It is the last day of Black History Month and we, at Genesis, find that learning about differences, diversity, or even your own cultural history has immense value when engaging in a cooperative and talented workspace. Therefore, it was important to us to research about Black history in the insurance industry and then share what we learned. As someone who is a non-Black person, I felt nervous when I first began writing this excerpt, but I was also very excited. I want to make certain I am doing justice by my Black colleagues and friends by putting as much thought and effort into educating others who may be unaware of the impact Black people had on the insurance industry. I researched several articles, both research journals and critical essays, on Black history in the insurance industry. However, I will mainly be using three in this excerpt: "Black Business in the Black Metropolis", "Black Entrepreneurship: Contradictions, Class, and Capitalism", and "Product Innovation and Expansion in South Africa". These three sources provide details over the beginnings of Black individuals within the insurance industry as well as discusses some of the influence these individuals and companies have had today. The majority of what I have written below is a condensed version of these articles to help provide others the quality information in these pieces. I encourage you to take some time to read each article as well as others if you're looking to learn more about this unique aspect of Black History!
Black influence in the insurance industry began during segregation due to Jim Crow laws leaving many Black individuals without essential insurance such as life and death insurance. Jim Crow laws also left many Black individuals without a proper gravesite to be buried whenever the need arised. Out of this came benevolent Black societies that would provide proper burials as well as assistance to the widows and the families of indviduals who passed away. True Black-led and Black-owned commercial insurance companies were formed as more white-owned insurance companies backed away entirely from the Black market. One such company was Atlanta Life Insurance, which "Black Entrepreneurship: Contradictions, Class, and Capitalism" thoroughly explores in detail.
According to the articles I've researched, Atlanta Life redefined what it meant to be a commercial insurance company, and not just for Black Americans, but for many other Americans as well due to their impact in their own communities. Not only did they provide loans for many Black establishments such as homes, churches, and store-fronts, but they also contributed to historically Black colleges and universities. Atlanta Life leadership, members, and the company as a whole actively participated in the Civil Rights Movement. Atlanta Life also impacted the lives of Black women as many American women held traditionally "female" roles if they held any working positions at all. Many roles that Black women traditionally held were limited to housekeeping (especially for white families), teaching, or store-front positions. However, Atlanta Life hired and educated Black women which allowed for both social and economic mobility that the majority of women did not have access to during that time period. Although many of Black women still held what were considered "lower-level" positions that were unrelated to true underwriting or agent positions, Atlanta Life led a change for many insurance companies to hire more women.
"Black Entrepreneurship: Contradictions, Class, and Capitalism" dives into a deeper look over the potential contradictions of Black elite participating in the Civil Rights Movement, mainly due to their current monopolies on the Black community. Whereas, desgregation would eliminate a monopoly as Black individuals would be able to have more freedom of choice. I encourage you to read the article itself if that piece of information fascinates you, however, I more so wanted to highlight the philanthropic nature of these companies that paved the way for more businesses to be involved with the communities they serve. As mentioned previously, many of the "Black Elite" were heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement and made the movement a part of the insurance businesses they owned or worked for. In a way, these original Black-owned and Black-led insurance companies truly demonstrated that selflessly serving the community is what makes many businesses successful, whether the service is in their own best interests or otherwise.
Today, there are several Black-owned or Black-led insurance companies due to the strong community that came together during segregation. Atlanta Life, North Carolina Mutual, Golden State Mutual, and Booker T. Washington Insurance represent a few of the most prestigious Black-owned and Black-lead insurance companies that fully thrive today. Not to mention there are many other international insurance companies leading the charge for innovation such as Sanlam in South Africa. Without the impact of many of these insurance companies, the insurance industry could look very different, and it is exciting to see the different influences of these companies today.
Here are the links for the different articles I used:
- Black Business in the Black Metropolis
- Black Entrepreneurship: Contradictions, Class, and Capitalism
- Product Innovation and Expansion in South Africa
Arnesen, E., & Weems, R. E. (1997). Black business in the Black Metropolis: The Chicago Metropolitan Assurance Company, 1925-1985. The Michigan Historical Review, 23(1), 178. https://doi.org/10.2307/20173664
Verhoef, Grietjie. (2016). Innovation and expansion: Product innovation and expansion in insurance in South Africa. The case of Sanlam, 1920-1998. Historia, 61(1), 66-91. https://dx.doi.org/10.17159/2309-8392/2016/v61n1a7
Winn, A. R. (2014). Black entrepreneurship: Contradictions, class, and capitalism. Journal of Business Anthropology, 3(1), 79. https://doi.org/10.22439/jba.v3i1.4315
Written by: Kahli Santoyo, Marketing Lead