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The history of Black American insurance ownership

The desire to protect the people we love, especially after an unexpected event, is older than insurance itself. Long before the insurance industry was established, people informally joined together to help one another during difficult times. This was particularly true in early days of the Black community in the United States — and it’s a legacy that carries on through the centuries.

The First Black-owned Insurance Company

In the late 1700s, enslaved African Americans started beneficial aid funds to support sick and dying family and neighbors and to cover funeral expenses upon their death. This financial model became the predecessor to the African Insurance Company, established in Philadelphia in 1810, and believed to be the first insurance company serving the Black community in the United States.1

Black Wall Street

In the decades following the U.S. Civil War, racial discrimination by white-owned companies made comprehensive coverage unaffordable for many African Americans, and people often opted for minimal policies that only covered funeral expenses. 2 In response, Black entrepreneurs fought back and served their communities by establishing mutual insurance companies. In a mutual insurance company, the policyholders are also the owners of the company, allowing them to share in the company’s profits via dividends.

In 1898, three local leaders — Aaron McDuffie Moore, John Merrick, and C.C. Spaulding — launched the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. Beyond offering ample life insurance policies, the company was an economic engine for the area that became known as the “Black Wall Street.” The company, later called NC Mutual, served as an inspiration for Black insurance companies across the country.3

A Lasting Legacy

The legacy of Black insurance companies like NC Mutual continues to guide policy holders today, but unfortunately, some outdated thinking about insurance remains. A 2021 study by the Life Insurance Marketing and Research Association (LIMRA) found that 30 percent of Black Americans think of life insurance as only for funeral expenses, and 66 percent say they own life insurance primarily for this reason. Survey respondents across all demographics also showed misunderstanding about the cost of life insurance, including 75 percent of Black Americans who overestimated the expense.

Black American Insurance Coverage Today

Today, Black Americans are increasingly buying life insurance, in part due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The LIMRA study showed that the majority of Black Americans (56 percent) own life insurance today, yet 46 percent, or approximately 20 million Black Americans, say they believe they need some or additional coverage. This means there is still work to do to close the gap between those who have life insurance and those who want it.4 The good news is that LIMRA’s research also found that 60 percent of Black Americans intend to purchase life insurance within the next year, whereas only 36 percent of the general public has the same intention.

Life Insurance Offers a Financial Safety Net

Indeed, life insurance can be used to cover funeral expenses. But it can also provide a long-term financial safety net for your loved ones in case of the unexpected. It can protect your family from a crisis — and let your legacy live on. Now is the time to talk to a financial professional and determine the best policy for you and your beneficiaries.

1 Honoring African Americans: Cornerstones of Economic Development – African American Insurance Companies, Library of Congress, Feb. 25, 2021

2 Honoring African Americans: Cornerstones of Economic Development – African American Insurance Companies, Library of Congress, Feb. 25, 2021

3 The Story of John H. Merrick and the Largest Black Life Insurance Company in the U.S., Scalawag Magazine, July 22, 2019

4 New Study Finds Black American Life Insurance Ownership Increased During Pandemic, LIMRA, July 6, 2021

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