October 20, 1898:
On this day the first Black owned insurance company, North Carolina Mutual and Provident Insurance Company was founded by John Merrick and other black businessman. It is one of the largest companies founded by blacks and is the largest and oldest African American life insurance company in the US today.
NC Mutual (originally the North Carolina Mutual and Provident Association and later North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company) is an American life insurance company located in downtown Durham, North Carolina and one of the most influential African-American businesses in United States history. Founded in 1898 by local black social leaders, its business increased from less than a thousand dollars in income in 1899 to a quarter of a million dollars in 1910. The company specialized in “industrial insurance,” which was basically burial insurance. The company hired salesmen whose main job was to collect small payments (of about 10 cents) to cover the insured person for the next week. If the person died while insured, the company immediately paid benefits of about 100 dollars. This covered the cost of a suitable funeral, which was a high prestige item in the black community. It began operations in the new tobacco manufacturing city of Durham, North Carolina, and moved north into Virginia and Maryland, then to major northern black urban centers, and then to the rest of the urban South.
The business that the company brought to its owners and workers was impressive and impactful. Because the business was “owned and operated by and for Negroes,” it offered the black people of Durham many new job opportunities as it grew. Primarily, it offered much-needed life insurance to the black community of Durham, and it gave them a business on which they could rely and place their trust. The people of Durham took just as much pride in the “multi-million dollar enterprise” that was N. C. Mutual as they did in the progressive nature of their city. As the company grew, it came to be a symbol of African American success and the success of Durham as a whole.