Durham County

African-American leaders want to see new Black Wall Street rise in Durham

A historical marker on Parrish Street in downtown Durham tells the history of Black Wall Street. But will there be a new Black Wall Street? Some hope so.
A historical marker on Parrish Street in downtown Durham tells the history of Black Wall Street. But will there be a new Black Wall Street? Some hope so. dvaughan@heraldsun.com

Will there be a new Black Wall Street in Durham? Some people want to make it so. But where?

Downtown?

On Fayetteville Street?

Everywhere?

"We've lost Parrish Street," said the Rev. Mark-Anthony Middleton, pastor of Abundant Hope Christian Church and a member of the Durham City Council.

"It's got to be a concept; it can't be tethered to real estate," he said.

"How do we restore black economic greatness on every block?" Middleton asked a crowd of about 100 people at his church this week during a forum about "New Black Wall Street."

Farad Ali, former City Council member, was moderator. Ali is also CEO of The Institute, which works for minority economic development, and chairs the RDU Airport Authority.

The original Black Wall Street referred to Parrish Street in downtown Durham and the historic Hayti neighborhood, areas of concentrated African-American wealth, economic and political power in Durham until the mid-20th century.

Urban renewal, construction of the Durham Freeway and people moving away after desegregation gutted Hayti, and black-owned businesses spread out and in some cases left downtown.

Today at one end of Parrish Street, the One City Center skyscraper with luxury condos is nearing completion and changing the city's skyline.

'Black economic greatness'

Middleton wants to see black economic greatness on every block in Durham and especially along the Fayetteville Street corridor.

Fayetteville Street, stretching from downtown to south Durham, runs past N.C. Central University, the historically black university that Middleton says should be part of the "re-establishment of the new Black Wall Street."

Middleton profile
Durham City Council member Mark-Anthony Middleton. Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan dvaughan@heraldsun.com

Durham County's population is 37.8 percent African-American, according to the U.S. Census.

Among those at this week's forum were Joshua Gunn, a hip-hop artist and vice president of member investment at the Durham Chamber of Commerce; the Rev. Cheryl Moore, pastor of Zion Temple United Church of Christ; Henry McKoy, who teaches business and is director of entrepreneurship at NCCU; and Phyllis Coley, owner of Spectacular Magazine.

"Even though we talk about Parrish Street, it was really an ecosystem," McKoy said. "There were 300 [black-owned] businesses in Hayti — it wasn't just here and there."

He said whoever has the money influences who gets loans and charitable donations.

"Money matters because it allows that engine to run," said. McKoy, a former N.C. assistant secretary of commerce.

"Black America has been economically hollowed out," McKoy said. He said that before integration, bankers and street sweepers were neighbors because there was no option but to live together. Economic integration went one way, he said. Out of the black community, not in.

Not just Hayti

But Paul Scott, who was in the audience, said not all black neighborhoods in Durham had the economic success of Hayti.

"Black Wall Street didn't include all of [African-American] Durham," Scott said, citing poverty in Southside. The new Black Wall Street needs to trickle down to theMcDougald Terrace and Oxford Manor public housing communities, he said.

Gunn said his dad's neighborhood — Brookstown, part of today's West End — was one of those torn down for the freeway that didn't get attention because it was poor.

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Durham rapper Joshua Gunn is a leader in the Durham Chamber of Commerce and one of the people who want to see a new Black Wall Street. Photo Courtesy of Joshua Gunn

Gunn said today's Black Wall Street has to be a collective effort, rather than one benefiting only the wealthiest African-Americans in Durham.

"We can build [a new Black Wall Street] that's sustainable if we focus on the benefit of all people, not just a few," he said.

Tanya Johnson, a minister at Abundant Hope, agreed. Even churches tend to collect only for their own congregations, she said.

"I think what caused Black Wall Street to crumble is everyone wasn't at the table," she said. "And they're not at the table now."

Downtown spaces

Downtown Durham Inc. is working on a study of African-American businesses downtown. It's not done yet, but DDI President Nicole Thompson told the City Council recently that she knows there aren't many.

Gunn, who is also a co-founder of the summer festival Black August in the Park, said the idea for that event was to "interrupt white spaces." He thinks downtown Durham is becoming increasingly white.

Coley said It bothers her that she doesn't see "food trucks that look like us" at food truck rodeos. She suggested having a food truck rodeo of black-owned food trucks.

Middleton said he and Council member DeDreana Freeman have spent hours talking about how public policy might revive Fayetteville Street without displacing black residents. He said restoring black economic power will be a significant part of budget discussion for the 2019-20 fiscal year.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563; @dawnbvaughan
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