Durham and A Legacy of Inclusion
Article by: Tiffany Griffin of Bright Black Candles
BIO: Tiffany M. Griffin is co-founder/co-owner of Bright Black, a company with a mission to honor the brilliance of Blackness through scent art. Tiffany is a graduate of the University of Michigan with a PhD in Psychology, and of Boston College with BAs in Psychology and Communications. Prior to starting Bright Black, Tiffany worked in the Obama Administration as a Strategic Advisor for Resilience, in the US Senate on Health and Social Policy, in philanthropy, in academia, and as a food blogger. Tiffany resides in Durham with her husband Dariel and daughter Elena.
Some folks outside of NC are surprised to see that Durham made our list of great cities inspiring our Bright Black Diaspora Collection. Those who know even a little about the history of the city and/or a bit about its current vibrancy though, aren’t surprised at all.
Despite being relatively small, Durham is mighty. Before Tulsa's Black Wall Street and the race massacre that followed in Oklahoma, there was Durham's Black Wall Street, a period of unprecedented Black-created and sustained economic prosperity following Emancipation and Reconstruction. Both WEB DuBois and Booker T Washington visited and wrote about Durham as a hub of Black business (despite not agreeing about much else!) and during this time, Black people literally from all over the country came to Durham to take advantage of, and to contribute to, the dynamic community being created and sustained.
Things were by no means perfect during this time. There was racial tension, especially from middle and working class Whites (this WAS the 1800 and 1900s after all), yet Black leadership, along with community collaboration transcended these aggressions, and what ensued was a Black community that owned their own banks, insurance companies and other businesses. Economic resources were generated and flowed back into the community in a virtuous cycle of truly inclusive economic growth. This was facilitated by a policy agenda and economic zeitgeist among white Durham elites that not only tolerated Black empowerment and wealth creation, but welcomed and supported it.
To be clear, this was not altruism. The white elites who partnered with Black businesses benefited from these alliances, and perhaps more importantly, there were real economic and social benefits to Durham as a whole, for fostering an environment where opportunity was equally distributed across groups. The Durham of the late 1800s and early 1900s embodied this, and their city thrived because of it. As a contemporary Black business owner, this history inspires me, fuels me, makes me really proud and makes me want to succeed so I can pay it forward to others. As a contemporary Black business owner, juxtaposing this history with current dynamics in Durham also makes me sad.
In 2018, just 4% of businesses in Durham were Black-owned, despite the city being 40% Black, and undergoing incredible population growth over the past decade. That population growth has also resulted in economic growth, but it hasn't been inclusive. At all. The recent DHA housing crisis is just one example of a Durham that has lost its way in terms of inclusivity. This is despite having the title, "one of the most Progressive cities in the South."
I'm cautiously optimistic that Durham will embrace its past as a truly, TRULY inclusive community by creatively tackling gentrification and the affordable housing crisis, by instituting living wages city-wide, and by supporting Black (and Brown and women and and and!) owned business. This is what has made Durham “Durham”-- soulful, fun, kind, supportive, and down-to-earth, with a twist of most-endearing grit.
Thank you for reading! Be sure to follow and keep up with Bright Black on instagram for more.