During the late 1800s, a four block stretch of Parrish street in Durham became known as Black Wall Street for its high concentration of African-American owned businesses and financial institutions. As a major economic engine for the city’s black communities, Black Wall Street and its associated businesses were responsible for not only creating prestige and wealth, but also for spreading messages of tolerance, community and self-reliance.
While many entrepreneurs and business owners contributed to the prosperity of the area, John Merrick and Charles Clinton Spaulding, founders of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, are the two most closely associated with the district’s runaway success. After the company’s founding in 1898, North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company’s business increased from less than a thousand dollars in income in 1899 to a staggering quarter of a million dollars in 1910. Adjusted for inflation, this increase represents a growth of over $6 million dollars in a little over a decade, a remarkable figure for a small, independent business by any standards. Along with the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, another significant business to emerge from Black Wall Street was the Mechanics and Farmers (M&F) Bank, historically recognized as the first black-owned bank. With loans from white banks difficult to secure, founders Richard Fitzgerald and James Shepard established M&F Bank as a place where Durham’s black communities could safely deposit money and accrue interest on their assets.
As the business grew, it became more than simply a depository for African American wealth, it was also a major source of loans for blacks. M&F allowed Black Wall Street to become self-reliant in terms of funding and allowed for a direct increase in the number of institutions and organizations.
Within twenty years of the bank’s founding in 1907, the number of black owned businesses in Durham tripled. In addition to igniting economic growth, Black Wall Street was a frequent destination for black leaders, intellectuals and politicians. Figureheads including Booker T. Washington, W.E.B Du Bois and Aaron McDuffee Moore all praised its abilities for offering employment opportunities and financial services to communities who were traditionally marginalized or ignored by white business owners.
Today, the influence of Black Wall Street can still be felt around the city. Most recently, a group of young entrepreneurs including Jesica Averhart, Talib Graves-Manns, Dee McDougal and Tobias Rose have formed a partnership in Durham to build on Black Wall Street’s legacies. With a goal of increasing the number of entrepreneurs of color, specifically in the world of technology, their 21st century version of Black Wall Street celebrates innovation and entrepreneurship within diverse, multicultural communities. We hope learning more about these inspiring individuals and institutions inspires you to advance their vision for a more tolerant, prosperous world.