William N. Nickerson, Jr., black businessman, was born in Louisiana on January 26, 1879, to William N. and Emma (Pool) Nickerson, Sr. The family moved from Louisiana to San Jacinto County, Texas, shortly after his birth. He attended Bishop College and graduated in 1904. After moving to Houston he worked as an insurance agent for the black division of the Southern Mutual Benefit Association. In 1916 Nickerson, Clifton F. Richardson, Sr., and several others began a newspaper, the Houston Observer. After Richardson, the manager and editor, resigned in 1919, Nickerson, Richardson, and H. F. Edwards organized the Informer Publishing Company to publish the Houston Informer. In Houston, Nickerson's efforts on behalf of black civil rights included an attempt in 1919 to overturn the state's white primary. During this time he and several others organized the American Mutual Benefit Association, the first black-owned insurance company in Texas. Nickerson, wishing to start an insurance company that would cover numerous states, left the successful American Mutual and moved to Los Angeles in July 1925. After spending $27.50 for books on California insurance law, he and another African American, Norman O. Houston, founded the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company. Nickerson sought to establish an integrated company; most insurance companies at that time were segregated. Besides selling insurance to any qualified buyer, Golden State had nondiscriminatory employment practices. Nickerson later expanded the company into twenty states, including Texas. Even though he later moved back to Houston, he continued to serve as chairman of the company until his death. He married Bertha Benton in 1906, and they had eight children. In 1938 Bishop College awarded Nickerson an honorary doctorate of science and business administration in recognition of his achievements. He died on November 14, 1945. By 1979 the company he founded had become the second largest black-owned business in the Western United States.
Support Texas History Now
Join TSHA to support quality Texas history programs and receive exclusive benefits.
Charles Downey, "Ordinary is Extraordinary for Golden State," Black Enterprise, June 1979. Charles William Grose, Black Newspapers in Texas, 1868–1970 (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, 1972). Houston Informer, November 24, 1945. M. S. Stuart, An Economic Detour: A History of Insurance in the Lives of American Negroes (New York: Malliet, 1940).
- African Americans
- Publishers and Executives
- Progressive Era
- Texas in the 1920s
- Upper Gulf Coast
- East Texas
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Douglas Hales, “Nickerson, William N., Jr.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 21, 2020, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/nickerson-william-n-jr.
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.
For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml
If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.