historical marker

One in a series of historical markers on Parrish Street in Durham, North Carolina, commemorating the “Black Wall Street” district that thrived in the early twentieth century. Image source.

In the early twentieth century, Parrish Street in Durham, North Carolina, was the hub of African American business activity. This four-block district was known as “Black Wall Street,” a reference to the district of New York City that is home to the New York Stock Exchange and the nation’s great financial firms. Although other cities had similar districts, Durham’s was one of the most vital, and was nationally known. Parrish Street bordered the Hayti community, Durham’s main African American residential district, and the two districts together served as the center of black life in Durham.

Elsewhere in North Carolina, in the depths of the Jim Crow era, race relations were as bad as they ever had been. But Durham’s black businessmen thrived with the tolerance, if not the active support, of their white counterparts.

In 1906, the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, the nation’s largest black-owned insurance company, moved its headquarters to Parrish Street. It was soon joined by the Mechanics and Farmers Bank, and the founder of North Carolina Mutual also invested in real estate and textiles. National leaders W. E. B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington both visited the city, in 1912 and 1910, respectively, and praised black entrepreneurship and the tolerance of whites.

In the 1960s, urban renewal wiped out much of Hayti and Durham’s black business community, but by that time, Parrish Street’s heyday had passed.