‘Black Wall Street’ icon NC Mutual Life Insurance Company begins liquidation process

DURHAM, NC — Tuesday marked the end of an era as a judge approved the liquidation of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company during a virtual court hearing.

The company started in 1898 by seven Black men. It became the largest and oldest Black-owned insurance company in the country.

“The liabilities have exceeded its assets by at least $78 million-plus,” said Dan Johnson with the Attorney General’s Office.

In September 2021, the company filed a motion for an order of liquidation. The company was in too much debt and ran out of money.

North Carolina Mutual Life gave insurance to Durham’s Black residents when white-owned operations would not. It is credited for helping to give Durham its nickname and reputation as “Black Wall Street.” The company was also known for its office building along 411 West Chapel Hill St., which is now occupied by other tenants.

“It’s unfortunate that it’s come to this,” said Judge AG Shirley.

The history of “Black Wall Street” is what inspired Dorian Bolden to open Beyú Caffè in 2009 at 341 West Main St.

“Even back then, with a Duke degree and working in finance, it was still very challenging,” Bolden said.

Bolden said he quickly encountered the financial barriers of opening a small, Black-owned business.

“You look at the historic nature of a lot of startups, Black entrepreneurs, they don’t have the assets or a family that can provide an influx of cash that will allow you to go get a loan or open up a business in a traditional way,” Bolden said.

Bolden explained how he would remember North Carolina Mutual Life.

“Although it is sad, it’s also a celebration of what they did, and how we need more of that to continue the bridge and the legacy for others to come behind them,” he said.

Bright Black owner Tiffany Griffin also remembered the history of the founders of NC Mutual Life. Griffin’s company makes fragrances and candles.

“They were trailblazers,” Griffin said. “They were incredibly successful.”

Even in present day, Griffin talked about how hard it was as a small, Black-owned business to find insurance. With NC Mutual no longer around, she said there will be a void. Yet, she will remain inspired by all the progress it brought.

“They poured into their community and lifted the community up,” Griffin said.

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