Following the Civil War, newly free Black men and women joined the ranks of paid workers throughout the country. But certain living necessities – such as health or life insurance policies – were hard for them to come across at the time, as very few companies of the time were willing to accept Black residents as clients.
In 1901, a group led by Abraham Lincoln Lewis sought to change this for Jacksonville residents.
Lewis, along with Rev. E. J. Gregg, Rev. J. Milton Waldron, Dr. Arthur W. Smith, E. W. Latson, A. W. Price, and J. F. Valentine, formed what was then known as the Afro-American Industrial and Benefit Association with the mission of providing accessible health and life insurance policies for Black residents.
Its original office burned down in the Great Fire of 1901, prompting a temporary move to Lewis’ residence along A. Philip Randolph Boulevard – then known as Florida Avenue. Within a few years it opened its new offices at 105 E. Union Street.
The company would undergo two name changes in its early years: first to Afro-American Industrial Insurance Company, then to Afro-American Life Insurance Company.
The AALIC and Lewis himself became fixtures within Jacksonville’s Black community. The company actively supported community events and local charitable organizations, while Lewis was a community leader and would later purchase land in Nassau County to create American Beach, a beach resort town free of racial discrimination.
The company served clients throughout Florida and expanded to cover five states, but it remained based in Jacksonville throughout its lifespan. In 1956, its modern headquarters building opened at the corner of Ocean and Union streets.
Following the progress made toward race relations during the civil rights era, major insurance companies began offering coverage to more Black residents, combining with increased competition to render AALIC obsolete. The company had shut down by the late 1980s.
Today, the former Afro-American Life Insurance Company building still stands at Ocean and Union, though it’s now owned by African Methodist Episcopal Church. A placard near the building honors the company and its legacy.