Black History: Special Delivery!!

Welcome To Black Mail…..where we bring you Black History:  Special Delivery!

Viola Mitchell Turner (1900-1988) was a black executive at North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company.  Born in Macon, Georgia, she was the only child of teen parents.  Her parents were very poor.  Against many odds, Viola Mitchell Turner blazed a trail of success for herself which included being appointed as the first African American member of the North Carolina Mutual Board of Directors. 

Turner attended Morris Brown College in Atlanta, studying business.  She graduated in 1918.  For women, studying business at that time was typically in preparation for a clerical job function.   Following her graduation, she became a secretary at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.  There she met George Washington Carver.  Turner also worked as the personal secretary or the Superintendent of Negro Education for the State of Mississippi.  She was then offered a clerical position at North Carolina Mutual Insurance (NCMI) in 1902.  She assisted with setting up branch locations in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Mississippi in this role.  In 1924, Turner secured a clerical position at NCMI headquarters in Durham, North Carolina.  Located on Parrish Street, the area was also referred to as Black Wall Street due to the number of  Black-owned financial institutions in the area.  Turner soon transitioned into the role of personal secretary for NCMI founder, Charles C. Spalding.

During her 36+ year career, Turner worked diligently.  She had a natural aptitude for finance and honed her skills and was placed in charge NCMI’s mortgage and government bonds portfolio.  Turner decided to shift the assets to stocks.  A male colleague called this “her little project.”  Undeterred, she researched investment strategies, honed her skills, and developed relationships with industry professionals.  Her portfolio continued to grow, adding significantly to NCMI’s profits.  Many Wall Street professionals sought out her advice, often bypassing her male colleagues seeking her opinion instead.

Her path at NCMI was not without challenges.  Turner faced discrimination in her role; receiving less pay than her male colleagues.  She protested the pay inequity and eventually received a pay increase.  Keep in mind at this time, she was working in a secretarial role!  Turner was appointed as treasurer of NCMI in 1957.  In 1960 was promoted to Vice President and was also elected to the NCMI Board of Directors.  She used her position to advocate for equitable pay for other female colleagues. 

She retired from the organization in 1965.  Viola Mitchell Turner passed away in 1988. 

Another installment of melanated mail has been delivered.  Ponder, reflect and pass it on.