Memphis-based Universal Life Insurance Company (ULICO), the second African American company in the United States to attain million-dollar-capital status (1947), has been described as one of the “ten top Negro owned and operated business enterprises in the world” and as “the cornerstone of Negro business enterprise and financial initiative in the entire Mid-South.” (1) The company was established in the Fraternal Bank building in Memphis on September 6, 1923, by Dr. J. E. Walker, former president of Mississippi Life Insurance Company. Other charter officers were J. T. Wilson, M. W. Bonner, Dr. R. S. Fields, A. W. Willis, and B. F. Booth. Only three of the men–Walker, Bonner, and Willis–remained active in the company, guiding it to its present position among African American companies.
Universal’s capital stock increased from $100,000 in 1923 to $200,000 in 1926, and the company moved to its first home-office building at 234 Hernando Street in Memphis. ULICO prospered and over the next twenty years expanded into nine other states. During World War II, Walker served as national chairman of the War Bond Saving Club and spearheaded the purchase of $2 million in war bonds. In 1952 A. Maceo Walker succeeded his father as ULICO president. In 1956 he became the only black appointed to President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Person to Person Committee.
Universal’s founding goal to “build a service institution that would give jobs and financial assistance to our people” is achieved through its use of assets for civic improvements, educational scholarships, and mortgage funds. (2) Descendants of J. E. Walker continue to operate Universal Life.