In 2019, the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University received a grant from JP Morgan to construct a permanent exhibit centered around entrepreneurship on Durham’s Black Wall Street. The project is led by Dr. William A. Darity, Samuel DuBois Cook Professor of Public Policy, and Dr. Gwendolyn Wright, Director of Strategic Initiatives and Collaborations. The exhibit notes that capital, courage, and connection were a few of the main ingredients behind the success of Durham’s Black Wall Street. The exhibit design firm Design Dimension was selected to develop the exhibit. The permanent exhibit will be displayed at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University.
Durham, North Carolina, was home to one of the national epicenters of Black business. During the darkest hour for civil rights in America, Black entrepreneurs sought freedom through building business, creating wealth, and up-building community institutions. The North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company along with other Durham Black financial institutions supported African Americans when white-owned companies and the United States government refused to do so and helped build Black political power before the Civil Rights movement.
The fruits of wealth creation during this time were not distributed equally, as most Black Durhamites and patrons of Black Wall Street worked for low wages in white-owned tobacco factories and in white homes as domestic laborers. The dollars of working Black Durhamites supported business in Hayti, Durham’s central Black district. Many remember a hub of activity filled with hundreds of thriving businesses, small and large, and the thrum of daily neighborhood exchange. Today, business ownership remains one of the top avenues of wealth creation in America. Yet, due to structural barriers, most Black businesses are forced to stay small. The story of Durham’s Black Wall Street offers lessons to this generation’s entrepreneurs and their supporters.
Dr. Harper is a co-curator for an exhibit entitled “Durham Memories” as part of the Black Wall Street Exhibit. This is a collaborative project between the Department of History at North Carolina Central University, the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University, and Design Dimensions and will be one of the first permanent exhibits depicting Durham’s historic Black Wall Street. The digital exhibit can also be accessed on the "Remembering Hayti" page hosted by the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity.