Black businesses’ reliance on dollars from the community meant that many business leaders felt free enough economically to take on the risks of political leadership.
In Durham, they were among those at the center of the early years of civil rights struggle.
Voting day at the Durham courthouse, 1946. The Durham Committee on Negro Affairs, founded in 1935 by Black Wall Street leaders, registered thousands of local black voters and helped them get to the polls.
Courtesy Durham Herald Co. Newspaper Photograph Collection, Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Local business leaders founded an organization that registered thousands of black voters decades before the campaigns of the Civil Rights movement. They built a voting bloc that strengthened black political power in local elections.
They knew that they could not win their freedom through business alone.
Letter to NC Mutual President C.C. Spaulding from Governor Clyde Hoey. Durham’s Black Wall Street became a source of pride for North Carolina. Its leaders built relationships with white powerbrokers as a strategy of political protection and economic advancement.
Courtesy The William Jesse Kennedy Papers, The Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The Committee on Negro Affairs, those people who worked in the factories and people who worked in the North Carolina Mutual, were working together for the same thing. Helping to get out the vote and voting. They were working for the common good of all.
NC Mutual President C.C. Spaulding (center) with Governor J. Melville Broughton (left) and Superintendent of Negro Education N.C. Newbold (right), 1944. Black Wall Street leaders like Spaulding knew the limits of white support. To Newbold he wrote, “I wonder how those in charge feel, seeing Negro children walking in the rain for miles to school, to which white children are transported in buses…and usually when Negroes contend for better treatment [they are] considered radical.”
Winham Conference, Governor’s Group, 1944.
Courtesy C.C. Spaulding Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University
Mechanics and Farmers Bank President John H. Wheeler advocating for school desegregation alongside other members of the Durham Committee on Negro Affairs, 1955. They are at the office of Governor Luther Hodges.
Courtesy Durham Historic Photographic Archives, North Carolina Collection, Durham County Library.
During the Civil Rights movement, access to a black business district made boycotts of white businesses like Baldwin’s department store, pictured here ca. 1960, easier to sustain.
With its thousands of registered voters, the Durham Committee on Negro Affairs (DCNA) influenced local election outcomes, like in this 1951 race. For city council ward candidates, an endorsement from DCNA meant victory.