How Charles Spaulding turned a business with no customer base into 100k clients in the 1900s

Stephen Nartey April 05, 2023
Charles Spaulding Portrait/Photo credit: Nara &Dvids Public Domain Archive

Charles Clinton Spaulding began his journey to entrepreneurship at the age of 20; he left his family in Columbus County with a promise to improve his fortunes when he headed to live with his uncle in Durham. He wore many hats of hustle while trying to eke out a living, working as a waiter, dishwasher, bellhop, and office boy.

When he thought he was breaking even in the pursuit of his dream, he rather sunk into debt. Charles was later appointed as the general manager of an African-American-owned grocery company in 1899, but the owner sold the company, leaving Charles with a $300 debt that same year.

In that dark moment, his uncle proposed a business partnership, which Charles found exciting. Following this proposal, his uncle and six other entrepreneurs established the North Carolina Mutual and Provident Association, and Charles’ job was to sell policies across the state. Though he was the only employee at the time, the investors named him the general manager of North Carolina Mutual, according to ncpedia.

In less than a decade, Charles was able to enroll 100,000 clients on insurance, not only in North Carolina but in other states as well. In 1908, he was appointed Vice President of North Carolina Mutual Insurance. Their business strategy was to offer African Americans an opportunity to subscribe to insurance after being turned away from other insurance companies due to racial discrimination.

Years later, the insurance company was rebranded as North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company when the board appointed Charles as the secretary-treasurer. It had expanded its operations to 13 states under the stellar leadership of the business icon, but Charles believed the company could make giant strides if he diversified.

In 1921, he opened the Mechanics and Farmers Bank, the Bankers Fire Insurance Company, and the Mutual Savings and Loan Association, all subsidiaries of North Carolina Mutual. He became president of the company when his uncle died in 1923; however, Charles continued to run the company and turned it into the largest black-owned business from 1900 to 1952.

The influence of the company expanded to the point where the U.S. government engaged its services to sell war bonds to African Americans during World War II. He invested the proceeds of the North Carolina Mutual fund into bonds, and at some point, Charles served as a functionary of the Democratic Party.

He advocated for the appointment of a black cabinet in President Franklin Roosevelt’s government, and used his story of hard work and determination to inspire the black community, arguing that with the right character, anything was possible for African Americans to achieve.

Born on August 1, 1874, to Benjamin Mclver and Margaret Moore Spaulding in Columbus County, Charles was one of 14 children. His parents were the first generation of free ancestry and were respected landowners in the county. He married Fannie Jones in 1900, and had four children with her. He however, remarried in 1920 to Charlotte Beatrice Steven Garner after losing his first wife in 1919. Charles passed away in 1952 on his 78th birthday.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: April 5, 2023


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