Durham’s Civil Rights Heritage
Aaron McDuffie Moore’s service to his people and his community extended far beyond the role for which he is best known — as one of the founders of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company.
Born in 1863 to free parents of black-Indian-white descent and raised in Columbus County, Moore graduated from Shaw University’s Leonard Medical School. He completed the four-year program in three years and placed second in the North Carolina medical board examinations. He became Durham’s first black physician in 1888 and in 1895 helped start a pharmacy for Durham’s black community, the first of numerous business ventures in which he was involved.
He founded Lincoln Hospital, the city’s first hospital for African Americans, in 1901 and served as its first superintendent. In 1913 he set up a small library in the basement of White Rock Baptist Church, leading in 1916 to the opening of the Durham Colored Library (now Stanford L. Warren). Between 1914 and his death in 1923 he was absorbed in the rural school movement for African Americans. He personally paid the salary of the first rural school inspector in North Carolina to demonstrate the need for the program.
He did extensive work for the Baptist Church, including chairing White Rock Baptist’s board of deacons, sitting on the board of trustees and serving as superintendent of the Sunday School for 25 years. His work in foreign missions led him to Haiti, a trip he undertook at his own expense, where he founded the Haitian White Rock Baptist Church. He sent poor children to school, gave free treatment, medicine, food, and fuel to those in need, and “…unfailingly queried the children about their Sunday school attendance.”
In his book “Black Business in the New South,” Walter B. Weare characterizes him this way:
“Dr. Moore…was the studied example of the frugal, serious-minded philanthropist who sought material gain only as an incidental necessity and quietly gave away what he did accumulate….He emerges from the history of black Durham as a Messiah moving quietly among his people, giving aid and comfort—helping people was his whole life.”
Material taken from Weare, Walter B.” Black Business in the New South: A Social History of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company” pp. 52-55.