Norman Oliver Houston was co-founder of the Golden State Mutual Insurance Co., the largest black-owned insurance company in the west. He was born in San Jose, California on October 16, 1893, and studied business administration at the University of California at Berkeley before being drafted into the U.S. Army. He served as a regimental personnel adjutant, the only black to hold that position in the entire army.
Houston returned to UC Berkeley but left before graduation to sell insurance to black waiters and cooks at the railroad commissary in Los Angeles. He then became the first California employee of William Nickerson’s American Mutual Insurance Co. where he soon became superintendent of agents. In 1925, he, along with Nickerson and George Allen Beavers, Jr., founded the Golden State Guarantee Fund Insurance Company in a one-room office with few amenities and $17,800 in capital. The company grew rapidly and within three years they built a two story office building using all African American designers and laborers at 4261 Central Avenue in Los Angeles.
Houston felt that expansion was the key to growth and, while this was tempered by the conservatism of Nickerson and Beavers, the company had expanded to Texas and Illinois by 1944. Upon Nickerson’s death in 1945 Houston became the second president of the company. Through his aggressive partnership with Beavers, the company continued its successful growth to become the third largest black-owned insurance company in America today with policyholders in fourteen states representing over $4 billion in policies.
Norman O. Houston was also co-founder and chairman of the board of Broadway Federal Savings and Loan Association, in 1980 the largest black-owned savings and loan in California. He helped found the National Bank of Los Angeles, and was elected to the California State Athletic Association, the first black to be appointed. He also served as president of the Los Angles Branch of the NAACP and was a member of Los Angeles’ first Human Rights Commission. In 1975 Mayor Tom Bradley and Governor Edmund G. Brown honored him as a “pioneer of Black industry.” Houston, a member of Sigma Pi Phi fraternity, died in Los Angeles on October 20, 1981, four days after his 88th birthday.