It is evident that Durham has made a conscious effort to remember its unique yet tense racial history. Historic markers along Parrish Street – known as “Black Wall Street” – commemorate African American leaders who have made the city what it is today and contributed in a fast array of industries and fields. However, memories of segregation in Durham are not always memorialized, or even remembered, at their original sites.
The Duke alumni I interviewed who were students at Duke in the late 1960s remember the A.B. Morris Café fondly. Interestingly, it was a popular hangout for Duke students, although its main clientele were employees of American Tobacco. Daniel Walter, Trinity class of 1970, remembers it both as a space of joyful socializing – as a student – and as a space of segregation, which was especially shocking at this time for someone from Ohio. Explicit segregation was a thing of the past where he grew up, but in Durham there were vestiges of it as late as the mid 1960s. As late as 1967, “AB’s” had “a separate entrance and a separate serving line for Blacks that was just north of the White entrance.”
By the end of the 1960s, The A.B. Morris had, for all intents and purposes, integrated. Black Duke students who arrived with white students had no difficulties sitting down among them. However, as soon as 1970 the building was knocked down as part of an urban renewal project. 40 years later, the same corner looks like this:
Nance’s Cafeteria was built to replace AB’s in the 1970s at a different location, on the northeast corner of Blackwell St. and the newly-created West Dillard St. By this time all Durham restaurants were integrated, and there were no separate entrances for “whites” and “coloreds” at Nance’s. It was eventually torn down as well.
Although there are a few websites in existence that preserve the memory of the A.B. Morris and other historical, previously segregated Durham spaces – notably Endangered Durham – the sites of memory themselves have been transformed. The buildings have been erased, their segregated entrances torn down.
It seems that the Civil Rights Movement sites of memory we in the Duke and Durham communities are most prone to commemorate and memorialize are the positive or hopeful ones: notably Black Wall Street and sites of protest. Sites of long overdue segregation we quickly transform or erase altogether, leaving the painful past in the memories of those who were there, while we lift up positive sites of memory to extoll the profound, revolutionary change that took place in that place. Perhaps it is in this manner that we make sure we stay on the right path – toward progress and reform rather than harmful stagnation.
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Bobbie Teer recalls working at Howard Johnson’s at the time of the Martin Luther King assassination – African Americans lined the highway outside in a march of solidarity, and police officers ended up arresting over 100. Although Howard Johnson’s was segregated, and African Americans who walked in alone had to eat outside, Ms. Teer says groups of Duke students that included one or two black students were not bothered – she served them without any issue.
Civil Rights Tour of Durham
Professor Robin Kirk led our class, International Comparative Studies 200s (Senior Capstone), on a civil rights tour of Durham based on Preservation Durham’s Civil Rights walking tour. Some videos of this tour can be viewed below. Due to technical difficulties, footage does not include the latter part of the tour, when we viewed more downtown monuments to black Durham leaders (including the one pictured above), discussed historically black neighborhoods in Durham, and saw Pauli Murray’s mural.