Biography of Durham Civic Leader, John Merrick
Andrews, R[obert] McCants. JOHN MERRICK. A Biographical Sketch. [Durham: Press of the Seeman Printery, 1920.] 229 pages, plus frontispiece and 11 full page plates from photographs. Most of the plates are portraits with the remainder depicting Durham businesses. Original maroon cloth lettered in gilt. 20.5 x 14 cm. The cloth shows light speckling along the edges of the boards and spine; spine is just a little faded. Margins of some of the plates and facing pages show minor foxing, not affecting images or text. Several leaves with a tiny marginal pinhole (signs of a prior enclosure). Still, a very good, tight copy of a work that is seldom found thus.
FIRST EDITION. John Merrick (1859-1919) was one of the leading figures of Durham's "Black Wall Street" in the early 20th century. Born a slave in Sampson County, he worked as a brick mason and then a barber before founding the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company in 1898. As president, he made it "the largest black business in the United States. With its attendant enterprises, the firm earned Durham a reputation as the 'Capital of the Black Middle Class' . . . The success of the company and its offspring, most notably the Mechanics and Farmers Bank (1908), brought him national fame as a black representative of the New South and as vindication for the philosophy of Booker T. Washington." --NCpedia. As well as serving as an inspiring example of success, Merrick addressed an urgent need in the African-American community with his business. "At that time their short life expectancy and often precarious health made blacks poor insurance risks. In 1900 life expectancy for black men at birth was 32.5 years and for women only a year longer. Yet for those same reasons, they badly needed insurance, and white companies either refused to insure them or charged exorbitant premiums and paid reduced benefits." --Anderson, “Durham County“, p. 188.
Published a year after Merrick's death, the book includes memorials by his contemporaries, including several of the leading businessmen and community leaders of Durham. The author, Robert McCants Andrews (1891-1932), was a prominent African-American attorney in Durham and the general counsel of North Carolina Mutual.
Thornton 263. Jones 5249.
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