Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

April 6, 1972

On April 6, 1972, the Los Angeles Sentinel featured an advertisement from North Carolina Mutual, the largest and oldest African-American insurance company. Under the tagline “Black is Prosperous,” the ad informed Sentinel readers: “North Carolina Mutual has become America’s first black-operated life insurance company to reach a Billion Dollars insurance in force. Reaching this goal is important to us. And it can mean something important to you. Because now we’re in a better position to help you achieve your own goals. We’ve got more people in more places.  And more resources to help with.”  

John Merrick, who was born into slavery and became an entrepreneur, founded North Carolina Mutual in Durham in 1898. In his book Black Business in the New South: A Social History of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, historian Walter Weare writes, “Next to the black church and the black college, the North Carolina Mutual remains one of the nation’s oldest and largest African-American institutions; and since the number of its policyholders and employees, past and present, would run into the millions, it probably touched the lives of more black Americans than any other single African-American institution.”102

The 1970s were a transition decade for North Carolina Mutual. “In the wake of the civil rights movement,” Weare writes, “the Company reaped an enormous harvest when socially conscious ‘Fortune 500’ corporations farmed out to the Mutual a percentage of their employee insurance. The overall infusion was so great as to stir speculation that the North Carolina Mutual might no longer be able to consider itself a black company. The white largese was short-lived, however. It dried up in the 1980s, along with the underlying social concern, leaving the Company in a bind, culturally as well as economically.”103

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