A few months ago, I was asked by a colleague to track down any information I could find about Pilgrim Life Insurance Company, originally domiciled in Indiana. I checked with the "usual sources" (Google, A M Best, etc) to no avail.
And then, a good friend of mine came through for me. Fred's actually the field rep for my "carrier of choice" for non-medical products (group life and dental, disability and the like). What Fred found is a fascinating story, one that begins with that "peculiar institution," and ends with free men (and women) founding a successful business venture:
"Founded in 1898 in Augusta, Pilgrim Health and Life Insurance Company became the first insurance provider for African Americans in Georgia. A black-owned and -operated company, Pilgrim was one of the largest employers of African Americans in Augusta and issued tens of thousands of policies in the first decades of the twentieth century."
About 20 years ago, the company was bought by the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, which was founded just a few years after Pilgrim Life. In fact, today Atlanta Life boasts that it's the "No. 1 African-American reinsurer of group life benefits," no doubt building on its previous absorption of Pilgrim Life. Atlanta Life was founded by a former slave (Alonzo Franklin Herndon); Pilgrim Life by a young black man (Solomon W. Walker), whose day job had been delivering groceries.
Atlanta Life's Alonzo Herndon became a successful barber and real estate investor, who saw a need for low-cost insurance products for a then-burgeoning working class. Investing some $140, he was able to build his fledgeling enterprise into a company that today boasts over $200 million in assets.
Meanwhile, Mr Walker also saw a need for a "benevolent society" that would offer insurance policies to an underserved market. What a lot of folks don't know is that, years ago, life insurance applications asked not just one's height and weight, but race, as well. This is not something of which my industry should be proud, but it did happen, and I'm pleased that this practice was discontinued long before I began my own practice. In the event, Mr Walker saw a need, and determined to fill it.
Although Pilgrim Life no longer exists as a separate entity, one imagines that the founders of both companies would be quite proud of the legacy they've left behind. I would encourage our readers to take some time and read about a chapter of our nation's history that doesn't get a lot of airplay.
And thanks, Fred, for the tip.