Charles Clinton Spaulding, one of the most successful and influential African American businessmen of the 20th century, was born August 1, 1874 on a farm near Whiteville, North Carolina. His parents, Benjamin McIver and Margaret Moore Spaulding of free ancestry, were prosperous landowners and respected leaders in their community. As a young boy, Charles spent most of his time working on the farm. He did attend school but the educational possibilities were very limited in his community, so when he was twenty years old he moved to Durham to join his uncle, Aaron Moore. There he enrolled at Whitted School and gained his high school diploma in 1898 at the age of 23.
After graduation, Spaulding got a job as a manager of a grocery store. When it failed he began to explore the field of insurance, which was a new business emerging in the African American community. In 1899 Spaulding became the general manager of North Carolina Mutual and Provident Association, an organization founded by John Merrick and Spaulding’s uncle, Aaron Moore. The Association eventually became North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance, the largest black-owned insurance company in the nation. Spaulding immediately began to recruit agents, mostly among black schoolteachers and ministers, and rapidly expanded Mutual’s market. In 1900 Spaulding married Fannie Jones, who was John Merrick’s half sister. They had four children, and when Fannie died in 1919, Spaulding married his second wife, Charlotte Beatrice Steven Garner, in 1920.
In 1921 Charles Spaulding assumed leadership of Mechanics and Farmers Bank, which was an offshoot of North Carolina Mutual. He also headed the Mutual Building and Loan Association and was vice president and chairman of the Bankers Fire Insurance Company and the Southern Fidelity Mutual Insurance Company, respectively. Spaulding became president of North Carolina Mutual in 1923, after the death of his uncle. By the mid-1920s, Mutual and its various satellite enterprises led to Durham, North Carolina being designated the capital of the black middle class. In 1926 Spaulding received the Harmon Foundation Award for Achievement in Business.
Charles Spaulding was a strong supporter of Booker T. Washington and his philosophies. Like Washington, Spaulding believed in gaining equality through achievement and that only with African American business excellence would they achieve acceptance and citizenship. He worked hard in civic, educational and social organizations in hopes of offering opportunities to African Americans. He also served on a number of boards for African American colleges and universities as well as the national executive committees of the YMCA and Boy Scouts of America. Spaulding was also appointed national chairman of the Emergency Advisory Council of the Urban League, which sought to enlist support for the New Deal among African Americans. He used his influence to obtain jobs for blacks and to lobby against discrimination in New Deal programs. Charles Spaulding died on August 1, 1952 in Durham, North Carolina.