In Their Words – What It Means to be Black in Durham

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Photo by Jason M. Williamson II

“All deliberate speed … Durham edition”

Downtown Durham, early 20th century: The scene is a vibrant Black. “Black Wall Street” housed more than a hundred thriving businesses, everything from eateries to boutiques. The African American culture echoed throughout the city. A hundred years and an “urban renewal” later, this scene has vanished. Typically spunky and social, I walk timidly down Parrish Street where upscale condos and coffee shops have taken the place of those affluent Black businesses of the past. Welcome signs fall on blind eyes because to them, I look suspicious. I do not feel welcome in a place where my history has been erased.

Recently, protests over the racial injustice rooted in our country have brought together people of all ages, colors and cultures. Thousands have come to the heart of Durham to support my people, but what happens when the protests stop, and the movement is no longer trending? I am still a Black woman struggling with intersectionality. My men are still being legally murdered. Disparity thrives between the color lines in education, health care and many other aspects of society. Where does this leave me?

I wasn’t around to witness Black Wall Street, but I’m here now, and my activism is built on its foundation. My city must take responsibility for gaslighting the issues my people face daily. Durham’s police department was given a $70 million budget this year; its new headquarters cost almost the same. Yet the McDougald Terrace community was left homeless due to gas leaks. I know students whose first encounter with police is a school-mandated resource officer, perpetuating the school-to-prison pipeline in black and white.

How can our youth be the future with no safe place to live or learn?

As a young Black woman in 2020, I still have the same fears of not making it home after being stopped by Durham police that my father had as a young Black man in 1977. So, I’ll exhaust every right I have to break this cycle. This movement doesn’t end when police officers are arrested for murder, it ends when the murder never happens. Change, for my people, has tarried at “all deliberate speed” for far too long. Durham is lucky that we want justice and not revenge.

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