Mrs. Victoria Mayo, the wife of a Bowling Green, Kentucky barber, had recently settled a medical claim with her insurance company. Hoping to get a testimonial from a satisfied customer, Kentucky Central Life and Accident sent her a postcard encouraging her to “talk up” the company and perhaps refer other business. She wasn’t completely averse to the idea, but she did have a few bones to pick, which she outlined in her reply to the Louisville office.
The benefit paid during her illness had been welcome, she wrote, though she was forced to nudge “your agents here that it was due me before I could get it.” Then there was the matter of the remittance of her premium. Why was it necessary to send payments to Louisville? Could she not just pay at the Bowling Green location? In fact, why couldn’t an agent collect in person? “I am a very stout woman,” she declared, and “am not able to go up the steps of your office here.” And then there was the word on the street about the company’s responsiveness to claims. Mrs. Mayo had always thought favorably of her insurer, but warned that “most every one I speak to will say, ‘Why that KY. CENTRAL won’t pay.'”
And there was one more thing that “I wish to understand,” she noted. Although she “naturally supposed it was for me,” the postcard she had received lacked the appropriate salutation. As 61-year-old Mrs. Mayo knew, white America’s practice of using only first names when addressing African Americans was a persistent assumption of superiority and privilege that evoked the nation’s slaveholding past. When Kentucky Central’s agents “approach a colored person,” she asked, “why must they be addressed as ‘Vic,’ May or John, why not Mrs., Miss, or Mr. Our money was molded in the same mint as that of any other race and goes just as far and we demand the same respect.”
One wonders if Kentucky Central took heed, for it was 1912 when Mrs. Mayo wrote this letter, and many decades of Jim Crow and civil rights struggles lay ahead.
A typescript of the letter is in the Noel Collection, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections. Click here to download a finding aid. To search our collections, use TopSCHOLAR or KenCat.