The Dark Side of Black Wall Street:
How Black Neighborhoods Became “the Hood”
Min. Paul Scott
“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot”
Big Yellow Taxi- Joni Mitchell
Although many people take pride in Durham’s fanciful tale of a Black economic paradise known as Black Wall Street, truth is , there is another side of the story rooted in neglect and economic despair.
Everyday in Durham, we wake up to the news about how someone’s loved one has fallen victim to violence. And then begins the finger pointing. Most of the blame is placed on unruly youth who have access to guns that , seemingly, just drop out of the sky on the streets of the Bull City. However, few people have ever ventured to ask the fundamental question, how did we get here? How did Black Wall Street turn part of Durham into a Gangsta’s Paradise?
Although, the shootings in the Bull City are beginning to appear in more random places, many of the acts are still centering around public housing developments. However , many people in the Bull City seem to shy away discussing the origin of the problem and how Black neighborhoods were transformed into the proverbial “hood”.
To find the answer to the question we must go back to the late 50’s with the coming of urban renewal. Although many people in Durham are , relatively , comfortable talking about gentrification, in 2021, any mention of urban renewal is met with an awkward silence.
In his work , The Color of Law, Richard Rothstein raises the issue of “slum clearance” where public officials used construction efforts such as highways to shift “ African American populations away from downtown business districts so that white communitors , shoppers, and business elites would not be exposed to black people.” When you combine this with unscrupulous white business owners and wealthy Black opportunists, the results are bound to be disastrous for economically disadvantaged Black folk.
The result of this clandestine relationship was the demolition of Black neighborhoods and the mass displacement of Black families. Although the politically correct term is urban renewal , a more correct wording would be economic ethnic cleansing.
By the late 60’s , according to Christina Greene’s book ,Our Separate Ways, Black Durham residents, initially, welcomed urban renewal but “it soon became clear that the poor would have no voice in its implementation. “
Quiet as kept, this could not be pulled off without the participation of the Black Bourgeoisie, some of whom launched a massive PR campaign to sell the less affluent Black community on an idea that turned out to be more like a fool’s errand than an avenue to upward mobility.
Like many cities across the country , Black residents were bamboozled into giving up their family homes in exchange for being shoved into public housing.
Although many politicians seem totally in shock when there are shootings in places like McDougald Terrace, in reality, the writing was graffitied on the wall more than four decades ago. According to Brandon K Winford in his book ,John Herver Wheeler, Black Banking and the Economic Struggle for Civil Rights, placing Lincoln Apartments in such close proximity to McDougald Terrace would “result in intolerable congested conditions and would overburden already crowded education and recreational facilities in the area.” And this is just one example.
So, they knew exactly what was going to become of public housing in Durham. They just felt that the 30 pieces of silver were more important than the welfare of the poor.
So what we see happening on the streets of the Bull City today is a case of the chickens coming home to roost. Or as the scriptures teach , the visiting of the iniquity of the father upon the children of the third and fourth generation.”
Many of the violent acts taking place in Durham are being done by the grandchildren and great grandchildren of those who had their homes swindled from them and were condemned to live in perpetual poverty.
While it’s easy to blame single mothers and their children for all the problems in the hood, it’s more difficult to place the blame on upstanding community leaders who have buildings named after them.
However, if we are ever going to stop the flood of blood that is drenching the Bull City we have to have an honest conversation about from whence it sprang.
Every candidate running for public office must be asked their opinion on the relationship between the history of urban renewal and the violence we are experiencing in Durham on a daily basis. Not only that, they must be asked how they will fix this historical wrong.
Any politician who does not address this issue is not worth our time nor our vote.
Although some people object to reparations , under the premise that those who, actually ,experienced slavery are long gone, what about those who are the victims of urban renewal? Don’t those residents of public housing who never even got as much as an apology for having their lives turned upside down deserve some sort of compensation ?
Unless we correct these historical wrongs, history will just keep repeating itself and we will be left with more dead bodies on Bull City streets for eternity.
Min. Paul Scott is founder of the Black Messiah Movement. He can be reached at (919) 972–8305 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter @truthminista