North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company

NC Mutual (originally the North Carolina Mutual and Provident Association and later North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company)[1][2] 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.[3] 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.[4] 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.

NC Mutual
FormerlyNorth Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company
North Carolina Mutual and Provident Association
FoundedDurham, North Carolina (August 22, 1898 (1898-08-22))
FounderJohn C. Merrick
United States
Area served
United States
Key people
Michael L. Lawrence (President) & (CEO)
ServicesInsurance & Finance
Total assets
  • Steady US$162 million
  • US$162 million
Total equity
  • Steady US$14.3 billion
  • US$14.3 billion
SubsidiariesNorth Carolina Mutual Insurance Agency

For much of the 20th century it was the largest company run by African Americans, and it is the largest and oldest African American life insurance company in the United States to this day.[5]

In fact, the company came to be known as the world's largest African American business in only its first few years and is claimed by its home city of Durham as an important landmark. In the late 1800s and throughout the 1900s, Durham was known as "The Black Wall Street of America."[6] for the progress that African Americans were making within the town. The company's founders, thought to be inspired by North Carolina business tycoon Washington Duke, included John Merrick and Aaron McDuffie Moore, two particularly influential men in Durham's history. North Carolina Mutual and its prosperity brought many good things to Durham's black community, and its founders and organizers were important contributors to social and economic progress in the city and particularly in its African American community.

In 2019, NC Mutual encountered financial difficulty that arose from a reinsurance transaction in which the assets securing the transaction were misappropriated by an investment manager. Wake County Superior Court placed the company in rehabilitation under control of the North Carolina Commissioner of Insurance.[7][8] The investment manager was subsequently charged with a federal crime. [9]

Downtown Durham view showing the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company Headquarters. In 1965 the N.C. Mutual Life Insurance building became the tallest office building owned by African Americans in the United States. In 2006 the N.C. Mutual Life Insurance Co. building sold to a developer for only $11.4 million. N.C. Mutual remains in the building as a tenant under a long-term lease agreement.


"Black Wall Street" historic marker in Durham, NC

North Carolina Mutual was the brainchild of black entrepreneur John C. Merrick[10][11] in the late 1800s. Merrick was born into slavery as the son of a white man and a former slave in 1859. He grew up in Raleigh and Chapel Hill, two cities near Durham, and he learned various skills such as bricklaying and barbering during his youth. He moved to Durham in 1880 and opened his own barber shop in 1882.[12] His hair-cutting business grew to include several stores, three for whites and two for blacks; the barbers were all black. Merrick himself cut hair for many people. The biggest influence came after John Merrick, along with four other partners, bought the Royal Knights of King David. The society was "a semi-religious fraternal and beneficial society for health and life insurance." In buying it, Merrick learned about insurance and how to relate the insurance business to African Americans.[13]

Merrick knew that blacks had short life expectancies and that they generally had poor health, largely due to their low income. These things made the idea of starting an insurance business for African Americans a very risky one, because many people would be expected to die before they could contribute to the success of the business. However they were also the reasons African Americans needed life insurance to begin with. Industrial insurance had the advantage of a premium collected every week that provided coverage for the following week. There was minimal need for tracking the changes of address of the customers.

Merrick decided that the opportunity to help blacks outweighed the risk, and he joined with investors Aaron Moore, William Gaston Pearson, Watson, Shepard, Johnson, and Dawkins to found the North Carolina Mutual and Provident Society in 1898. In the first year, there was a terrible lack of business, and the company lost money overall. Because of this, many investors left North Carolina Mutual, and by the time the company was reorganized in 1900, only Merrick, Moore, and Moore's young nephew Charles Clinton Spaulding remained. Spaulding was appointed General Manager with Merrick serving as President and Moore as his only other principal. Under this leadership, the growth of the company began.[citation needed]


John Merrick was the first president of N. C. Mutual, and he served as such from the company's founding until his death in 1919.

After Merrick's death, Dr. Aaron McDuffie Moore[14] became president of the company. He was the first African American in Durham to practice medicine. After becoming president of N. C. Mutual, he devoted his full-time to the company until he died in 1923.[citation needed]

When Moore died, Charles Clinton Spaulding took over as president. Spaulding served on the board of trustees at Howard University beginning in 1936. he was active in the National Negro Insurance Association and the National Negro Bankers Association in the early 1900s and was one of few African American members of the New York Chamber of Commerce beginning in 1942. He also served on boards of trustees at Shaw University and North Carolina College. He was awarded the Harmon Foundation Gold medal for distinguished achievement in business, and he received honorary Law doctorates from Shaw University, Tuskegee University, and Atlanta University.[15]

One of the company's famous leaders, Chuck Watts is now a city attorney for Greensboro City used to be a senior vice president and general counsel.[16]

Recent historyEdit

Today, North Carolina Mutual Life Company operates in Durham, North Carolina. It currently services as clients all across the world through partnerships and offices in many states. The company has total assets of $162 million, with net life insurance of $14.3 billion. North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance now provides many different life insurance products. These include whole and term life, hospital indemnity plans, and pre-need insurance. The company has also introduced medical and dental benefits packages for employer groups. It is licensed to do business in 24 states, as well as Washington, D.C. and has an alliance with Minnesota Life. It has launched a full service Insurance Agency (the North Carolina Mutual Insurance Agency) offering annuities, disability income, and universal life. The company has had ten presidents in its history, and is currently under the leadership of Michael L. Lawrence.[citation needed]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Bloomberg Businessweek “Company Overview of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company”
  2. ^ "N.C. Mutual rebrands as it attempts to secure its longevity". News & Observer. 2017-03-22.
  3. ^ W. E. B. Du Bois, "The Upbuilding of Black Durham," The World's Work, January, 1912, 335. (primary 1)
  4. ^ Charles Richmond Henderson, "Industrial Insurance. VI. Private Insurance Companies," American Journal of Sociology in JSTOR
  5. ^ North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance: About Us, “North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance: About Us”, Accessed November 2013
  6. ^ Walter B. Weare, "Black Business in the New South: A Social History of the NC Mutual Life Insurance Company," Durham: Duke University Press, 1993.
  7. ^ "FAQ" (PDF). Retrieved 14 Dec 2021.
  8. ^ "NC Mutual was once a titan of Durham's Black Wall Street. Its future is up in the air". Retrieved 14 Dec 2021.
  9. ^ "Feds charge New York investor with defrauding Durham's NC Mutual of $34 million". Retrieved 14 Dec 2021.
  10. ^ Margaret Peters, "The Ebony Book of Black Achievement", Johnson Publishing Company, Inc., 1974, 112.
  11. ^ Bihm, Jennifer. (2014-02-06) “Business in Black History: North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance” Los Angeles Sentinel
  12. ^ "Meet the Founder of the Oldest and Largest Black-Owned Life Insurance Company". Black History. Retrieved 29 April 2020.
  13. ^ Jean Bradley Anderson, "Durham County: A History of Durham County, North Carolina", Durham: Duke University Press, 2011, 188.
  14. ^ North Carolina History Project “Aaron McDuffie Moore (1863-1923)”
  15. ^ Documenting the American South “C. C. Spaulding (Charles Clinton), 1874-1952” University Library at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  16. ^ "Council Hires Chuck Watts As City Attorney". The Rhino Times of Greensboro. 2019-05-23. Retrieved 2020-04-23.

External linksEdit