THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY
Documentary filmmaker Steven Channing describes the North Carolina 50 years ago and the North Carolina today as a continued tale of two cities.
The NC Fund, created by Gov. Terry Sanford in 1963 to remove barriers of poverty and discrimination that kept North Carolina residents divided, cleaned up filthy homes on unpaved roads. Volunteers provided health care information door-to-door and tutored students. Workforce training targeted agricultural workers and prepared them for manufacturing and office jobs in the city.
As Durham celebrates the 50-year anniversary of the NC Fund, Channing said, subtle discrimination still exists, even after the death of widespread, overt racism. Pockets of Durham neighborhoods are still stricken with poverty.
MDC, an offshoot of the NC Fund that began in 1967, is holding events to commemorate the fund and open up a community discussion starting Sunday.
“We cannot accept those two cities living side by side here,” Channing said. “I hope that if there’s anything that comes out of this week, it’s that we’re not powerless. We can make a difference.”
When the fund first got started, millions of dollars was poured into the effort by big foundations such as Ford and Z. Smith Reynolds. Operated by local communities, the fund developed new programs across the state, ranging from North Carolina Volunteers, a service corps initiative that trained college students to work in rural communities, to sewing and cooking classes and adult literacy programs, according to UNC Libraries.
“When Terry Sanford became governor in 1961, he inherited the bitter legacies of an economy built on cheap labor and white supremacy,” according to the book, “To Right These Wrongs,” written by Robert R. Korstad and James L. Leloudis about the NC Fund. “The state’s factory workers earned some of the lowest industrial wages in the nation, more than a third of families lived below the poverty line, half of all students never finished high school, and a fourth of all adults were functionally illiterate.”
Channing’s documentary, “Change Comes Knocking: The NC Fund,” of which he is the executive producer, will be shown today and Friday. It’s named after the fund volunteers who used to go door-to-door, helping families fight for better housing standards and distributing birth control information.
Durham was the NC Fund’s headquarters, where it operated in what is now known as the Trotter Building at 410 West Geer St., right next to Cocoa Cinnamon. Downtown Durham then was center stage for marches that brought segregation and poor housing conditions into the spotlight, when many Durham families were still living along dirt roads.
Richard Hart, MDC communications director, said MDC is continuing the fund’s legacy by bringing organizations and communities together to create opportunity. One of its current projects finding its footing, “Made in Durham,” is connecting top leaders and companies in Durham with young adults and the school system to better prepare youth for college.
“People who believe in doing the right thing may not know where the barriers exist in their organizations,” Hart said. “It’s not about giving people preference, it’s about meeting people where they are.”
The anniversary commemoration will end Saturday with a community march, when Durham residents can walk in the footsteps of civil rights leaders and student activists who silently protested segregation in 1963.
“The march is an opportunity for everyone in Durham to come out and support all of the things that the fund stood for,” Hart said.