All this month we’re bringing you stories from North Carolina’s black history. Check back here each week day for a new tidbit from our state’s African American’s past.
In the early twentieth century, Parrish Street in Durham constituted what today would be called an enterprise zone, propelled by the Bull City’s African American businessmen. Nationally recognized, the district acquired the nickname “Black Wall Street.” In a period when race relations elsewhere in North Carolina were at an all-time low, Durham’s black businessmen operated with the tacit support of their white counterparts and made great strides toward equality.
Though many companies large and small called the district home during its peak in the early 20th century, perhaps the two most famous are the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, the nation’s largest black-owned insurance company, and Mechanics and Farmers Bank. Both businesses still have a large presence in Durham today. When W. E. B. Du Bois visited in 1912, he recorded an unparalleled level of black entrepreneurship, crediting the tolerant attitude of the city’s whites. Booker T. Washington visited in 1910 and cited the ambition and thrift of the residents. Urban renewal in the 1960s had a destructive effect on Durham’s black business community, but by that time the heyday of Parrish Street had passed. Much of the district now falls within the Downtown Durham Historic District.