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Negro Life Insurance Applications

A Historical Perspective - Negro Applications

From time to time Northwestern Mutual insured the lives of Negroes. In 1885 the problem of getting a full medical history for life insurance purposes on Negro applicants raised the question as to the advisability of continuing this practice.

Northwestern Mutual made it clear, however, that “we have no prejudice against insuring colored men growing out of mere fact of color.”

Hmmmm… In some cases, different life insurance applications would be used in Negro neighborhoods. These applications, and the agents providing them, would ask questions about the morals, environment, and habits of the policyholder that were considered “too detailed and otherwise unsuitable” for the standard (White) applications.

Metropolitan Life ( MetLife) also drank from the same cup. The ‘Special Questions Report’ issued by Metropolitan Life Insurance stated:

“In connection with the proposal now under consideration for the insuring of colored lives, it was agreed to use special questions designed to bring out poor environmental, moral hazards, or ‘bad habits’, either as part of the regular application or perhaps in the form of a special application to be completed in districts where a substantial proportion of the applications are on low grade risks."

The report also included some suggested questions about the applicant’s home and habits…such as:

  • Number of rooms in the home?

  • Number of persons living in home, including lodgers?

  • Does home contain toilet facilities?

  • Does home contain running water?

  • Is home in good repair?

  • Is home clean? …

  • Does applicant or premium-payer associate with criminals or gamblers such as those in the policy number game? Note: Policy game was an illegal daily lottery introduced in Chicago in 1885.

  • Does the applicant or the premium-payer get into fights?

  • Have the applicant's or the premium-payer's drinking habits been criticized?

  • Is there any other criticism of the applicant's or premium payer's habits or reputation?

The white folks were spared these embarrassing and humiliating questions. So how do they say it? “Well, that was ‘mighty white’ of companies like New York Life, MetLife and Prudential.

We will end this conversation with this quote:

“Having researched slavery for the past three decades, I have concluded that there are many rationales for reparations. There has never been a leveling of the playing field, or payments for the debt of unpaid labor over 250 years of slavery. Furthermore, Black contribution to the wealth of America has not been acknowledged or given its due, although the Southern planters and Northern manufacturers who helped shape the nation were made rich by turning raw commodities harvested by enslaved people into commercial empires.” ~~Cedric Richmond -Senior Adviser to President Joe Biden


McGlamery, J Gabriel, "Race Based Underwriting and the Death of Burial Insurance" (2009). Connecticut Insurance Law Journal. 53., Williamson & Smally, Northwestern Mutual Life: A Century of Trusteeship, In Discrimination Against Minorities, supra note 16, at 550.

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