Category Archives: Business

Creator of the Month…William Jesse Kennedy, Jr.

William Jesse Kennedy, Jr. (1889 – 1958) was a prolific businessman and community leader in Durham, N.C., who also served as the fifth president of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company.¬†¬†During his lifetime, Kennedy participated in numerous professional and civic activities in addition to his duties at NC Mutual. He served as chair of the board of directors at Mechanics and Farmers Bank, and as a member of the Howard University Board of Trustees. He was a life-long proponent of education and a member of the James E. Shepard Foundation, an organization that awarded scholarships to students attending North Carolina Central University. In addition, Kennedy was very active with the Boy Scouts of American, the NAACP, and Durham’s Lincoln Hospital, among many others.

The collection is rich with correspondence, photographs, and organizational records that document Kennedy’s myriad business and civic activities. A few examples of photos from the collection are included below. Click the link below to learn more about the collection: http://www.lib.unc.edu/mss/inv/k/Kennedy,William_Jesse.html.

The William Jesse Kennedy, Jr. papers are part of the African American Resources Collection that are held jointly with North Carolina Central University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Click here to learn about the six other collections that are part of this larger collection, which includes the White Rock Baptist Church records and the Floyd McKissick Papers.

Diverse Communities Bus Tour of Historic Durham: Black Wall Street

The next stop on the Diverse Communities bus tour Jessica and I went on was Parrish Street, where several African American businesses originated and prospered in the early 20th century. Known as “Black Wall Street”, several African American operated enterprises started on Parrish Street, such as the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company (founded in 1898) and Mechanics & Farmers Bank. (founded in 1908).

This vibrant and thriving area was unfortunately decimated – along with other businesses and communities – with the creation of Highway 147 along with numerous other factors. While this did not completely eradicate black enterprise in Durham – NC Mutual and M&F are still thriving – it did physically destroy a significant part of the black neighborhood and in turn, an important part of history.

Historic Marker on Parrish Street

Historic Marker on Parrish Street

Mr. Reginald Jones, who works with the Parrish Street Project, talked with us about seeking to revitalize the Parrish Street area. The goal is to commemorate the important legacy of Black Wall street while attracting new businesses to the area to encourage economic revitalization.

Echoing Jessica’s sentiments in an earlier post, it was interesting for the two of us as archivists to be involved in this conversation. We are generally concerned with the preservation of history. It’s important to think about Parrish Street’s heritage in the context of urban planning and development. The urban planning students asked compelling questions about working with the community in order when planning any sort of redevelopment or conceiving any project in a neighborhood. The importance of preserving and celebrating the cultural heritage of a particular area was not lost in the conversation of burgeoning neighborhood development.

The SHC has a number of collections that relate to black owned businesses on Parrish Street and throughout the South. One example is the William Jesse Kennedy Papers, who was the fifth president of NC Mutual Life Insurance.

NC Mutual Executives, ca. 1919 (William Jesse Kennedy Papers, #4925)

NC Mutual Executives, ca. 1919 (William Jesse Kennedy Papers, #4925)

Several other collections contain materials relating to Mechanics & Farmers Bank, such as the Floyd B. McKissick Papers and the Southern Oral History Program interview with Howard Lee, which describes his interactions with former M&FB president John Wheeler.

Additionally, there are numerous SOHP interviews with former employees of NC Mutual such as former president Asa Spaulding. (Note: There are three interviews with Mr. Spaulding in all).

Creator of the Month… Cone Mills Corporation

From Cone Mills Corporation Records (Collection #5247)

From Cone Mills Corporation Records (Collection #5247)

[Each month we feature a "creator" of one of the SHC's manuscript collections. In archival terms, a creator is defined as an individual, group, or organization that is responsible for a collection's production, accumulation, or formation.]

Cone Mills Corporation (and predecessor Proximity Manufacturing Company and its other subsidiary and affiliated companies) manufactured denim and other textiles chiefly in North Carolina and South Carolina. Moses Herman Cone (1857-1908), Ceasar Cone (1859-1917), and other Cone family members began investing in the textile industry in the late nineteenth century and for much of the twentieth century were world leaders in textile manufacturing. Continue reading

Eleven Reasons Why Everybody Should Buy the Studebaker Wagon (1877)

I came across this great little pamphlet yesterday in the Burwell Benson Papers (Collection #60-z, finding aid). It’s an 1877 catalog of “farm, freight, plantation, platform & spring wagons” from the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company of South Bend, Indiana – the same Studebaker famous for producing those swank early 20th-century (horse-less) automobiles.

The catalog includes wonderful pictures of the 1877 models (with such names as: “Salt Lake Wagons” or “Pic Nic Wagons”), a nice pullout engraving showing the South Bend factory, a page extolling the virtues of The Studebaker Slope Shoulder Spoke (“the most solid and strongest wheel yet invented”), and price lists for wagon upgrades (like “seats” or “brakes”). Finally, the catalog includes a list of the “Eleven Reasons Why Everybody Should Buy the Studebaker Wagon.” Here are some highlights from those reasons:

First: It is made of the best selected INDIANA TIMBER, the same being cut at the proper season of the year, piled under sheds, properly dated, and allowed to remain there from three to five years.

Sixth: It is the only wagon in which the SLOPE-SHOULDER SPOKE is used. hence they have the best wheel, which is actually the foundation of the wagon, and should be carefully examined by persons purchasing.

Ninth: The Studebaker Brothers are practical workmen, attend to their business personally, and do not intrust it to the Foreman, as is generally the case in large factories, hence the superiority of their work over all others.

[Thought I'd just throw in a picture of their sleigh selection, for good measure. If you had some dashing to do in the snow in 1877, it looks like it would have only cost you $57.50 to get outfitted with one of these beauties.]