Surprisingly, the quote above is from 1912. Written by W.E.B. Dubois after his trip to Durham, he witnessed an unusual occurrence developing in the South; Black business was thriving in spite of overwhelming racial inequality. Character, as described by Dubois, created an atmosphere in which different races of people not only co-existed, but collaborated. Prominent figures in Durham like James Buchanan Duke partnered with the Black pioneers of the time, from John Merrick of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance, to James Shepard of North Carolina Central University, to establish what became known as Black Wall Street.
Since becoming a part of the Google For Entrepreneurs start-up hub network, American Underground has transformed business in Downtown Durham, and is positioning itself to recapture the spirit of collaboration and innovation that allowed Black Wall Street to flourish. Not only is it about successful business, but maintaining a community inside and outside the Underground walls.
Recently, the American Underground invited the community to hear from entrepreneurs about the history of Black Wall Street and their own experiences in business. The crowd of “Durhamites” heard from Justin Laidlaw of RUNAWAY, Wendell McCain of Onset Capital, and recently announced Entrepreneur-in-Residence Talib Graves-Mann of RainbowMe Kids.
At its core, Black Wall Street is about community and opportunity. The men and women of early 20th Century Durham built upon a foundation of those two attributes to establish what Booker T. Washington called the “Capital of the Black Middle Class” and developed an entire self-sustaining community in the Hayti District.
Now, the people of Durham are excited about revitalization, but concerned it could change the city’s cultural identity. How can we protect the future, while honoring the past? Black Wall Street is a constant reminder that we are different. Durham is a place that accepts challenges and exceeds expectation.
In the words of W.E.B. Dubois, “Durham has not feared. It has distinctly encouraged the best type of man by active aid and passive tolerance.”