Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Asa T. Spaulding, April 13, 1979. Interview C-0013-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The rise of insurance companies and the accumulation of history

Insurance companies put burial societies out of business in the 1930s and 1940s, Spaulding remembers. Some people disliked the transition because of their devotion to ritual, but Spaulding believes the change was for the best. As he remembers this transition, he reflects on how lots of small changes can add up into history-making events, and reflects on two leaders—Richard Nixon and the Shah of Iran—who have been tested, and failed, in history's crucible.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Asa T. Spaulding, April 13, 1979. Interview C-0013-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

WALTER WEARE:
Would black policyholders working class people, would they resist maybe going from the old traditional burial society fraternal organization over to a more secular kind of insurance company?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
No. Because these fraternal organizations insurance plans: I don't hear too much about any of them.
WALTER WEARE:
I'm thinking now when you were here in the thirties.
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Well, they had the fraternal organizations. Remember the Royal Knights of King David; but it went out of business. The insurance companies put them out of business.
WALTER WEARE:
I'm just wondering if there was some reluctance on the part of the masses to make this change?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Well, they liked rituals. But people don't pay that much attention to it now. It used to be, every time a Mason died, they'd have the rituals. It's seldom done now, very seldom. People have gotten away from it, the ceremony.
WALTER WEARE:
How important was the….?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
They served their day and generation. I look upon the things that have happened throughout our civilisation in the nations of the world, and the rise and fall of nations. Each one had a role to play. It's part of the changes, part of developing a nation and a people, and a society and everything else. I started years ago to having a brotherhood day and goodwill day on Sundays at our church.
WALTER WEARE:
This is White Rock?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Yes. I remember in 1963, I invited Abraham Harmon, ambassador from Israel, to be the brotherhood day speaker. And he made a statement that I will never forget, in going back and reviewing history. He said, "It is never given to any man to complete the great tasks of life, but it is given to every man an opportunity to make his contribution toward that completion." You take it in political life; you take it in legislation; you take it any way you want to. The people, just like the national insurance—you know about national insurance? And how long we've been arguing about that? And presidents that have come and gone? And is still with us? At some time it will be; but the person who starts with the idea may never see it. And whether you take it in political life—just like in business. I served my day and time. As I look at North Carolina Mutual, I think there was a day and time for every president that North Carolina Mutual has had. I think he had something special to offer at that particular time. And I think it's fortunate it's that way. It would be tragic if the thing stopped at the passing of a person. If there wasn't somebody else to pick up the mantle and carry on. Would we get anywhere? So, as I look back and study organizations and things of that nature, I was a fraternity man. But to me, now, I just don't have time to fool with it. I feel there's too much time spent for too little. There are other things that are more worthwhile and can contribute more to society, than the time and energy spent on some of these things.
WALTER WEARE:
Did you think this philosophy in the beginning, came in part from your background and values, the kind of traditional values?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Well, I'll tell you. I think really my continuing to teach this bible class that I have in Sunday school had more influence on my life. At the truth, and all. Starting with my grandfather, the bible has had more influence on my life and my philosophy of life than anything else that I know of. And I don't mean to be sanctimonious; I'm not trying to be that. But I think there are certain universal truths. And somehow or other, as I look at things, how they're happening and to people, the rise and fall of people, what causes them to rise and fall: overambitious, vanity. You take Nixon. I voted for Nixon when he first ran. But here was a man who could have gone down in history as one of the greatest presidents that this country has had. Because he had something. He had an asset. But he had a liability that outweighed it. Just like when he took that foreign trip and came back here, bringing those costumes and all. He had something that was just eating at him. He could have been reelected in what was it? 1972?
WALTER WEARE:
In '76 he would have run.
ASA T. SPAULDING:
He could have been reelected for his second term without ever resorting to the tactics he did.
WALTER WEARE:
It was '72, yes.
ASA T. SPAULDING:
I mean there was no one on the scene who could have defeated him, but yet, he was so possessed with this overriding ambition that he put his dependence in the wrong things. He opened the doors to China. Many things that he did. And he had the possibility, if he could've just kept himself disciplined. First man to bring the presidency shame and disgrace. Tragic. Both to him, and maybe, to a certain extent, the country. And another passage, "‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit,’ said the Lord". The most dramatic experience that I've seen of that was the Shah of Iran. Two years ago, nobody would have thought it was possible. And the ambassador from one of my very good friends, [unclear] . We became very good friends. I've attended several parties at the Iranian embassy. And I have something sent me by him. Correspondance. But the point is: I think the Shah was trying to bring Iran into the twentieth century. But I think he was too far away from his people. And, as to whether or not he recognized that people power is just as important as military power. And when we put our trust, our dependence in treaties and might and power, and everything else, there'd better be some spirit somewhere. You can take the best football team and put it on the field with no spirit. There's something that spirit maketh alive. I think that early training, and the lessons that I learned, and I studied these things. Whether you take it literally or not, or take it symbolically, or whatnot. There are certain universal truths that if you test them in the crucible of history, you find that sooner or later.