Local News

Documentary Looks at Durham in Terms of Black and White

Posted April 11, 2008

— A new documentary looks back at Durham's post-World War II society, separated by Jim Crow and thriving on the riches of tobacco and textiles.

"This is an opportunity for kids to come out and see the big ideas of American history as they played out on the streets of Durham. The civil rights movement, with Dr. King here. Local leaders were in the vanguard, and that was social change," said Dr. Steven Channing, producer of "Durham: A Self Portrait."

Durham looked much different in the 1940s, Channing said. His documentary looks back at a divided community and at the socio-economic factors that helped change lives and shape the city we know today.

"Imagine 1944. There were white schools and black schools, white churches and black churches. There was a white community and a black community. There was a white side of town and a black side of town. The 'between' did not meet," historian John Hope Franklin said.

Channing followed his love for Durham and his desire to teach the city's past when producing the film.

"The longest shelf life and value for this film will be in the classroom," he said.

The film looks closely at the tobacco's effect on the economy and at the lives of those lucky enough to work within the industry.

Channing said he hopes the film will be the lens through which students see the struggles made by those before them.

"There's a rich opportunity, I think, using this film as a jumping-off point for kids to learn more about this community and about this nation," he said.

"Durham: A Self Portrait" airs Sunday at 5 p.m. on Fox50.


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  • djofraleigh Apr 11, 2008

    Durham had poor leadership, sure, and being on I-85 and close to RTP and RDU, it should have prospered beyond what it has.

    The schools are, well, questionable, as is the police department, and low income areas and around NCCU even are problem areas, and Durham has paled by comparison to Raleigh/Chapel Hill/Cary/Apex, when it should have shined. Somehow the focus of government and the media/public has wrongly been on the lower class failings, not the thriving black & white middle and high class. I've heard machine gun fire in old Few Gardens at 2 am. That's what everyone else hears too. Get out of Durham if you can became a mindset. The wrong ones stayed.

    Durham is one of the richest cities in cultural history in this state.

  • Durham-Raleigh Apr 11, 2008

    What I find amusing, though not amazing, is that so many people jump to instant conclusions. Conclusions that make assumptions about African-Americans -- they can't succeed, they're on welfare, they're whining about the past.

    These assertions are present, explicitly or implied, throughout this thread.

    Some of ncwebguy's notes (like the failure of Durham to develop/grow in the 70s/80s and the city/county school mess) are accurate. Others aren't -- downtown is a VERY different place now than a few years ago (I just spent 20 minutes at lunch walking around down there), and the projects he says have had "minimal" impact have tripled the downtown business population and led to over $1 billion in investment.

    But, bottom-line, for so many people it comes down to race. I'm a native Southerner -- I trace my family line in NC back to the 1700s. My great-greats fought in the Civil War. I grew up with conflicted feelings about race, too. But I'm also able to change.

    And I love Durham.

  • ncwebguy Apr 11, 2008

    Despite investment from Duke University (leasing a lot of the American Tobacco space, donations for the Durham Performing Arts Center), Jim Goodmon (AT itself, Diamond View, Durham Bulls, Fox 50), millions of dollars to re-align roads inside the loop, etc., downtown is marginally better than it was five years ago. West Village is slowly coming on board, but the Baldwin Lofts are still mostly empty, and Greenfire is still trying to get its act together.

    To say nothing of the schools, a mix of pretty good to failing, which have done nothing to stop the spread of gangs.

    Durham stopped allowing overt segregation, but only intergrated in small doeses. 9th Street and Southpoint are "mixed", and a few successful African-Americans own houses in South Durham, but Alston Ave. and Fayetville Street never got the desegregation memo. As long as that is "good enough", Durham will never move foreward.

  • casp3r Apr 11, 2008

    "When you view a documentary-- you must remember that you are watching how that person feels and thinks and not necessarilly reality. The writer or director makes the decision of what to show and how to show it. It can be very one sided. Maybe Nifong can watch it in prison."

    Very good post and absolutely correct.

  • ncwebguy Apr 11, 2008

    The out of work factory workers turned into welfare recipients with no desire to improve themselves. Why did the RTP workers in the 60s and 70s move to Raleigh instead of Durham, despite it being closer? Because few new subdivisions were built to house them, and issues with the unofficial systemic segregation between Durham city and county schools, not because of the media, real estate agents, or whatever boogeymen Durham apologists trot out.

    If areas like Treyburn, Southpoint, etc. were built in the 70s/80s instead of 90s/00s, the city would have been a lot different. If there were *more* Parkwood-like subdivisions between RTP and downtown Durham, they could have attracted more of the RTP workforce. But they didn't.

    Instead of trying to extend the boundaries of downtown, city leaders built the loop, putting a moat between the core and the rest of the city.

  • ncwebguy Apr 11, 2008

    Part of Durham's problem is they constantly whine about "Wake whiners" instead of solving their own problems.

    Reader is right -- The Black Wall Street could only exist in a segregated Durham, which is why Durham brags about it only in the AA community. The real tragdey of Durham is not industry leaving and desegregation, but what the city did afterward. That was a slow process over decades, but Durham kept thinking it would come back any day. Unlikne Winston-Salem and Richmond, VA, it turned its back on Duke University and RTP in hopes that tobacco would come back. The once thriving AA institutions of the city -- NC Mutual, CCB, M&F, etc. -- are shells of their former selves. Why?

    Durham did *nothing* to foster business, and services like the bus system and road network fell to pieces. The "revitalization" of the Durham Freeway plus housing projects on the east side of 147, which brought millions of outside dollars to the community, created more problems than they solved.

  • whatusay Apr 11, 2008

    We need a study that shows how youth is being raised, how welfare (the government) has actually created the crime we are seeing, and how race activists teach hate to enrich their own lives.

  • superman Apr 11, 2008

    When you view a documentary-- you must remember that you are watching how that person feels and thinks and not necessarilly reality. The writer or director makes the decision of what to show and how to show it. It can be very one sided. Maybe Nifong can watch it in prison.

  • doodad Apr 11, 2008

    People are also divided by social class, yet that is often overlooked.

    I would be interested in viewing this documentary. History is what it is and we should look back upon it and try to learn something from it.

  • Reader Apr 11, 2008

    In many ways, Durham and other racially diverse communities prospered under segregation because of duplication of services - twice as many doctors, twice as many restaurants, twice as many hotels, etc. were needed to serve the divided population. Black professionals had a guaranteed client base and developed standing in their communities. Now, many blacks who can, patronize white establishments and the former black community role models have moved to segregated areas. Those remaining are trailing behind in prosperity and living in a fractured society.