Insurance Companies on Deweese Street

Mammoth Life Insurance Company, 149 Deweese, exterior; 1949 group portrait of African-Americans from Lafayette Studios collection; Kentuckiana Digital Library;

Mammoth Life employees on Deweese Street, February 28, 1949; Lafayette Studios Collection, KUK-96PA101-6070b, Kentuckiana Digital Library

Before 1954, there were three insurance companies located within the neighborhood, all located on the former Deweese Street. They were widely recognized African American insurance companies. They included Mammoth Life, Atlanta Life, and Supreme Life. Historically, all-White run insurance companies would not insure African Americans. This prompted the founding of the all-African American insurance companies.

As integration was set in motion, the need for these separate insurance agencies dwindled. This caused many of these smaller African American insurance agencies to begin to be bought up by larger, more nationally recognized insurance companies. Although this signified the progress of the civil rights movement, it did away with three thriving businesses in the neighborhood, which also created jobs for the members of the community. This business, unlike the funeral and hair business, did not continue to draw from mainly one race clientele.

Mammoth Life and Accident Insurance Company was one of hundreds of African American owned insurance agencies in the country, and it was Kentucky’s largest African American owned business (see more information on this at the Notable Kentucky African Americans Database). The company was started and based in Louisville . The Lexington office headquarters were located in the neighborhood, on the 600-block of Walnut Street (now the Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.).

The company was founded in 1915 by four African American men: B.O. Wilkerson, Rochelle Smith, William H. Wright, and Henry E. Hall.  Mae Street Kidd describes her interactions with this company when she was first starting out in her career in public life (see Wade Hall’s interpretation of her oral history interviews in Passing for Black). Ultimately, the agency merged with Atlanta Life Insurance Company in 1992 and the Lexington offices were closed.

Pages in this Project Site


Integration’s Effects on the MLK Neighborhood



O.L. Hughes & Sons

Smith and Smith

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