Mutual Archiving

November 30, 2009

 

Page from history: 1903 edition of community magazine

Page from history: 1903 edition of community magazine published by North Carolina Mutual. Courtesy N.C. Mutual Life

Duke and North Carolina Central University (NCCU) have entered into a partnership to share the North Carolina Mutual Collection, which contains archival material from more than 100 years of the prestigious black-owned North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company's existence. It may be the largest assemblage of African-American corporate material in the nation.

The collection includes thousands of business documents, newsletters, commercials, photographs, and books, and will be housed at the Library Service Center, an off-site location that serves both Duke and NCCU. The collection highlights a time in the early twentieth century when Durham's black entrepreneur class thrived, earning downtown Durham's Parrish Street the moniker "Black Wall Street." North Carolina Mutual is credited with giving the black middle class access to home mortgages, small business loans, and insurance in the midst of Jim Crow segregation.

Founded in Durham in 1898 as North Carolina Mutual and Provident Association by seven prominent African-American businessmen, and headed in early years by John Merrick, Aaron M. Moore, and Charles C. Spaulding, the company has grown to include offices in six states and is now the largest African-American owned insurance company in the U.S.

The collection is a significant collaborative effort between the two universities. Historian John Hope Franklin, who died last March, taught at both schools during his career and helped start the negotiations to preserve the materials. NCCU Chancellor Charlie Nelms invoked Franklin's memory during a ceremony marking the occasion that also included remarks by President Richard H. Brodhead and North Carolina Mutual president James Speed.

"It's very important for us to look back and figure out what it was that these men did, what enabled them to be successful in an era that is totally different from today's era in which we find ourselves having ready access to cash, to intellectual capital facilities, and all those things. That is worth studying, writing about, and sharing," Nelms said.