Durham, North Carolina, was a national destination for black business. During the darkest hour for civil rights in America, black entrepreneurs sought freedom through building businesses, creating wealth, and upbuilding community institutions. Many remember Hayti, Durham’s central black neighborhood, as a hub of activity filled with hundreds of thriving businesses.
It was our territory.
The North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company (NC Mutual) was the first of Durham’s black financial institutions. It became the largest black-owned insurance company in the world. NC Mutual and its sister financial institutions supported African Americans where white businesses and the government refused.
The success of Black Wall Street institutions relied on financial and social capital, the courage to leverage the power of entrepreneurship, and a connection to working people and the dollars they invested in their community.
The block of downtown Durham’s Parrish Street businesses that later became known as Black Wall Street, 1906. The North Carolina Mutual and Provident Association’s founders soon started Mechanics and Farmers Bank and moved it into their building (far left).
Courtesy Durham Herald Co. Newspaper Photograph Collection, Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Today, business ownership remains one of the top avenues of wealth creation. But because of structural racism, black businesses remain under threat in Durham and beyond. Durham’s Black Wall Street offers important lessons to this generation of entrepreneurs and their supporters.