Take a stroll through Durham civil and human rights activism (past and present) on the Pauli Murray Project’s ever growing website.
Through audio interviews and text embedded in an interactive map you can see the layered stories behind the new pedestrian bridge lowered over the Durham Freeway/147. This bridge re-connects a neighborhood, home to mostly African-American working-class families, bisected when highway 147 was routed through it twenty years ago.
You might have known about the 1957 protests in front of the Royal Ice Cream Parlor on Roxboro Road, just north of downtown, long before the historical marker was erected this year, but do you know this site is a few blocks away from a central locale on W. Main St. where human rights activists fight healthcare injustices within the offices of the organization El Centro Hispano?
Durham is a city with a rich history of struggle for racial and economic justice, for human and civil rights, and this interactive map is the start of reclaiming the specific and complex histories of Durham. Take, for example, the West Village Apartment Buildings—formerly the Liggett Myers Tobacco Factory, closed in 1999. When you click on the link, you see a photo of workers walking under the covered bridge that is now a corridor from one apartment building to another. This older photo is placed between current pictures of a pristine blue swimming pool and a spacious hardwood floored apartment of West Village. An audio clip narrates a worker’s memory of work in the building when black and white women workers were segregated.
Current marketing of downtown Durham feature the famous tobacco warehouses-turned-studio-apartments/faux-revolution-restaurants that are the revamped darlings of this city. To a visitor or new resident, these buildings may hint at a story of gritty work and harder times, without really knowing the specific story of working conditions, or the multi-racial anti-segregation activist organization housed down the street from this segregated workplace.
For many downtown visitors and loft-dwellers, the ambiguous stories of harder times embodied within the structures of the high-ceiling brick-walled tobacco buildings somehow sweeten the food in the farm-to-fork restaurants. The walls that were constructed to facilitate an industry reliant upon monoculture farming, sharecropping, and racially and economically stratified industry are now filled with food from small, local farms and a ‘clean’ restaurant industry.
However, these buildings are more than testaments of the tobacco industry in Durham and the city’s re-emergence as a city fueled by research, education and pharmaceuticals. They house stories of stratification that still linger in Durham’s under-invested and segregated neighborhoods, displacing processes of gentrification, and trials of low-wage restaurant, farm-worker, service, and healthcare workers.
This map is a way to explore past struggles and triumphs of Durham as they intertwine with the present. Check it out and re-engage with the struggles of Durham as you travel to work, the farmer’s market, or settle in at home.
Mapping Civil and Human Activism—