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.
THE QUICK STORY
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 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.
IT’S NOT COMPLETELY THE END…
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.
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.