Business executive Charles Clinton Spaulding (1874-1952) was one of the most prominent and influential African American entrepreneurs of the 20th century, achieving success in both the banking and insurance professions. He was president of the North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company, the largest African American business in the country; a leading proponent of the Negro Business Movement of the period; and a civic and social leader in the tradition of Booker T. Washington.
Charles Clinton Spaulding, the third of fourteen children, was born on a farm near Whiteville in Columbus County, North Carolina, in 1874. His parents, Benjamin Mclver and Margaret Moore Spaulding, were prosperous landowners of free ancestry who were respected leaders of the community. Young Spaulding spent his early years working on the family farm and exhausting the limited possibilities for education in his rural community.
In the mid 1890s he made his way to Durham to join his uncle, Aaron McDuffie Moore, a practicing physician, and to avail himself of the city's greater educational opportunities. Here he enrolled in the Whitted School, from which he graduated in 1898 at the age of 23 with what was then considered a high school diploma. Although he continued self-education throughout his life and enjoyed the mentorship of his uncle, it was from this base of formal education and family background that Spaulding rose from farm worker to a position of regional and national prominence.
Activities as a Businessman
Spaulding's first job following graduation was as manager of a grocery concern in which 25 African American men had invested $10 each. The venture was unsuccessful, however, and Spaulding was left with bare shelves and $300 indebtedness from the insolvent business. Following this failure he entered the field of insurance, a newly-emerging profession among African Americans. In 1899 he became general manager of the North Carolina Mutual and Provident Association, a small industrial assessment organization founded by Durham barber John Merrick and Spaulding's uncle Aaron Moore. As the sole employee, Spaulding served also as promoter, agent, clerk, bookkeeper, office boy, and janitor. In 1909 the firm achieved the status of old line legal reserve life insurance company and changed its name to North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. Spaulding succeeded to the presidency of the company in 1923 and was for many years the pivotal figure in an organization that, rising from a situation where the company in 1899 did not have enough money on hand to pay its first death claim, came to hold distinction as the largest African American business in the country.
By 1921 Spaulding had also assumed leadership of the Mechanics and Farmers Bank and the Mutual Building and Loan Association, two organizations founded in Durham by the organizers of North Carolina Mutual. In addition, he was vice president of the Bankers Fire Insurance Company and the Southern Fidelity Mutual Insurance Company. These enterprises made Durham one of the leading centers of African American business achievement in the first half of the 20th century and, in large measure, provided the financial sustenance for the early economic growth of African Americans in North Carolina and the region. In his capacity as executive of these enterprises, Spaulding sought to map a program of social service that stretched beyond the routine functions of a business corporation to include the expansion of home ownership, business growth, and general race uplift.
Spaulding was widely involved in the larger arena of African American business beyond Durham. He belonged to the inner circle of the National Negro Business League, founded by Booker T. Washington in 1900, serving as secretary-treasurer as well as chairman of the executive committee during the 1920s. Similarly, he provided leadership in the National Negro Insurance Association and the National Negro Bankers Association. In recognition of his outstanding contributions to the management and direction of business activities, Spaulding was awarded the Harmon Foundation Award for Distinguished Achievement in Business in 1926. In his lifetime numerous other awards, honors, and honorary degrees also accrued to Spaulding in recognition of his success in the fields of life insurance and finance and for his contribution to the progress of African Americans in their struggle for economic and civic emancipation.
Follows Booker Washington's Economic Philosophy
It was said that Spaulding was the greatest living exponent of the economic philosophy popularized by Booker T. Washington. Like Washington, Spaulding believed in harmonious racial understanding and tolerance, and he praised the opportunities available to African Americans in the South. He also extolled the idea that integrity, character, and achievement would equate eventually with acceptance and citizenship for African Americans. Spaulding viewed business and economic success, along with intelligence, vision, and cooperation, as powerful weapons in the battle to destroy race prejudice in America. He believed, particularly, that African Americans could surmount racial prejudice and strengthen their positions in society by evidencing success in the financial and business areas. He asked only that equal opportunities be afforded.
Through his work in civic, educational, and social organizations, he sought to foster opportunities for African Americans. He served on a number of boards of trustees of African American colleges and universities, including Howard, Shaw, and North Carolina College. He was the first African American elected to the board of the Slater Fund and was the regional broker for the Rosenwald Fund. His views on education, race, and social issues impacting opportunity were disseminated also through his membership on the boards of the Southern Educational Foundation and the North Carolina Commission on Interracial Cooperation.
At the national level, Spaulding's activities with the National Urban League and the New Deal were directed at broadening opportunities as well. He was appointed national chairman of the Emergency Advisory Council of the Urban League, a body organized to enlist support for the New Deal among African Americans. He used this position and his national contacts to advance opportunities for African Americans in the region. His work in the New Deal earned him recognition as the leading Democrat in North Carolina. Spaulding married twice and raised four children. He died in Durham on August 1, 1952, his 78th birthday.
Further Reading on Charles Clinton Spaulding
An excellent scholarly essay on Spaulding has been written by Walter Weare in Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century (1982), edited by John Hope Franklin and August Meier. A good deal of information on Spaulding is also available in Weare's study of North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company, titled Black Business in the New South (1973). Short biographical sketches may be found in several other sources: Edgar A. Toppins, Biographies of Notable Black Americans (1961); Negro History Bulletin (Vol. XVI); and Black Enterprise (Vol. VI). Spaulding's own views on several issues can be found in "50 Years of Progress," a series published by the Pittsburgh Courier (1950).