Initiative on Poverty and Social Justice

The Initiative on Poverty and Social Justice is focused on connecting research to local activism. The initiative employs many different mediums and disciplines to examine issues of poverty in North Carolina with a special emphasis on Durham and Orange counties. We hope to engage scholars and local activists in conversations about poverty in our own communities. In addition, the Initiative will provide resources and access to information to groups, policy makers and individuals dedicated to combating poverty in North Carolina. 


Duke/UNC Initiative on Poverty and Inequality

The Initiative director Robert Korstad is co-teaching a course on poverty in Durham with Jim Leloudis a colleague at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The Initative is using the Durham mayor’s poverty initiative and other anti-poverty efforts to engage undergraduate students from both universities in poverty-related issues. The goal is to create a research model that can be used in any city or county to develop a better understanding of how issues of poverty and inequality have been produced by policy choices in the past.

This comes at an opportune time when the city government, ecumenical groups, academics, political activists, and non-profit organizations in Durham have all begun to mobilize themselves around combatting poverty and promoting social equity. Students at UNC and Duke have the opportunity to tap into this energy and contribute their historical analysis, research skills and manpower to connect themselves to these community initiatives. 

The work of each of these students will culminate in advisory tools for the mayor’s office, and several community events that showcase the work of different organizations in the community and inform the public on the rich, complicated history of the multitude of factors that contribute to the state of poverty in Durham. 

In another course, some of Duke’s public policy graduate students are examining the history and evolution of policies created to reduce poverty and inequality in Durham. They analyze specific policies enacted in Durham at the turn of the century to gain long-term understanding. The students are divided into research groups focused on housing, education, healthcare, municipal services, criminal justice systems, employment and politics.

For more information and to get involved, visit:

Racial inequalities in a New South city

This project is a case study of Durham, North Carolina that explores the sedimented effects of policy decisions from the late 19th century to the present with the goal of affecting public understanding of the creation and transmission of inequality and, ultimately, of helping to develop political and policy strategies for change. The research project focuses on three interdependent forces that have helped sustain racial disparities: the legacy of inequality that is deeply imbedded in this country’s institutions and policies, from the local to the national level; the inheritance of inequality, as measured by education levels, health status, wealth accumulation, and human capital acquisition, that burdens each succeeding generation of African Americans; and the continued white resistance to black advancement.  The work will be presented in a form of an interactive website that will be centered around an analytic narrative, but will include historical documents, GIS mapping, photographs, oral histories and other documentary materials. The website is intended to be a useful resource for policy makers, teachers and students.

At the Table

At the Table is a website meant to serve as a communications hub for people working on issues of poverty and inequality in Durham and Orange counties. It offers a calendar of activism related events in the area, a place for story telling and sharing information.