Durham County

Four questions with Andre Vann

Q: What is the most interesting thing you found during your work on this book?

A: Durham is like an onion. You pull back one layer and then there’s another layer and then another layer and eventually you might get to the core inside the onion. It’s full of these very unique individuals and stories. Some of the individuals are Durham born and bred and others were attracted to this city for various reasons. Many of them may have moved in the same orbit and others may not have but yet their stories are very similar.

There’s this idea that Durham may have been one of the sanest places for African Americans in this country for those who wanted to work hard, give back to the community, uplift and then leave a heritage. That’s how I see the book, as this opportunity to leave a heritage, something for the next generation to have a visual opportunity to see. You can learn a lot from hearing people talk but images can sometimes convey a story you may not otherwise get.

Q: Who are you most disappointed about not having in the book?

A: Shirley Caesar (Grammy award-winning gospel singer) is probably the biggest one. Phil Freelon (Durham architect best known for leading the design team of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.) Modern-day history maker. Isaac Green of Piedmont Investment. That’s a modern-day story that everyone should know of. Here’s a guy in charge of a $3 billion worth of someone else’s money.

Q: Who are you targeting with this book?

A: I think it’s targeted at anyone who is curious about how Durham got to where it is today. I say that because most people might not be aware that Durham has a very important place in the history of the United States of America. Now, I don’t want to be overly dependent on the narrative that the African American business community alone helped to make Durham but it played a significant role in terms of that. I want younger persons to have chance to read and see this as well. I want them to be able to look back and be reflective of their past. But I think it will be able to give a boost to the African American community by saying here are some mile markers along the way. Here are some historical and significant moments in our history.

Q: Why did you choose this format?

A: What I’ve learned over the years is that people learn in a lot of different ways. For me, photographs offer a wonderful snapshot, and that’s the world we live in today. The idea of these full-fledged histories, while nice, coffee table books are valued today in terms of how we celebrate and how we look at history. What I hope about the book is that it widens the narrative about the African American experience.


Born: June 1970, Vance County

Residence: Durham

Career: Coordinator of university archives and professor, N.C. Central University

Education: B.A. and M.A. in history, N.C. Central University

Family: Wife Tracey Burns-Vann

Fun fact: Vann was born in a community called Mobile that was founded by his great-great-grandmother. The midwife who delivered him confused his birthday, marking July instead of June on his birth certificate, so he now celebrates both birthdays.