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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William and Josephine Clement, June 19, 1986. Interview C-0031. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Working for North Carolina Mutual

William Clement describes his work with North Carolina Mutual. His father had first started to work for the company in 1906, in Columbia, South Carolina. William's father had a close relationship with one of the founding leaders, C.C. Spaulding. William describes his own transition into the company and his mobility within it. Finally, whereas earlier William identified opportunity for community involvement as a positive aspect of life in Durham, here he points to the economic and business opportunities living in Durham—the base of North Carolina Mutual—afforded him over the years.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with William and Josephine Clement, June 19, 1986. Interview C-0031. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

WILLIAM CLEMENT:
Oh, gosh, he was a member of our family. My father started with the company in 1906, and C. C. Spaulding came from the country in 1899, and John Merrick and Doctor Moore, they were both involved - you know that story as well as I do - and they brought C. C. Spaulding, who was the first agent, the first general manager - he built the company. He didn't become president until '23, when Doctor Moore died, but he was the man who built it, and he built it by really gathering people and giving them responsibility. He never graduated from college, in fact he didn't finish high school.
WALTER WEARE:
Did he have a large influence on your father?
WILLIAM CLEMENT:
Oh, yes, definitely. And he would come to Charleston when I was a little boy, growing up. See, I was born in '12, and he was coming there before I was born. And when Spaulding started coming from Charleston, I knew Mr. Merrick. I was a little fella when he died in 1919, and Mr. Merrick and Mr. Moore in '23. And when they would be making trips to Charleston, they stayed at our home. And my mother would start cleaning the house two months before. (laughter) And I remember one day I went down to the corner for a loaf of bread, and I came back with the bread - I must've been about six, seven years old - and he said, "gosh, the bread is as large as the boy." So C. C. Spaulding was a great man; yeah, he was my man. They've never developed another man like C. C. Spaulding.
WALTER WEARE:
Now, your father never came to the home office.
WILLIAM CLEMENT:
No, but he was on the board. They wanted him to come to Durham, but my father was very conservative. He was successful in Charleston, for his day and time. He bought a little piece of property there, and he kept it, and he was a man who wanted his independence . . . (End of Tape III, Side A) [TAPE III SIDE B] BEGIN TAPE III, SIDE B
WILLIAM CLEMENT:
. . . Well, he retired in '49, and he died in '56; he was still on the board when he died. So C. C. Spaulding was just like a brother member of our family, and I knew him. When I came to Durham, I used to drive Mr. Spaulding around, on trips to visit people. He liked to go on field trips, and he had a way of advertising: he'd sit in the car and he'd have a piece of literature or something that he wanted to drop out so that people could pick it up. And he developed a technique - that he would know exactly when to let it fall, and it would fall right at their feet. So people would pick it up and read "North Carolina Mutual." Oh, he built it, he built it. We've never had an entrepeneur like C.C. Spaulding. Joe Goodloe and Kennedy and Asa - Asa was a different breed. Asa was selfish, and he built himself.
WALTER WEARE:
So you knew Charleston firsthand; you knew Atlanta firsthand, you know Durham firsthand - I guess, coming back to that question of your coming to Durham: how did it first impress you? Of course, I suppose you'd been here before, but, that is, coming here to live . . .
WILLIAM CLEMENT:
Oh, I was excited. Just the idea of coming to the home office - now, my father did not want me to come. That was very unusual. He knew the family situation better than I did. My father was never really one to talk about North Carolina Mutual, but he knew that there was a struggle between the Merrick family and the Spaulding family, which really got the Kennedys involved. And he knew that, and he thought that I wouldn't be able to deal with that, and he thought that I should stay in Charleston. But the reason why I left Charleston - I lost my first wife. We'd only been married five years; she died from cancer. And that was a tremendous blow. And I really wanted to get away from Charleston. And then I got to Atlanta, and I enjoyed Atlanta. And we were just getting started, because we had the baby to start with, and then we had two babies in Atlanta, so we really hadn't gotten into the social life, or the ongoing society, and so forth in Atlanta. But Atlanta was just a fascinating place at that time. And Durham was no Atlanta. But Durham had so much business opportunites. It was Wall Street for blacks in this country. And you had a cohesiveness. I've always been interested in black businesses, and I still am. I've never worked for anyone else but the North Carolina Mutual. So that inspired me: I wanted to come; it was different. And then on top of that, when we got here, the Durham Committee -
WALTER WEARE:
What Josephine called the Committee on Negro Affairs.
WILLIAM CLEMENT:
Right. It was very active, trying to improve the quality of life, and Mr. Cox got me involved in that immediately. And it's still a very strong organization - in fact, it's stronger now than it was then, politically. But it had a political committee, an economic committee, an education committee - for five committees. And they were all working very hard, trying to improve the quality. And downtown Durham was very conservative, very fearful of what the action would be. I liked that. Church life was very good, we had a very dynamic preacher, the Reverend Miles Mark Fisher, the boys got involved in the scouting program, Troop 55. They produced so many Eagle Scouts. We got involved in the schools around here, Josephine got involved - so we just fell in love with Durham. Really, you never can tell, but I imagine we'll die in Durham.
WALTER WEARE:
So it didn't feel like a big step down?
WILLIAM CLEMENT:
No, no, it felt like a step up. Because I always felt I wanted to be an officer. In fact, I had ambitions one time of being president one day, and got right up to the door. But that didn't disturb me after I didn't get it, it didn't affect my loyalty to the institution. I kept moving right on up. And then these opportunities that I had for getting involved in the industry - that was stimulating, to able to be on the same boards with the president of Prudential and Metropolitan, New York Life, Equitable, and so forth. And I knew people firsthand, I could call them if I had a problem.