William Nickerson, Jr (William Nickerson)

William Nickerson, Jr

Businessman, Founder. Nickerson was a pioneer and entrepreneur of Black business in Los Angeles. He was the founder and first president of Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company, which was the first African American life insurance company on the west coast and the largest African American life insurance company in the state of California. He was the only son born on a farm to parents who were born into slavery. As a boy he worked on the farm, raising cattle, chickens and geese, while planting and harvesting corn, cotton, and sugar cane, except during the five months of the year when he would walk four miles over rough roads to school. After graduating from high school, he entered Bishop College in Marshall, Texas, where he studied economics and later received a Teacher’s Certificate from Prairie View College. Nickerson taught public school in San Jacinto County for four years before leaving due to extreme racism. In 1905, he went to work as an Underwriter for Southern Mutual Benefit Association, a white insurance company in Dallas. In 1908, he organized American Mutual Benefit Association of Houston which grew and became known throughout the state as “the most outstanding Negro business west of Chicago.” In 1916, he started the Houston Observer newspaper and three years later, he established the Houston Informer. In June of 1921, Nickerson, his wife and eight children traveled by railway to Los Angeles, and the following year, he organized a branch of American Mutual Benefit Association. In 1925, he founded Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company and began offering life, endowment, and health and accident insurance to the community regardless of race or color. In May 1939, Nickerson returned to Bishop College to receive an honorary degree in the field of Business. In 1949, architect Paul Williams designed the landmark Golden State Life Insurance building located on Western Avenue and Adams Boulevard, which became the corporate headquarters. In 1955, the Nickerson Gardens Housing Development in Watts, 1,056 housing units built on 68 acres, was dedicated to Nickerson’s lifetime achievements. The project served as a model for housing projects throughout the United States. (bio by: Louis M.)  Family links:  Parents:  William Nickerson (1854 – 1941)  Spouse:  Bertha B. Benton Nickerson (1887 – 1973)  Sibling:  William Nickerson (1879 – 1945)*  William Nickerson (1879 – 1945) *Calculated relationship


  • January, 26, 1879
  • USA


  • November, 11, 1945
  • USA


  • Angelus Rosedale Cemetery
  • California
  • USA

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