Know Your Roots

Most Durham residents don’t know that our city’s iconic bull originated in the 1870’s on a pack of smoking tobacco from Durham’s first tobacco factory or that the smell of fresh tobacco from fully operational mills filled Durham’s streets as late as 2000.

They might not know that downtown’s Parrish Street was once known as Black Wall Street or that one of the very first sit-ins of the Civil Rights Movement occurred in an ice cream parlour on Roxboro Street in 1957.

Durham is a storied city, steeped in the traditions of agriculture, tobacco, textiles, and African-American entrepreneurship. But Durham is changing fast, and that rapid change is what makes it so important that we know our history, especially when it comes to our strong tradition of social justice and our working class roots.

Thankfully, there are plenty of sources for discovering historic Durham – from websites to photographic archives to actual brick and mortar museums and collections. Here are a few of our favorites:

·      For a look into Durham’s social justice history:

The Pauli Murray Project outlines the life and legacy of the priest, educator, activist, lawyer, and poet who grew up on Durham’s Carroll Street. The site also includes a Durham History Bibliography with a focus on Black History.

The North Carolina Collection’s Love and Liberation: A History of LGBTQ+ Durham is an extensive archive of Durham’s LGBTQ+ materials.

·      To research Durham’s Black History:

The Durham Black History section of the City of Durham’s website is a companion to the city’s African-American Heritage Guide.

The UNC School of Education’s Learn NC website has an extensive history of Durham’s Black Wall Street.

The North Carolina Collection’s online Bull City Soul exhibit is the story of R&B, soul music, and funk in Durham.

·      To research your own neighborhood or Durham landmarks:

Open Durham is an extensive community archive about people, places, and history in Durham. You can search for photographs by neighborhood. The site also has detailed photographic and anecdotal histories on the textile and tobacco mills.

The North Carolina Collection’s exhibits on Historic Postcards of Durham and the History of Northgate Mall are also worth your time.

Preservation Durham provides history on Durham’s historic neighborhoods and also offers walking and bike tours to historic sites.

Speaking of walking tours, checking out all of these amazing online resources will likely get you out and about, exploring the corners of Durham. While you’re out, check out the The Museum of Durham History or visit the Durham Public Library’s North Carolina Collection in person.  

Happy exploring, fellow Durhamites!