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Remembering The Success Of The Black-Owned North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company: 7 Things To Know

Remembering The Success Of The Black-Owned North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company: 7 Things To Know

mutual

Downtown Durham showing the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company headquarters, Oct. 9, 2013 (Atlpedia) / Historic Black Wall Street in Durham, NC, March 9, 2014 (Photo: Alexisrael),

North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance had been a thriving Black-owned company. Founded in 1898, the firm has now faltered after nearly 124 years in business. The Durham Black Wall Street icon has officially begun the liquidation process.

Black Wall Street in the North Carolina city of Durham was once a prominent Black community in the city.

Here are seven things for now.

1.The Founding of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance

North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company was founded by seven Black men and went on to become the largest and oldest Black-owned insurance company in the country. The person who spearheaded the venture was a Black entrepreneur named John C. Merrick. The business moved to its Durham headquarters on West Parrish Street in 1921 and became the core of what was known as Black Wall Street.

2. The cornerstone of Durham’s Black Wall Street

When NC Mutual moved to Parrish Street in the 1920s, the company became a cornerstone of a group of Black-owned businesses. Parrish St. was soon nicknamed “Black Wall Street,” one of several Black business districts across the country. 


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NC Mutual rented other properties on Parrish to Black-owned businesses. Some of the businesses on Parrish included Mechanics & Farmers Bank, a furniture store, and a tailor’s shop, according to Scalawag magazine.

3. About John C. Merrick of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance

Merrick was born into slavery in 1859. He was the son of a white man and a former slave. He grew up in Raleigh and Chapel Hill. He moved to Durham in 1880 and opened his own barber shop in 1882, according to Black History.

His hair-cutting business expanded to include several stores and he served by the white and Black communities. He had three barbershops for whites and two for Blacks. The barbers were all Black. He had other businesses before going into the insurance business. He knew there was a major need for insurance coverage in the Black community. He partnered with other Black entrepreneurs to found the North Carolina Mutual and Provident Society. After some of the investors left, he reorganized and renamed the company in 1900.

4. North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance became a service to the community

North Carolina Mutual Life offered insurance to Durham’s Black residents when white-owned insurance companies refused to. “They poured into their community and lifted the community up,” candle company Bright Black owner Tiffany Griffin told WRAL. “They were trailblazers. They were incredibly successful.”

5. The successes

By the late 1980s, NC Mutual had grown to become the largest Black- and minority-owned insurance company in the world, The Assembly reported.

It had nearly $8 billion of coverage and 50 offices across the country, mostly across the South, but also in cities with high Black populations such as Chicago, Detroit, Washington and Philadelphia.

By 2000, NC Mutual had $77.3 million in revenue and 258 employees. Despite this it “paled in comparison to its white counterparts. The largest white insurance firm that year was AIG, with nearly $46 billion in revenue and 61,000 employees,” The Assembly reported.

6. Why ‘Mutual’

According to the company’s website, the use of the word “mutual.”

“When our founders decided to create an insurance company for the African American market, they each had to contribute from their own resources, making it a mutual undertaking. Similarly, each policyholder gained a small stake in the company, with the health of their policy dependent on NC Mutual’s progress. The success of this mutual enterprise was a tremendous source of pride for African Americans in Durham and across the country in those early days of freedom,” the website explained.

7. The end of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance

In 2018, NC Mutual entered receivership. Receivership is a situation in which an institution or enterprise is held by a receiver—a person/company placed in the custodial responsibility for the property.

On Oct. 11, 2022, the liquidation of the company was ordered by the courts. The liabilities have exceeded its assets by at least $78 million-plus,” said Dan Johnson with Durham’s Attorney General’s Office.

The judge presiding over the proceedings, Judge A.G. Shirley, said, “It’s unfortunate that it’s come to this.”

Downtown Durham showing the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company headquarters, Oct. 9, 2013 (Atlpedia)
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=User:Atlpedia&action=edit&redlink=1
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en / Historic Black Wall Street in Durham, NC, March 9, 2014 (Photo: Alexisrael), https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Alexisrael
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en