Before There Was #BlackWallStreet In Greenwood, There Was One In Durham, North Carolina

posted by Unstripped Voice July 5, 2017

This one came as a bit of surprise to us.

Alot of us know about #BlackWallStreet (an area of great African-American businesses, economic prosperity, opportunities) in the Greenwood district of Tulsa, OK…and how a single race riot in 1921 contributed to its downfall.

But what you may not know is before Greenwood’s Black Wall Street, there was one in Durham, North Carolina.


To quickly sum it up, after the Reconstruction period in the late 1800’s (a post-Civil War period when the slaves were freed & either given land or achieved political success), many businesses in cities throughout the U.S. experienced a sort of true Black renaissance.

None was more prevalent than in the city of Durham, North Carolina — where two (2) African American entrepreneurs, John Merrick and Charles Spaulding provided the leadership necessary to start a Black Wall Street in the area.


John Merrick, one of the first great Black entrepreneurs

John Merrick is really the one that deserves the credit here. A former barber and a true entrepreneurial at heart, Merrick was able to save up enough funds to start the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, which became the largest Black-owned business in America at the time.

Merrick’s Insurance Company couldn’t have been the largest Black-owned business without the help of Charles Spaulding, and with both at the helm — along with employing fellow African Americans & reinvesting back into the community — the four block district on Parrish Street in Durham because what we know as one of the first #BlackWallStreet in American history.


Unlike what happened to Black Wall Street in the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma, the Black Wall Street area in Durham wasn’t mobbed or destroyed by a race war. If fact, Civil Rights leader Booker T. Washington even said this about race relations between the blacks and whites in Durham:

Of all the southern cities I have visited I found here the sanest attitude of the white people toward the blacks.

Not to say there wasn’t any tension between both races — because there were — but it wasn’t to the point that a mob came out and burned the place up, like they did in multiple African American communities during that period.

Black Wall Street in Durham actually lasted well in the the late 1950s & early 1960’s. What ultimately did them in, however, was Urban Renewal.

In case you didn’t know, Urban Renewal was a government program where many “historic” places would be replaced by highways, roads and more “modern” infrastructure to keep with the times. Urban Renewal is single-handedly responsible for destroying hundreds (maybe thousands) of African American/minority communities throughout the U.S.

You can pretty much say the government destroyed Durham’s #BlackWallStreet.


Very recently, there have been efforts to revive the historic Parrish Street in Downtown Durham (led by the City of Durham). There have also been a recent surge of businesses returning to the Durham district, spurring a sort of economic revival in the area, especially for African Americans.

The tech start-up community is one thriving example (Google has even partnered up with one of the companies in the area).

Let’s hope that Durham (and other cities) once again re-invest back into their community and workforce, the same way John Merrick and Charles Spaulding did in their day.



Patricia McNeill Shelton September 15, 2017 - 12:51 pm

I discovered this site today after viewing the clip of Black Wall Street. Please continue to educate or children and their parents and grandparents. I thank you wholeheartedly. Continuous blessings

Lorna Ellis July 13, 2017 - 12:33 pm

I was so heartened by this article. In fact, excited! Keep it and all others like it ‘out there’ to grow desire and motivate to positive action.

Charleete M Black July 7, 2017 - 6:10 pm

Thank you Luke Alexander for the update. It is always important to remember those involved to make a business and community stronger. My oldest brother has a manufacturing company Production Chemical Manufacturing Company in Stockton California and I remember reading an article in the Stockton Record stating he was a “self-made man”. We had to laugh because if not for my Mother who used her retirement fund and acted as his sales representative he would never have gotten off the ground. My brother (IBM) executive developed a marketing strategy for the business and I used my banking background to help with obtaining “qualified” distributors throughout the US. One never does everything alone.

Ola M. Alston July 7, 2017 - 2:53 pm

My son and I was searching out the articles on the Black Wall Street, and came upon this article, how impressive. I was born in Chatham, NC near Apex, NC, and Cary, NC. I used to come to Durham all the time with my parents, my father use to bank with North Carolina Mechanical and Farmers Bank, because he was a farmer back in the day. My dad also brought Life insurance from North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. I see that you have a program to reestablish and revive Durham, I need more information concerning opening up a business in Durham. I looked at a place located on 2102 Angier St. Durham, NC, next door to JOE’S CAFE. I need help concerning this information. My two nephews was born in Lincoln Hospital.

Luke Alexander July 6, 2017 - 2:05 pm

This article is remiss to overlook the contributions of Dr. Aaron McDuffie Moore, the best friend and business partner of John Merrick, and the uncle of Charles C. Spaulding whom Dr. Moore bought into their insurance firm once established. (HINT: there’s a reason Dr. Moore’s name is on the historic marker.)

Dr. Aaron McDuffie Moore (1863-1923) businessman, humanitarian and the first black physician in Durham was the medical director and co-founder with John Merrick of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. Dr. Moore founded Lincoln Hospital of Durham in 1901 and the Durham Colored Library in 1913. He also personally financed a campaign to fund African -American schools statewide and then successfully petitioned for North Carolina state funds and matching grants from the Rosenwald Foundation.

Merrick, Moore and Spaulding were equally powerful figures in the establishment of Durham’s Black Wall Street and supporters its many business interests and in the founding of what became North Carolina Central University. Dr. Moore served as 2nd President of North Carolina Mutual after the death of John Merrick in 1919 until his own demise in 1923. Charles C. Spaulding succeeded as 3rd President of North Carolina Mutual, the firm continues to have its headquarters in Durham and serve the needs of community TODAY.


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