstream insurers that controlled the market would absorb most other black-owned US insurance companies.
Courtesy North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University, and North Carolina Central University
A view of Fayetteville Street from White Rock Baptist Church, 1952. This section of Fayetteville Street, along with most of historic Hayti, was lost to Urban Renewal and the Durham Freeway by 1968.
NC Mutual building, ca. 1980. A majority-white group of investors purchased the NC Mutual home office building in 2006. NC Mutual’s offices are now on only one floor, but the historic sign will stay up after renovations.
Courtesy North Carolina Mutual building, C.C. Spaulding Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.
The NC Mutual home office building near downtown Durham, ca. 1966. NC Mutual President Asa Spaulding called it a triumph: “This building stands here as an eloquent witness to the indomitable determination of the American Negro to take full advantage of his opportunities in our democracy.” Today, the building’s new owners are developing it into a coworking and incubator space for emerging entrepreneurs and creatives.
The black-owned banks remaining in the US, December 2018. There are twenty-three in total, down from sixty in 1985 and forty-eight in 2001. At their height, there were more than one hundred.
The racial wealth gap in the US, 2016. At the end of the Civil War, black Americans made up 14% of the population, but owned only 0.5% of the wealth. Today, their share of the wealth has increased by less than 2%. Business ownership is one of the main paths to wealth creation, but black entrepreneurs cannot advance without institutional investment in their success.
Courtesy The Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University
Bank loan denials in the North Carolina, 2016. Black banks serve working people in neighborhoods of color nationally. With the loss of black banks, these neighborhoods have been redlined and denied access to financial services. Statistics like these show the discrimination that primarily black people face in the white-owned financial marketplace.
Courtesy North Carolina Public Radio – WUNC and Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting
A City of Durham sign announcing Urban Renewal in Hayti, 1963.
National Insurance Association annual luncheon, 1957. After desegregation, large white-owned companies went after the black insurance market. They bought out the majority of black-owned insurance companies in the 1990’s.
We lost the monopoly on Black business–which we’d had.