DURHAM, N.C. -- In the first years of the 20th century, Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois both visited Durham. They came away enthusiastically praising the enormous successes of African American business and community leaders in the city. Part of their tour included the offices of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, founded in 1898 and already a flagship financial institution on "Black Wall Street," as Parrish Street in downtown Durham was then known.
Over 100 years later, in September 2009, Duke University and North Carolina Central University entered into a historic partnership to care for and provide access to the extensive archives of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, now the oldest and largest African-American-owned life insurance company in existence.
The North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company Archives documents the meteoric rise of NC Mutual in Durham and contributes to the historic record on African American businesses in the South and in the United States. Spanning the years 1898 to 2008, the materials cover nearly every aspect of NC Mutual's operations, management, and milestones.
The nearly 100,000 items in the Archives include corporate office files, annual statements, reports, surveys, memos, legal and financial papers, training material, programs, memorabilia, and an exceptional number of historical photographs of staff and their families, offices, buildings, and Durham scenes (including the visit by Booker T. Washington).
The collection is especially rich in print material, including many issues of three company publications: The Mutual (1906-1929), The Whetstone (1924-1998), and The Review (1933-1998). It is also notable for its assemblage of public relations material dating from the earliest years to present times, including advertising ephemera, advertising campaigns, and other related items. Additionally, there are records of NC Mutual's extensive work with community outreach, such as public health programs, mentoring, and scholarship programs. A finding aid for the collection is now available online.
Archivists and librarians at North Carolina Central and Duke look forward to making the collection's remarkable contents available to researchers.
"The study of institution building among African American institutions like North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company during the Jim Crow era is among the most heavily studied research areas in the country," noted Andre D. Vann, Coordinator of University Archives at North Carolina Central University. "The records offer a window into the inner workings of the company, its employees and its business practices that should be studied by all from those in colleges and universities to those in the public schools. These materials will help to construct a new narrative regarding how African American institutions confronted their status in America in regards to self-help and making a way out of no way."
Jennifer Thompson, Research Services and Collection Development Librarian at Duke added, "I anticipate the Archives will be a heavily used collection, not only by national and international scholars, but for local community and student exploration into African American history, business history, and American history in general. In the Libraries, we are all looking forward to the scholarship that will result from the use of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company Archives."
The North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company Archives are available to researchers and students in the Duke University and North Carolina Central University Special Collections reading rooms. Over one hundred selected digitized images and a few documents are also currently available online.
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