WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - One of the smallest towns in Columbus County has one of the biggest success stories. The man who ran the nation’s largest and richest black-owned company in the early 1900s was a man by the name of Charles Clinton Spaulding. He was born and raised in Farmer’s Union.
"He’s probably the most famous member of the family we have ever had,” said Luke Alexander, a descendant of Charles Spaulding. Alexander, the designated historian for the Spaulding family, is very proud when he talks about his great uncle, and he should be.
C.C. Spaulding, as he was known, became one of the most influential African-American businessmen in the 20th Century — running a multi-million dollar insurance company in Durham called North Carolina Mutual. Spaulding left the tiny town of Farmer’s Union at the young age of 20 to pursue big dreams in Durham. He joined his uncle’s new startup business that sold burial insurance policies to black families for about ten cents a week.
“He actually became part of NC Mutual under his uncle whose name is Dr. Aaron Moore, who is also from Farmer’s Union,” Alexander explained. “Dr. Aaron Moore was the first black doctor in Durham. Aaron Moore and his friend John Merrick founded North Carolina Mutual. Very soon after the company started, they brought Charles Spaulding into the company and the three of them took it to heights.”
Under Spauldings leadership, the company eventually made so much money, the street that it was on in Durham--Parrish St.-- became known as Black Wall Street. A historical marker stands in downtown Durham near the current North Carolina Mutual, a much larger building that the original company which opened in 1898. The company was reportedly worth $40 million at the time of Spauldings death in 1952.
“It succeeded probably beyond their wildest dreams,” Alexander said. “I mean I’ve seen some of the figures, that you know, within five years of being in operation they were making a significant amount of money selling these policies."
Spaulding never forgot his roots.
“He would donate to members of the family that needed financial assistance. He actually gave my grandmother money to build a tobacco barn," Alexander explained.
That legacy lives on today. Descendants of the Spaulding family get together every two years for a huge family reunion. Hundreds attend. Some of the young family members in school are given money to further their education.
"We do scholarships for our family to help them with their education and that’s one of the good things about our reunion is we try to help our young generation to continue on the legacy of the Spaulding family,” said Wendell Campbell, chair of the North Carolina Spaulding Family Reunion.
The gatherings have grown so much in number, and because there are many relatives in different parts of the country, there are committees that decide the locations. This year’s reunion will be held in Indianapolis, Indiana. The North Carolina reunion, which Campbell chairs, will be held in Wilmington in 2022.
While C.C. Spaulding, by far, is considered the most successful person to come out of Farmer’s Union, there are other big names that have roots to the community, too. People like former State Representative Sandra Spaulding Hughes and Oprah Winfrey’s longtime partner, Stedman Graham. His family is in Lake Waccamaw, about five minutes away from Farmer’s Union. Graham is also a Spaulding descendent.
It’s a name with a rich heritage, all linked to man who made the Spaulding name one for the history books.
“And we’re intensely proud of that,” Alexander said. “We want to maintain that heritage for ourselves and the ones who are coming after us so it’s very important for us to kind of catalog this history and make sure we have it to hand down to the next generation of Spauldings.”