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(1874 - 1952)

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DCABP Inc. “Trailblazer” Honoring Our Legacy

    Tribute to Charles Clinton Spaulding

Charles Clinton Spaulding, influential businessman and community leader, was born in Columbus County, NC to parents descended from a long-standing community of free Negro landholders in the area. His great-grandfather, an emancipated house servant from Wilmington, NC, migrated west in the early 1800s to Columbus County, NC where he joined a community of free Negro-Indian farmers. Both of his parents, Benjamin McIver and Margaret Moore Spaulding, were third-generation members of this distinctive settlement.

In 1894 Spaulding left the family farm for Durham, NC, where he finished high school and worked at a succession of "Negro jobs"—dishwasher, waiter, bellhop, and office boy. In 1898 he became the manager of an all-black cooperative grocery store; his success in that post won him a managerial position in another black business, the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. Founded in 1898, North Carolina Mutual was on the brink of failure when Spaulding became general manager in 1900. By 1910 the company became "the world's largest Negro business," and Spaulding and two of the original founders, John Merrick and Dr. Aaron M. Moore, were heralded in the Afro-American community as the "Triumvirate," the epitome of "black captains of industry." Durham, in turn, became known as the "Capital of the Black Middle Class." 

In 1923 Spaulding succeeded Moore as president of North Carolina Mutual, and from that time until his death he enjoyed an international reputation as America's leading black businessman. He directed not only North Carolina Mutual but also an extended family of financial institutions, including Mechanics and Farmers Bank (now M&F Bank, Bankers Fire Insurance Company, and Mutual Savings and Loan Association. Out of such business leadership, Spaulding emerged as the patriarch of black Durham, with social and political influence extending throughout the southern region and beyond. As trustee of the John F. Slater Fund, North Carolina College (now North Carolina Central University), Shaw University, and Howard University, he played a significant role in black higher education. Spaulding played a larger role in philanthropy to uplift the black community. In 1935, Spaulding, along with James E. Shepard, Rencher N. Harris, W.D. Hill, R.L. McDougald, J.T. Taylor and L.E. Austin founded the Durham Committee on Negro Affairs. The name of the organization was later changed to the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.

As a successful business executive, he enabled employment for many to work at black institutions. He regularly appeared before the North Carolina legislature on behalf of North Carolina College, and behind the scenes he labored to correct the inequities of the Jim Crow system that held hostage a greater share of public funding for black institutions.

In politics and race relations, his recommendations influenced President Franklin D. Roosevelt's appointments to the "black cabinet," and while as president of the Urban League's National Emergency Advisory Council he became an official for the National Recovery Administration serving the black community. He spent his final years remaining active in the Baptist church, accepting honors, and giving speeches. Spaulding skilled absorption of politics and his pioneering business acumen remains legendary.


Our Legacy Prepared Us