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Black History

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

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.

From the over 900 people who were enslaved at Stagville (one of the region’s largest plantations in the 1800s) to the post-Civil War development of Black Wall Street and Hayti (a thriving business and residential district that received national acclaim) — Durham’s African American community is and has been indescribable in its impact.

In 1889, John Merrick founded North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, the largest and oldest African American-owned life insurance company in the nation. In 1907, Mechanics & Farmers Bank also became one of the nation’s strongest African American owned and managed banks. As a result, thriving businesses took root on Durham’s Parrish Street; a landmark that still stands as an iconic epicenter of entrepreneurial genius now called Black Wall Street.

In 1909, progress pressed forward with the founding of Dr. James E. Shepard's National Religious Training School and Chautauqua, which later became North Carolina Central University.

In response to segregation and Jim Crow laws, African-American Durhamites made strides as leaders of the civil rights movement. Durham’s Rev. Douglas Moore organized one of the first sit-ins in the nation at Durham’s Royal Ice Cream Parlor. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited Durham five times in support of Durham’s civil rights leaders and delivered his famed "fill up the jails" speech at White Rock Baptist Church.

In the decades following the civil rights movement, African-Americans have made their mark on Durham as entrepreneurs, artists, educators, politicians, and engaged citizens. In addition to paving new opportunities and possibilities, they continue the legacy of the people and places that are a permanent part of Durham's heritage.

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james e shepard statue

Durham’s Story The history of African Americans in Durham County, like that of African Americans throughout the United States, is a harrowing, resilient one. Learn More

unity monument

Upcoming Events If delving into African American history and this community’s present-day accomplishments is what you’re interested in, you’ve come to the right place. Learn More

African American Heritage Guide Home to North Carolina Central and Duke Universities, and Research Triangle Park, Durham has always been one of North Carolina’s most ethnically diverse communities. Learn More


Black History Resources Durham’s history reflects the indispensable contributions of its African American citizens. Learn More

the durham way

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