Honoring Black History Month

By Insurance.com Posted : 02/06/2009

Martin Luther King, Jr. and civil rights

The struggle for equal access to auto and home insurance is a small story in the history of civil rights in America. But, it's one that clearly made a difference for people who were denied access to insurance or charged higher rates, simply because they lived in urban areas.

In the past 15 years, civil rights activists have demonstrated that insurance companies failed to hire insurance agents in urban areas—making it nearly impossible for lower income families to insure their homes or cars at fair rates.

Widespread Investigations Showed Bias
In 1995, the California Department of Insurance determined that approximately one sixth (16%) of California's population lived in communities that were underserved by insurers. The largest insurance companyin the state was forced to reveal that less than 3% of its insurance agents worked in underserved communities. A similar situation existed with other companies in urban areas across the country. Following lawsuits and public outcry, the companies agreed to add agents in underserved areas, but the challenges continued.

Looking again to California, where 16% of its people lived in underserved zip codes, the Insurance Commissioner determined that the average insurance company wrote only 6% of its auto policies and 7% of its homeowner's policies in these zip codes. As a result, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) filed suit against numerous insurers in California—and expanded its investigations to Ohio, Michigan, Florida, Maryland, Kentucky, Connecticut, Georgia, Wisconsin, Illinois and elsewhere—charging that the various companies violated the Fair Housing Act with underwriting practices that denied equal insurance coverage in neighborhoods with high minority populations.

NAIC Study Supported Redlining Claims
In another study in December 1994, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (an organization of state insurance commissioners who regulate the insurance industry) collected data on the cost and type of policies sold in 33 metropolitan areas in 20 states. The study is considered the most comprehensive ever done about the practice of "redlining." The NAIC reported that only 57.6% of the houses in low-income areas were insured at all, compared with 81.5 % middle- and high-income areas.

What Next?
Over time, insurance companies have been held accountable for their discriminatory practices in hiring or appointing agents and in their underwriting rules. As insurance companies settled these cases, consumers clearly benefited from increased access to fair rates and changes in discriminatory business practices. But, consumer advocates like the NAACP remain vigilant, especially in today's tough economy, because unequal access to insurance as well as home financing remain issues in urban areas. And, with more information available online, the Internet has truly empowered consumers to seek out companies that offer fair rates and outstanding service for all.

In the spirit of Black History Month we honor all who contributed to the opportunities now shared by people of every race in our country.


To honor those early activists, and learn more, we invite you to take our quiz! It's not about insurance—but about the people who drove some important changes in our country's history.

1. The Supreme Court returned a unanimous decision declaring segregation in public schools unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954). Who was the lawyer that successfully argued on behalf of Oliver Brown and the other plaintiffs?

Atticus Finch
Roy Wilkins
Ralph Abernathy
Thurgood Marshall
No Answer

2. What was the nickname of the group of students that became engaged in a famous challenge to school segregation in the South following the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision?

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)
The Black Panthers
The "Little Rock Nine"
The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)
No Answer

3. After many attempts and a riot that resulted in many injuries and at least two deaths, who became the first black student admitted to the University of Mississippi?

John Howard Griffin
Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.
Autherine Lucy
James Meredith
No Answer

4. Sit-ins at a Woolworth's Department store lunch counter in North Carolina helped spark the start of the modern civil rights movement. What did the original group of student protesters come to be called?

The Greensboro Four
The Scottsboro Boys
The "Little Rock Nine"
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)
No Answer

5. Who began the Birmingham bus boycott, a seminal moment in the American civil rights movement, by refusing to give up a bus seat?

Ella Baker
Rosa Parks
Shirley Chisholm
Martin Luther King, Jr.
No Answer

6. Although they came from many groups, what was the nickname of the civil rights activists who rode on interstate buses to prove the Boynton v. Virginia Supreme Court decision of 1960?

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)
Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)
Council of Federated Organizations (COFO)
Freedom Riders
No Answer

7. Who was the 14-year-old black boy who was brutally beaten and murdered by white racists in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at or touching a white woman?

Medgar Evers
Emmett Till
Dred Scott
John Brown
No Answer

8. On June 21, 1964, during the Mississippi "Freedom Summer" dedicated to voter registration, what happened that helped lead to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965?

Three young civil rights workers were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan, which hid their bodies.
Civil rights activists began a Supreme Court case designed to bring about voting rights.
Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his historic "I Have a Dream" speech.
Voting rights organizer Bob Moses was arrested and beaten after refusing to pay a poll tax.
No Answer

9. Who became the first African-American player to break Major League Baseball's color barrier that prevented the hiring of black players?

Satchel Paige
Crispus Attucks
Hank Aaron
Jackie Robinson
No Answer

10. Which African-American U.S. politician was a leader of the civil rights movement and a former chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)?

Barack Obama
Roland Burris
John Lewis
Jesse Jackson
No Answer

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