NCCU and Duke Share NC Mutual's Historical Archives

Universities sign joint agreement Friday

NCCU Chancellor Charlie Nelms and Duke President Richard H. Brodhead shake hands after signing the joint agreement establishing the NC Mutual archives.  NC Mutual president James Speed also participated in Friday's ceremony

On the day before Duke and North Carolina Central University (NCCU) met for the first time on the football field, officials from the two universities gathered on the 12th floor of Durham's NC Mutual building to witness the transfer of over 100 years of the prestigious black-owned insurance company's historical archives.

Duke and NCCU have entered into a joint partnership to share the North Carolina Mutual Collection. President Richard H. Brodhead, Chancellor Charlie Nelms of NCCU and James Speed, the president of NC Mutual, took part in playful ribbing at Friday's ceremony about the pending football game before signing the documents.

"The history of North Carolina Mutual is an indication that even in times when people suffer the most brutal kinds of deprivation and disadvantage, they can use that as an occasion to show their powers," said Brodhead. "People came together and found the means to give themselves the services they were deprived of by others. Now, how is the memory of that going to live, in a culture like ours where people scarcely remember something that happened last week -- you can turn to the archive."

The collection includes thousands of business documents, newsletters, commercials, photography and books and will be housed at the Library Service Center, an off-site location that serves Duke and NCCU. The collection highlights a time in the early 20th century when Durham's "Black Wall Street" thrived giving the black middle class access to home mortgages, small business loans and insurance in the midst of Jim Crow segregation. It may be the largest assemblage of African-American corporate material in the nation.

Organizers hope that the collection will be used for scholarly research and to form the basis of thesis and dissertations. Current NC Mutual president James Speed said he hopes the collection will allow others around the world to understand the significance of the company.

More than fifty people, including descendants of the company's executives, attended the ceremony and to view photographs, plaques and other documents. The materials were on public display for the last time before they entered into the collection.

The collection is also significant for the collaboration between the two universities. Several speakers invoked the name of John Hope Franklin, the esteemed historian who helped start the negotiations to preserve the history of "the Mutual."

"Some would argue that black entrepreneurship is at a crossroads," said Nelms. "It's very important for us to look back and figure out what it was that these men did, what enabled them to be successful in an era that is totally different from today's era in which we find ourselves having ready access to cash, to intellectual capital facilities and all those things. That is worth studying, writing about and sharing."

C. Eileen Watts Welch, a family descendant of a Mutual executive and a major gifts officer at Duke, was also instrumental in arranging the transfer of the archives.

"I must admit it's rather bittersweet to see the historical information leave the company," Welch said "With NCCU and Duke sharing the storage and maintenance of these precious archives, I'm confident -- scholars will have access to this information."