How Aaron McDuffie Moore established the largest business in North Carolina in the early 1900s

Stephen Nartey May 03, 2023
Aaron McDuffie Moore/Photo credit: Museum of Durham History

Aaron McDuffie Moore was a man of exceptional talent, who wore many hats – from a physician to a businessman and a philanthropist. However, the hat that impacted many lives the most was not his role in business, but his dedicated service to his community and medical assistance to the people. When the white majority opposed his decision to represent Durham County in office, he turned his efforts into an initiative that will raise the quality of life of African Americans.

He co-founded the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company with John Merrick in 1898, which became one of the largest black businesses in the United States at the time. After Merrick passed away in 1919, Aaron assumed the role of president of the company until his death in 1923. He focused on self-help, racial solidarity, and providing financial support to black businesses.

Aaron spearheaded a wide range of medical outreaches to improve the health needs of the black community. In 1895, he assisted in establishing a community pharmacy to meet the drug needs of the people, and later believed that the people needed more than that.

This motivated him to raise funds from the white community to establish the Lincoln Hospital in 1901, and the Durham Colored Library in 1913, according to ncpedia. He became more immersed in the education of the children in rural North Carolina from 1914 and launched a campaign aimed at financing the needs of deprived schools.

Many have speculated that this initiative was inspired by his parents’ ethnic ties to the third generation of the Negro-Indian-Caucasian families who possessed the land as free farmers since the early 19th century. Aaron was born in Columbus County, and like his nine siblings, worked on the family farm while attending the county elementary school. He continued his education at the normal schools in Lumberton and Fayetteville.

After graduating from school, he taught briefly at the community school, and later decided to enroll at the School of Medicine at Shaw University in 1885 – which was a newly built black college at the time. His stellar academic prowess enabled him to pass the four-year program in three years and completed the North Carolina medical board examinations. In 1888, he returned to Durham and operated as the city’s first black doctor.

Aaron’s attention was not only on his community, but also on the church. He was the chairman of the board of deacons, a member of the board of trustees, and superintendent of the Sunday school at Durham’s White Rock Baptist Church for 25 years. He also served as president of the Baptist State Sunday School Convention, and helped raise funds for missionary work in Africa. He was survived by a wife, Cottie Dancy Moore, and two daughters, who married executives of the North Carolina Mutual.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: May 3, 2023


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