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Annual Events that Celebrate Black History & Culture in Durham

Estimated Read Time:
8 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

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.

As Durhamites, we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, strengthened by the seeds of justice and equality planted here long ago. We invite you to reflect and experience the history of Black people and celebrate Black culture through Durham events and activities.

Annual Durham Events Celebrating Black History and Culture

Kwanzaafest

On New Year's Day, the African American Dance Ensemble presents Kwanzaafest, a celebration of African American heritage, culture and family on the final day of the seven-day holiday at the Durham Armory. All are invited to take part in the joyous gathering.

Book Harvest's Dream Big MLK Day

On MLK Day, local nonprofit Book Harvest hosts Dream Big, a community-wide celebration of diversity, literacy, and books for all children held at Durham Central Park. You can continue to donate new or gently used children’s books, and volunteer to help sort and box donations well beyond the day as well. Visit bookharvestnc.org to learn more.

MLK Commemoration and Day of Service at Duke

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at Duke in Page Auditorium on November 13, 1964. Months after President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. Duke commemorates MLK Day with a service that's free and open to the public, along with a day of service.

NCCU Black History Month Celebration – dates through February

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

NC MLK Black History Month Parade – February 3, 2024

Spectacular Magazine presents this annual celebration and opportunity for reflection on the past and intention-setting for the future. The parade starts at noon at James E. Shepard Magnet Middle School and proceeds up Fayetteville Street to North Carolina Central University. Entertainment includes marching bands, drill, dance, and step teams, cars and mascots.

Kwanzaafest at the Durham Armory

A performer at Kwanzaafest. Photo: SP Murray

The Hayti Heritage Film Festival – March 7-9, 2024

The Hayti Heritage Film Festival (HHFF) commemorates over 25 years of celebrating Durham's African American heritage and the historic Hayti community, which was a thriving enclave in the early 20th century.

Beats n Bars Festival – May 10-11, 2024

Plan a weekend around Beats n Bars Festival, a music festival that celebrates hip hop music and culture from NC and beyond. Each spring, Beats n Bars Festival takes over a space in or around downtown Durham for a fun, diverse environment dedicated to building relationships and fostering collaboration.

Performers onstage with purple lighting and a Beats N Bars Festival banner behind them.

Performers at Beats N Bars Festival. Photo: Discover Durham

Bimbé Cultural Arts Festival – May 18, 2024

The Bimbé Cultural Arts Festival was established in honor of the West African festival of harvest and celebration. After the season of harvest, entire villages would gather to give thanks through dance, praise and feasting. This family-oriented event celebrates African American history, culture, arts and traditions. Read our guide for tips on the best ways to enjoy Bimbé. The blog is updated annually a few weeks before the event.

NC Juneteenth Celebration

Juneteenth is an annual day commemorating the effective end of slavery in the United States – over two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. It's a day to learn, reflect and grow from our nation's history, and in Durham, it's a state-wide celebration of Black history and culture complete with multiple days of events at community centers around Durham, a parade, local makers markets, music, food trucks and kids fun zones. While the holiday falls on June 19, event dates may vary depending on the day of the week. Check our blog that compiles all Juneteenth events, which is updated annually in the spring.

Drummers take part in a Juneteenth processional in Durham.

NC Juneteenth Parade. Photo: Keenan Hairston

Black Farmers Market – 1st and 3rd Sundays, April-November

The Black Farmers Market is a space where all are welcome to support Black farmers and entrepreneurs, inspiring a self-sufficient community where healthy food is accessible for all. Visit the market for more than fresh produce – it's an inclusive, fun and community-centered marketplace where local vendors sell a range of products and DJs and musicians entertain the crowd.

Phoenix Fest

Each fall, Phoenix Fest celebrates the legacy of the Hayti Community with a free, all-day music festival with food, vendors and entertainment. Come hungry and order from some of the area's best food trucks.

Blacktoberfest

Join Durham's first Black-owned brewery in celebrating Black brewing culture and barbecue at this fun festival each fall. Mike D's barbecue and dozens of other pitmasters compete for the grand prize, while tasting cups allow you to experience beer from Black breweries across the country. Sign up for the VIP experience for a full weekend of elevated fun, including a welcome party and closing brunch.

NCCU's Ultimate Homecoming Experience

NCCU Eagles, this is your time to shine. Each October, thousands of alumni, students and members of the NCCU community come back to campus to celebrate with a parade, parties, class reunions, tailgating and an Eagle football game. This is an event you don't want to miss.

Blacktoberfest is Black Brew Culture's annual celebration of Black-owned craft beer/beverages, food, art, and entertainment.

Blacktoberfest. Photo: Discover Durham

Historic Sites and Community Hubs Dedicated to Black History and Culture

Historic Stagville

Historic Stagville is a state historic site that includes the remnants of one of the largest plantations in North Carolina. The Bennehan-Cameron family owned approximately 30,000 acres of land and claimed ownership of the 900 people who were enslaved on the property. Stagville is dedicated to teaching about the lives and work of enslaved people on the plantation. Visit Stagville Tuesday - Saturday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. to take a guided or self-guided audio tour to learn more about the site's history and the people who were enslaved there. Admission is free and tours are just $2 per person.

The Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice

This National Historic Site is the childhood home of Pauli Murray, a human rights activist, legal scholar, teacher, feminist, author, poet, LGBTQ community member and the first Black person perceived as a woman in the U.S. to become an Episcopal priest. The Center educates visitors about Murray's life and legacy, and continues Murray's work toward a more just world. The Center is a space for activism, education and community. After a closure for renovations, it will be opening to the public soon. In the meantime, stop by to see the outdoor exhibit and check the calendar for tours and events.

Hayti Heritage Center

Hayti Heritage Center is the epicenter of the Hayti community and is dedicated to preserving and advancing the legacy of historic Hayti and the African American experience. The building's significance in Durham's Black community dates back to its beginning as the original home of St. Joseph's AME when the cornerstone was laid in 1892. The Hayti Heritage Center opened in 1975 under the management of the St. Joseph's Historic Foundation. Today, Hayti is a place to gather, offering regular cultural and community events ranging from dance and exercise classes to concerts to the Hayti Heritage Film Festival. Check the event calendar for details, or visit the site to learn more about its history and the community it represents.

Hayti Heritage Center in Durham, NC

Hayti Heritage Center. Photo: SP Murray

Black History Tours and Guides

Whistle Stop Tours

Aya Shabu is a dancer, choreographer and teaching artist who trained under Baba Chuck Davis, founder of the African American Dance Ensemble. Her tours are performances that immerse participants in the lives and experiences of the Black men and women who came out of slavery and built Durham's Black Wall Street, Hayti and East End neighborhoods. The tours are moving, entertaining and educational, incorporating historic photography and encouraging each participant to get to know and embody a historic elder from the community along the way. It's truly something you have to experience to understand. Listen to our podcast episode with Aya Shabu to hear a bit of what her incredible tours offer.

Preservation Durham Civil Rights History Tours

Learn about the sites and stories involved in Durham's important role in the Civil Rights movement, including the sites of sit-in protests and the struggle for integration. You'll also hear the stories of local leaders like Floyd McKissick and their relationships with nationally influential figures like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A Guide to Murals in Durham that Celebrate Black History, Culture & Artists

In Durham, any blank space can become a canvas, and it is common to see murals on walls, crosswalks, and electrical boxes. Not only do these murals add vibrant colors and energy to this city, but they also tell stories that need to be told. This guide highlights public art dedicated to celebrating Durham's Black history, culture, and artists.

Aya Shabu performs for a crowd in front of Hayti Heritage Center.

Aya Shabu performs during a tour with Whistle Stop Tours. Photo: Keenan Hairston

Institutions Dedicated to Uplifting Black Artists

NCCU Art Museum

With over 1300 pieces in its permanent collection, and five special exhibitions per year, the NCCU Art Museum is a treasured space for preserving and displaying art by African American artists and about the Black experience.

The Nasher Museum of Art

The Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University has built a groundbreaking collection of contemporary art focused on historically underrepresented and excluded artists with a particular focus on artists of African descent.

Ella West Gallery

On Parrish Street, also known as a part of Durham's historic Black Wall Street, Ella West is a contemporary gallery dedicated to redefining art history by focusing on diverse and underrepresented artists, including many local Durham creatives.

About the Author

Discover Durham Staff