As we are now in Black History Month, I’m reminded of one of the more interesting companies featured in my insurance picture postcard collection – the Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company. The Company was the result of a merger of three black owned life insurance companies who were in fear of going out of business because of the 1921 depression. The directors of the companies – Supreme Life, Liberty Life and Northeastern Life – thought that they stood a better chance of survival if they merged into one company, so the companies merged in 1929 at the height of the Wall Street Crash.
One of the constituent parts of the merger, Supreme Life, was founded by one Frank L Gillespie who previously worked in “the colored department” at Royal Life Insurance Company. The cards in my collection were published by the company in the 1930s by which time T K Gibson was President of the Company.
In ‘postcard 1’, Gibson is surrounded by his staff. In ‘postcard 2’, he is seen, according to the rear of the card, issuing “an endowment at age 18 on the life of Jackie Roosevelt Robinson Jr. and President T K Gibson explains the policy to Jackie Robinson Sr.”
Jackie Roosevelt Robinson Jr was a famous baseball player, and in fact, the first African American to play professional baseball in the twentieth century. Following his retirement from baseball in 1957, Robinson accepted a position as vice president for personnel with Chock Full O’Nuts, a coffee manufacturer and lunch counter chain. As an advocate of minority enterprise, Robinson also helped establish several minority-owned businesses, including the Freedom National Bank of New York, the Gibraltar Life Insurance Company, and the Hamilton Life Insurance Company.
The next cards show views of the Auditing Division and Statistical Divisions, of the Home Office, Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Co. The majority, if not all, of the employees are black.
The text on the rear of the card emphasizes the Company’s “liberal treatment of policyholders and employees.” The fact that the business was black owned and most of the staff and policyholders were also black is not mentioned but may be what “liberal” means at a time when discrimination was rife.
The next card is from another set of postcards, also showing the workforce and offices of the Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company. This one is easy to date, as postally it was used in 1937. The text on the rear of the card state that the image shows a “large force of clerks, bookkeepers and stenographers who handle the records of the more than $30,000,000 insurance in force on the lives of 130,000 policyholders.”
Searching the internet, I can’t discover what happened to the Company. In an article by Robert C Puth, Assistant Professor of Economics at University of New Hampshire, entitled “Supreme Life: The History of a Negro Life Insurance Company, 1919-1962” referring to the Company as the Supreme Life Insurance Company of America describes it as the “third largest Negro life insurance firm in the United States. In 1965, it had assets of over $33,000,000 and $208,000,000 of insurance in force.”
The question I do not know the answer to is whether the company with the appendix ‘of America’ is the same company (without ‘Liberty’) which was founded by Frank J Gillespie and was the result of the 1929 merger.
Another item on the internet is a Policyholder Information note that the Company (with the ‘of America’ appendix but without ‘Liberty’) was issued with an order of liquidation on 12 July 1995. There are also items of correspondence with the Company in 1957, with ‘Liberty’ but without ‘of America.’ The liquidation notice says that the Company was domiciled in Illinois and licensed to operate in nine states and the District of Columbia. The rear of the Statistical Division card above says that the company maintains district offices in all principal cities of 11 listed states and the District of Columbia.
My guess is that the Company changed its name again sometime between 1957 and 1995, closed a couple of district offices, and was liquidated in 1995.
To find out more about Supreme Liberty Life Assurance you can visit: https://www.blackhistoryheroes.com/2010/02/supreme-liberty-life-insurance-co.html
And information about Jackie Roosevelt Robinson Jr.’s life and career can be found here: