On July 22, 1902, Asa Timothy Spaulding was born in Columbus County, North Carolina. On September 4, 1990, he died in Durham, North Carolina.
Asa T. Spaulding’s educational background and achievements are significant. In 1930, Spaulding earned a B.S. in Accounting (magna cum laude) from New York University, and in 1932 an M.A. in Mathematics and Actuarial Science from the University of Michigan. But he also learned and achieved outside of the classroom. For his professional accomplishments, educational institutions bestowed honorary degrees; in 1958 Spaulding received his first from Shaw University, and then from North Carolina College at Durham (1960), Morgan State College (1961), University of North Carolina (1967), and Duke University (1969).
Spaulding started his professional career as an actuary (an insurance statistician). From 1938 to 1958 he performed such work for several companies in Illinois, North Carolina, and Ohio. His positions included assistant secretary, vice-president, and director. In 1958, he became president of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, the world’s largest black-owned insurance company; he performed sagaciously in this post until retiring in 1968. While working he somehow found time to write, not only for insurance publications, but also for such popular magazines as the Christian Science Monitor and Reader’s Digest; and remarkably, he also produced a local, weekly television show in Durham called “Your Community.”
He was, and still is, respected widely for his business accomplishments. Moving up the corporate ladder, from “office boy to President,” he earned a national reputation as one of the most successful African American businessmen of the twentieth century. Even President Harry S. Truman in 1946 publicly recognized Spaulding’s achievements. On numerous occasions, Asa and Elna Bridgeforth Spaulding, his wife, dined with U.S. dignitaries, including President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and entertained foreign diplomats, such as the President of Guinea. In 1956, Spaulding was a U.S. Delegate to the UNESCO General Conference at New Delhi, India. During Eisenhower’s and John F. Kennedy’s administrations, this Tar Heel was an emissary of entrepreneurship to African, Asian, and Eastern European countries. He toured the U. S. and the world, telling how the underprivileged could achieve a higher standard of living.
During the 1950s and 60s, he played an integral yet behind-the-scenes-role in the Civil Rights Movement. He served as Vice-Chairman of the North Carolina Advisory Committee to the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights and helped President Kennedy’s Negro College Development Campaign in its fundraising efforts.
Despite a busy schedule, Spaulding volunteered for community and charitable projects. He served as trustee or as committee member for numerous groups, including the National Committee of the Boy Scouts of America, National Urban League, North Carolina Council of Churches, Voluntary Home Mortgage Credit Program, and Durham Bi-Racial Human Relations Committee. On Governor R. Gregg Cherry’s recommendation, Spaulding served on the “Sir Walter Raleigh Day” Commission. A religious man, Spaulding allotted time to teach a Bible class at White Rock Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina.
“Biographical Sketch” in the Asa Spaulding Papers, State Library and Archive, Raleigh, North Carolina and Walter Weare, Black Business in the New South: A Social History of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company (Urbana, 1973).
By Troy L. Kickler, founding director of the North Carolina History Project
See Also:Related Categories: Entrepreneurship, Business and Industry, African American
Asa Spaulding spent most of his life in Durham, North Carolina, where he served as president of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. Image courtesy of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh, NC.
Spaulding served as Vice-Chairman of the North Carolina Advisory Committee to the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights. Image courtesy of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh, NC.