The Past, Present And Future Of Durham’s Black Wall Street

Jun 7, 2019

As Durham celebrates its sesquicentennial, host Frank Stasio invites a panel of community leaders, business owners and activists to look back at the history of the Bull City and trace how its economy, politics and culture have shifted in the past 150 years. They home in on Black Wall Street: a four-block district on Parrish Street that was once a mecca for black-owned businesses.

While white mob violence squashed black entrepreneurship in Southern cities like Wilmington, North Carolina and Tulsa, Oklahoma, black business flourished in Durham in the first half of the 20th century, creating a vibrant African American middle class.

Stasio talks with a panel of guests about what led to the success of Black Wall Street and about the state of black business and wealth building in Durham today. Andrea Harris shares her memories of traveling to Parrish Street in Late 50s. Harris is the co-founder and former president of the North Carolina Institute of Minority Economic Development. She is also a senior fellow with the nonprofit Center for Community Self-Help.

Durham was the place to be. None of us wanted to go to Raleigh. We wanted to come to Durham. - Andrea Harris

“Durham was the place to be. None of us wanted to go to Raleigh. We wanted to come to Durham,” said Harris.

Kimberly Moore joins the conversation to trace the history of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company and detail the role it played in the flourishing of Black Wall Street. Moore is a marketing expert who worked for the insurance company for almost 15 years. Today she is head of marketing at Saint Augustine's University. She also teaches at North Carolina Central University and at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“Truly, the NC Mutual Life Insurance Company family invested back into Black Wall Street, which is again why there's so many businesses there. Because literally, there were no venture capitalists. We were the first to do that,” Moore said.

Henry McKoy shares his research into the factors that contributed to the success of Durham’s Black Wall Street and the barriers to African American business development today. McKoy is the former assistant secretary of commerce for North Carolina and the current director of entrepreneurship at North Carolina Central University's School of Business.

“If we think about what we consider to be Wall Street now, we think about capital. We think about access to capital. And that's what Durham had in ways that many other places didn't have,” said McKoy.

Denise Hester, co-founder of M&M Real Estate Development and Consulting, joins the conversation to share her own experience building a black-owned business in Durham. She and her husband own two shopping centers on Fayetteville Street and work to support small local businesses get off the ground.

There is wealth in the black community. It just doesn't often have a pathway to present itself and create the outcomes we want. - Denise Hester

“There is a depth — there is wealth in the black community. It just doesn't often have a pathway to present itself and create the outcomes we want,” Hester said about why she and her husband invest in black businesses.

They are also a part of the Durham Business and Professional Chain, Durham’s oldest African-American business advocacy organization. Hester shares her memories of Fayetteville Street and talks about her work to revitalize the business community in that area today.

Finally, Stasio talks to Zuri Reynolds-Hester about Nzinga’s Breakfast Cafe, the business she opened on Fayetteville Street five years ago.

Reynolds-Hester about the early days of Nzinga’s Breakfast Cafe: “I was 25 years old. [I] didn't have any money. [I] didn't have any assets — no house, no car, no nothing. So my dad bought my first food order. And then after that, it just kept going. I couldn't have a big staff, so I started out with a very small staff. And as money came in, [I] just kept reinvesting the money. [I] couldn't pay myself for a while.”