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Lasting Legacy: 2019 Black History In Durham

Estimated Read Time:
4 minutes

The history of African-Americans in Durham is as integral to our story as the mortar and brick that built the Bull City.

Posted By Discover Durham Staff on Jan 15, 2019

Grit, fortitude, and the unapologetic pursuit of justice are lasting legacies of a community that influenced the progress of Americans toward equality from coast to coast.

We know Monday, January 21 is a federal holiday to honor the non-violent resistance and social mobilization efforts of an incredible figure: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

But how much do you know about his connection to Durham?

Here, we're taking a look back at King's history in Durham, and we look forward to recognizing Black History Month in Durham during this commemorative 150th year of the Bull City. His legacy persists deep within our community.

How his story made Durham history

When Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on a motel balcony in Memphis on April 4, 1968, he was supposed to have been in Durham. We can only speculate about how fate could have determined a different historical outcome.

King visited Durham five times. He first spoke at Hillside High School in 1956 stating, “If democracy is to live, segregation must die.” But his most famous speech in Durham came on February 16, 1960, at the original White Rock Baptist Church. It was heard by an estimated 1,200 people at the standing-room-only event.

This is where King advocated nonviolent confrontation and other forms of direct action for the very first time, stating, "Let us not fear going to jail. If the officials threaten to arrest us for standing up for our rights, we must answer by saying that we are willing and prepared to fill up the jails of the South."

King also spoke at the former Jack Tar Hotel in 1964 after winning the Nobel Peace Prize. He spoke that same day at Duke University and returned a week later to speak before 5,000 people at North Carolina College at Durham (now North Carolina Central University).

This month and throughout February, we stand in the shadow of his dream blooming from the seeds planted here not long ago. We invite all to take part in these events dedicated to his memory and the communities King hoped, marched, and advocated for.

Special Events

Meet the Heroes

This kid-friendly interactive event on February 9 is free to the public and celebrates famous and revered figures in Black history. Activities are tailored to K-5th from 1-4 p.m., and include actors dressed as heroes telling the story of their lives, while children create art, science crafts, and experiments.

NCCU Black History Month 2019 Celebration

North Carolina Central University (NCCU) will commemorate Black History Month with a series of events that are free and open to the public. The university will present film screenings, lectures, panel discussions, and musical and theatrical performances throughout February, including appearances by nationally noted activists, authors, scholars, and educators.


African-American Exhibit at The Museum of Durham History

This exhibit runs until March 31, 2019, and explores the life of newspaper publisher Louis Austin and how he used the Carolina Times as a catalyst in the African American effort for freedom – fighting for racial justice and black empowerment. The exhibit tells the story of Private Booker T. Spicely, who was shot and killed by a white bus driver for transgressing the color line on a Durham bus in 1944, The exhibit also shines a light on sit-in for desegregation at an ice cream parlor and the integration of Durham High School.

A Black History Nursery Rhymes Book

Audrey Muhammad, Instructor of College Success at Durham Technical Community College, spent several years writing nursery rhymes about black historical figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. and modern day figures like Barack Obama and Oprah.

Last month, Muhammad self-published her book Rhymes of the Times: Black Nursery Rhymes, featuring 28 nursery rhymes that introduce concepts of self-esteem and perseverance all while teaching black history, including “Martin Had a Little Dream,” “Woman on the Bus,” and “Elijah Be Humble, Elijah Be Quick.”

“I hope children will learn to feel good about their history and know that there are a lot of wonderful historical and modern day figures to pattern themselves after,” Muhammad says.


The 2019 Hayti Heritage Film Festival

This signature event commemorates 25 years of celebrating Durham's African-American heritage and its historic Hayti community, which was a thriving enclave in the early 20th century. This annual film festival furthers that goal by showcasing diverse works by and about people of African descent. It includes both short and feature-length films from an international cast of directors, as well as classic feature films. The 2019 festival takes place February 14–16 at the St. Joseph’s Historic Foundation/Hayti Heritage Center at 804 Old Fayetteville Road in Durham, NC.


Stagville Under the Stars

To celebrate Black History Month, Historic Stagville and Morehead Planetarium will present a stellar program that focuses on the astronomy and night sky myths and legends told in African cultures, as well as the related stories told by scientists today. The program will begin with storytelling and be followed by guests looking through telescopes for a tour of the constellations our ancestors gazed upon. In case of inclement weather, the program will take place entirely in the Historic Stagville visitor center. Wear sturdy shoes and dress for the weather!

  • February 01, 2019 from 6-8 p.m.
  • Historic Stagville
  • 5828 Old Oxford Hwy, Durham, NC 27712
  • FREE admission

Commemorating the 'Allen Building Takeover' 50 Years Later

The Department of African & African American Studies at Duke will host the commemoration honoring the courage of Duke alumni who challenged discriminatory policies as undergraduates by "taking over" the university's main administrative building fifty years ago. The Feb. 13, 1969 "Allen Building Takeover," as it is known, changed the university for the better, creating a more just and equitable campus.

Performing Arts

Stew & The Negro Problem: Notes of a Native Song

Quoted as “A celebration of Baldwin’s legacy as an inspiration for artists to create their own work that, like his, defies genres and expectations.” by the The New York Times, this show led Stew and his mighty band the Negro Problem to use James Baldwin’s work to examine our lingering civil rights woes through a rapturous mix of rock, jazz, and soul.

Hillside Legacy Weekend

Durham, NC's famed native son Andrè Leon Talley returns home, and to his alma mater, for an exclusive screening and Q&A of the documentary "The Gospel According to Andrè" on February 17. That event will be the conclusion of a variety of events honoring the Hillside alum and former Vogue editor from February 15 onward. The Hallelujah! Swing School play will be performed at Hillside on Saturday, February 16th.


Book Harvest's Dream Big MLK day

On MLK Day each year, local nonprofit Book Harvest hosts Dream Big, a community-wide celebration of diversity, literacy, and books for all children held at Durham Central Park. On January 21, 2019, everyone joined the celebration, but you can continue to donate new or gently used children’s books, and volunteer to help sort and box donations. Visit www.bookharvestnc.org to learn more!

This is just a small sampling of events happening in Durham. For more amazing events see our Black History Month Events Calendar.

150 years and beyond

February 2019 is dedicated to black history, but this year is also deeply rooted in Durham history. The City of Durham was incorporated 150 years ago, and we plan to honor the changemakers who shaped Durham’s unique sense of place every step of the way. Before the South – more, the country – was ready, Durham held a steadfast commitment to innovation and justice, and social equity and robust democracy. A century and a half later, our roots continue to bear fruit in the form of a bold, industrious, passionate community.

Learn more about how this year will pay homage to the past, present, and future of the Bull City at durham150.org.

About the Author

Discover Durham Staff