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Black Wall Street - Full length shot of African American man leaning against a Buick car parked against a building, wearing a suit and hat tilted on his head, neutral facial expression, 1920.

Source: JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado / Getty

It was the mecca for African American business activity. Imagine a thriving four-block business district bursting with restaurants, grocery stores, banks, and more – an affluent, all-black, American society known as Durham Black Wall Street.

In the early part of the twentieth century, the Hayti district was the heart of the African American community in Durham, North Carolina.

Black Wall Street - African American Schoolchildren

Source: JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado / Getty

Located south of downtown, the neighborhood was a combination of housing and businesses. Despite the turbulent Jim Crow era, the city thrived under the ingenuity of black entrepreneurship and the active support or tolerance of whites.

Durham’s Black Wall Street was home to several successful businesses including North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company and Mechanics and Farmers Bank.

The success of the city attracted national attention. Leaders like W. E. B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington were known to visit.

So what happened?

Two words.

Urban renewal.

As Durham expanded, government officials determined that the city could benefit from a new freeway that would connect the downtown area with the expanding suburbs.

Black Wall Street - Woman During Race Riot of 1921

Source: Historical / Getty

Ultimately, the Hayti district was destroyed with the addition of the expressway. This displaced hundreds of African Americans and Durham’s Black Wall Street community never recovered.

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