On This Date, Something Happened: The Universal Life Insurance Company
(Editor’s note: I’m on a quest to catalog all of the places in the Memphis area with historical markers in a new feature called “On This Date, Something Happened.)
This is the neon sign outside of the Egyptian-Revival style building that once held the Universal Life Insurance Company. The company, which was founded in 1923, became the fourth largest African-American-owned insurance company in the country.
Here’s the full text from the historical marker:
“Founded in 1923 by Dr. J.E. Walker, with co-founders A.W. Willis, Sr. and M.W. Bonner, this family business grew to be the fourth largest African-American-owned life insurance company in the United States. Dr. Walker’s son, A. Maceo Walker, continued the business from 1952 until 1983. He was succeeded by his daughter, Patricia Walker Shaw, who ran it until her death in 1985. Descendants of all three families made significant contributions to the company’s growth.
Designed by the African-American architectural firm McKissack and McKissack and constructed in 1949, this building houses the national headquarters of the Universal Life Insurance Company. The Egyptian-Revival style building is an ongoing example of the interest that African-Americans developed in the 1920s in Egyptian art. During the era of racial segregation, it was one of the few places where Blacks could gather for their civic and social affairs.”
Currently, though, the building at Linden and Danny Thomas has fallen on hard times. It’s seemingly empty, and there are a few broken windows. The amazing neon sign on the corner either doesn’t work or is never turned on. Here’s hoping that the huge old building is given some new life sometime soon.
Universal Life Insurance Company
Corner of Linden and Danny Thomas, downtown.