Where history begins...
John Merrick: From Slavery to Insurance Magnate
John Merrick was born in Sampson County, North Carolina in 1862, the son of a slave mother. Father who was said to be white is listed as unknown. His mother worked as a domestic, while Merrick worked as a local brickyard. While in the brickyards, Merrick had a first-hand view of Durham's black population. The impoverished situation impressed upon his mind the thought of doing something for his fellow black men.
During what he termed a 'lull in construction,' Merrick learned the barber trade and thus established a barbershop. It was a success, and soon after that, Merrick expanded by opening many more branches. The success that barbershops brought Merrick was uncommon for a black man.
Merrick's barbershops catered to white men. As Merrick is known for his industrious and endearing attitude, his white clients became his friends. His standing with the white people paved the way for even more business success.
But Merrick never wavered in his concern for his people. He wanted to provide insurance protection. In 1898, Merrick formed a partnership with Aaron McDuffie and established North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, his most profitable and noteworthy undertaking.
And thus began Merrick's wildly successful venture into the world of the insurance business.
Aaron McDuffie: Ambitious beyond farming
Aaron McDuffie Moore was born in 1863 in Rosindale, North Carolina. His parents Israel Moore and Anna Eliza Spaulding Moore, owned land in Columbus County as free farmers. Like his nine siblings, Aaron Moore worked on the farm while attending the segregated county school.
Moore was passionate about education. He enrolled in the newly established Shaw University, a historically black college in Raleigh, intending to become a professor. His teachers saw his potential, and they encouraged him to take up medicine. Moore entered University's Leonard Medical School, completing the four years of education in just three years.
Certified as a Doctor of Medicine, Aaron Moore settled his practice in Durham, and he became the city's first Black medical doctor.
Dr. Moore's entrepreneurial spirit came to action in 1895. He began investing in black-owned businesses to help the community develop its skilled and educated class and provide jobs for them.
He also established the Durham Drug Company to allow young black pharmacists to practice and serve Durham's African-American community with excellence and dignity.
Dr. Moore believed that the "Negro business movement" was the best way to achieve a strong sense of racial self-fulfillment.
Moore soon became heavily involved in many black business endeavors following his maiden enterprise. Through his business ventures, he established strong relationships with significant leaders, among them John Merrick.
With Merrick, he would soon found the North Carolina Mutual Life Company.
Charles Clinton Spaulding: Laborer Entrepreneur
Charles Spaulding was born in Columbus County, North Carolina. Benjamin Mack Spaulding and Margaret Ann Virginia Moore. He was born on a farm owned by his father. From a young boy, he was industrious, and he didn't shy away from hard work.
Spaulding was already diligent and hard-working during his early childhood, waking up early mornings to help his father.
Charles Spaulding left the family farm in 1894, went to Durham, and settled with an uncle. He took jobs as a dishwasher, bellhops, and waiter. While off from his menial jobs, he attended school, earning an equivalent to a modern high school diploma. He was then hired as a manager of a cooperative grocery store owned by a black.
Merrick and Aaron Moore noticed Spaulding's managerial skills while he was head of the grocery store, so they hired him to become the first manager of the newly established North Carolina Mutual and Provident Association.
For around 30 years, Spaulding presided over North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company which became America's largest black-owned business. At the time of Spaulding's death, the company's assets were over US$40 million!
North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company
Then and Now...
Termed as industrial insurance, the company specializes in burial insurance collecting small payments of 10 cents which cover the insured person for the next week. If a person dies while insured, the company will pay benefits of about a hundred dollars to cover the cost of a respectable burial. High prestige in the black community.
Founded in 1898, it served families of color for generations and fostered key African American institutions.
The company meets practical needs, providing insurance and other services and a sense of community and pride to Black residents of Durham and other communities.
It was the largest company run by African-Americans for much of the 20th century. It is the oldest and most prominent African American life insurance company in the United States.
Its success brought many good things to Durham's black community.
The founders and organizers were essential contributors to social and economic progress in the city, particularly in its African American community.
Operating in Durham, North Carolina, the company services clients worldwide through partnerships and offices in many states.
Pioneering Black Wall Street
In 1906, when North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company moved its headquarters to Parrish Street, it started a new era. It became the hub of African-American business in the 19-20th century. Despite the Jim Crow era across North Carolina, black-owned businesses continued to thrive in downtown Durham.
Thus, it was called The Black Wall Street of America for African Americans' progress within the town. And it all started with the Triumvirate and the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company.
From the 1890s to 1910, a 200% increase in the population of Durham was noted. And by the 1920s, black-owned properties and enterprises totaled more than 4Million dollars (51million in 2020 dollars!)
Hayti, a residential neighborhood, grew up nearby, and the black and white community co-existed in harmony and conducted business with respect and understanding at Parrish Street.
Durham became the home office of North Carolina Mutual Life Company. Through partnerships and offices in several states, it offered services to clients around the world.
Due to the brilliant entrepreneurial minds of the triumvirate, the business prospers to unimaginable heights. And the success of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company
allows them to help and serve more of their people.
The executives were known supporters and faithful to the creed of the National Negro Business League. They founded:
Durham Colored Library (1913)
What the triumvirate exhibited was their relentless pursuit of achieving their goals. From the start, they have a clear vision of what they would like to do to help their black fellowmen rise above their status in life.
Their vision is to build businesses that would help people cultivate their skills so that they can be self-sustaining and self-reliant.
In order to achieve their goals, they have the best strategy; building connections. They cultivated friendship and inclusivity, working with and for both blacks and whites. Their business acumen is outstanding!