Aaron Day, Jr., African-American United States Army captain during World War I and insurance executive, was born in Dayton, Liberty County, Texas, on January 18, 1891, to Aaron Day, Sr., and Flora (also known as Florence) (Spaight) Day.
The book Homelands and Waterways: The American Journey of the Bond Family, 1846–1926 by Adele Logan Alexander, a professor of history at George Washington University, contains, among a plethora of other material, a fairly detailed account of the first half of Day’s life. Isaiah Day, a White man for whom Dayton, Texas, was named, had nine children with his slave Amanda Cribbs. The Blacks in the community called her Amanda Day. Fairly late in life, and many years after slavery had been abolished, Isaiah confronted Amanda at the water well and demanded that she submit to him sexually. When she refused, he struck her head with a heavy wooden water bucket, killing her. Isaiah Day and Amanda Cribbs Day were Aaron Junior’s paternal grandparents.
Aaron Junior attended grade school in Houston. Then, at the age of fifteen, he entered Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College and graduated in 1910. By that time, Day’s potential for leadership and his grasp of the sciences had become obvious. Upon graduation, Day was hired by his alma mater as a chemistry instructor, a position he kept for seven years, except for about two years that he spent in graduate school on a scholarship at the University of Chicago (the summers of 1911 and 1912, and the complete academic year of 1913–14). He did not take a degree there, but he was a serious scholar, and he compiled an enviable record of accomplishment.
In June 1917 Day volunteered for World War I service in the United States Army. He was commissioned as a captain and placed in command of Company B of the 317th Ammunition Train, Ninety-second Division; the company consisted of African-American soldiers. Day’s commission made him quite unique, as the army had strict standards and disproportionately smaller quotas for the recruitment of Black officers. However, he was an excellent officer candidate. The army found him to be in excellent health, with “perfect” eyesight and hearing, and an erect posture. He was a very good equestrian and marksman. He had an advanced education, and as a college instructor, he was experienced in dealing with young people.
Day received training (without pay) at Fort Des Moines in Iowa. Upon completion of his training, he was dispatched to Camp Funston, an annex to Fort Riley in northeast Kansas. There Day received his captain’s commission and his first paycheck.That winter (of 1917–18) a cerebrospinal meningitis epidemic struck Camp Funston, followed in March by the first diagnosed case in the United States of the influenza pandemic that would spread worldwide and kill millions. In early June, Captain Day and his company were ordered to Camp Upton on Long Island, New York, to prepare to embark overseas. A few days later they sailed from Hoboken, New Jersey, on the steamship Covington. In late June they arrived in France. As the company progressed toward the Western Front, they witnessed firsthand the horrors of war. Captain Day and his men participated in the Argonne Forest and Metz offensives. Day and Lt. William Dyer, the company’s physician, looked on; Dyer later wrote in his journal that the bodies of dead Allied soldiers “were brought back on trucks, piled in like cordwood and dripping blood from head to foot.”
In many ways Captain Day’s Black troops were exposed to hostilities on two fronts: they experienced myriad instances of racial discrimination and harassment from their fellow soldiers while simultaneously fighting for their country. Following the end of the war, the discrimination continued unabated. As Adele Alexander pointed out in Homelands and Waterways: “Following the armistice, the army denied most Negro officers the opportunities it granted Whites of the same ranks to enroll in courses at European universities. Nor were they permitted to march in the huge Allied victory parade in Paris.” Additionally, Alexander mentioned that Day’s home-town newspaper, the Liberty Vindicator, paid tribute to the service of local soldiers but neglected to recognize that Aaron Day, Jr., was the highest ranking officer from Liberty County to serve in the American Expeditionary Force.
In February 1919 Day’s company left France on the huge passenger ship Aquitania, and they arrived in New York harbor on February 28. Capt. Aaron Day received an honorable discharge, and he was separated from active service on March 17, 1919, at Camp Bowie, Texas. Not long after that, Day obtained a commission in the army reserves. Day returned to Prairie View, where he taught chemistry for another year.
Aaron Day had been acquainted with Caroline Lucile Stewart Bond since before the war, and their paths possibly had crossed several times. Caroline (Carrie) was born in November 1889 in Montgomery, Alabama. She was the daughter of Moses Stewart and Georgia (Fagan) Stewart. When her mother later married again, Caroline took the surname of her stepfather, John Bond. She graduated from Atlanta University in 1912. Then she taught for a year at Alabama A&M College, followed by a YWCA job in New Jersey. In 1919 she completed a second bachelor’s degree, this one at Radcliffe. In February 1920 Caroline traveled to Texas and reunited with Aaron Day. On March 1, they were married in Houston at Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church. They had no children.
As Alexander noted, “The Days were a rare couple who did not subordinate Carrie’s education, career, and diverse interests to those of her husband.” She had a successful career in her own right and became dean of women at Paul Quinn College in 1920, head of the English department at Prairie View in 1921, and was a professor of English at Atlanta University and then Howard University. Carrie Day also published numerous essays and short stories.
In 1922 Aaron Day left academia and Texas to begin a more lucrative career at Standard Life Insurance Company in Atlanta, Georgia. About four years later, the company was labeled “impaired” by Georgia’s Insurance Department. When Standard failed, Day went to work for National Benefit Life Insurance Company. In 1930 Aaron and Carrie Day apparently were living in Washington, D. C. That same year, he completed a course on life insurance salesmanship at New York University, and Carrie completed a master of arts degree in anthropology at Radcliffe. In 1932 the results of her graduate school research on race mixing were published by Harvard’s Peabody Museum in her book, A Study of Some Negro-White Families in the United States.
In 1934 Day went to work as training director for the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company in Durham, North Carolina, and he moved to Durham. His wife, suffering from hypertension and myocarditis, died in May 1948 in a Durham hospital.
Day, an accomplished public speaker, often spoke on the subject of life insurance as well as other topics. He sometimes spoke at high school graduation ceremonies and other events. He had been elected assistant secretary of his company and manager of the Ordinary Life department in 1946. In 1958 he was elected vice president and agency director. Day was a member of St. Joseph’s African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. He also belonged to the Omega Psi Phi fraternity, the American Legion’s Weaver-McLean Post No. 175, the Durham Business and Professional Chain, and the Durham Committee on Negro Affairs.
Day began suffering from multiple myeloma in 1959. He retired in 1960 and succumbed to his illness on September 30, 1963, at seventy-two years of age. His funeral was conducted at St. Joseph’s AME Church, and he was buried in Durham’s Beechwood Cemetery (as had been Caroline).