Durham 150

Leoneda Inge / WUNC

Durham’s “Black Wall Street” doesn't look quite the same. One of the most well-known businesses on Parrish Street recently underwent a facelift, giving the historic Mechanics and Farmers Bank a new look.

While much of the country was suffering during the Great Depression, Nathan Garrett’s family found a safe haven in Durham, North Carolina. At the time the city was fertile ground for the African American entrepreneur, and the Garrett family ran the local pharmacy. Nathan learned the ropes of running a business, and he fondly remembers a community that was proud and self-sustaining. He eventually left Durham to attend Yale University, where he was part of the largest influx of African American students the university had known: a class of four.

a black and white photo of the front of the North Carolina Mutual building
Archives, Records, and History Center/North Carolina Central University

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.

an old picture of Fayetteville Street
Courtesy of the Hayti Heritage Center

What was once the commercial and social hub of Durham’s African-American community now looks very different. The Hayti neighborhood was initially established in the years following the Civil War around St. Joseph’s Church. Black people from surrounding areas were drawn to Hayti to do their banking and business because of its proximity to Black Wall Street, and many black-owned businesses thrived in Hayti, including the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company.