Durham's Civil Rights Heritage
In the late 1950s the United States experienced a wave of urban renewal projects, an initiative to renew America’s decaying urban centers that was partially funded by the federal government. Durham’s 1960 ballot featured a bond issue for urban renewal projects and for an expressway to Research Triangle Park that would bisect the Hayti community. Although many conservatives opposed the bond issue, it passed by a small majority of about 3 percent.
The Durham Redevelopment Commission was formed to oversee seven different projects, including the redevelopment of the African-American Hayti neighborhood, downtown Durham and the neighborhood surrounding North Carolina Central University.
Grievances related to the projects were squelched by the promise that the “urban blight” of dilapidated buildings and condemned houses would be replaced by better accommodations. As these promised accommodations failed to materialize, poor African Americans and others protested the loss of homes and neighborhoods which, however run-down, were home, with all that that word implies.
The result of urban renewal did not match its promise for a number of reasons related to leadership, local management, unforeseen side effects and racial bias. Many also felt that poor blacks were hoodwinked by their own middle- and upper-class leaders. Urban renewal became known as “urban removal.”