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Sunday, September 26, 2021

History of Hayti: North Carolina’s Black Wall Street

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Although hundreds of Black-run business communities existed in America in the early 1900s, Hayti stood out as the world’s largest center for Black business.

Legendary Activists W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington lauded Hayti as a thriving community of unparalleled Black enterprise.

In addition to diners, theaters, hotels, churches and a vibrant music scene, Hayti was home to Hillside Park High School, the first Black school to offer 12th grade—which was previously exclusive to white schools.

The origin of the name “Hayti” is twofold: a tweaked version of Haiti, the independent nation forged by the formerly enslaved of France, and “Hayti” as in the name used by white people to refer to Black settlements at the time.

With several Black millionaires and community touchstones in the North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company and Lincoln Hospital, Hayti provided a place where Black residents did not have to rely on white-owned businesses for goods and services.

Located on the southwest side of Durham, Hayti grew from a small settlement of Black tobacco warehouse workers into a bustling city with the church at the heart of it all.

“There was a communal sense through faith as well as through economics which made Hayti stand out,” said Hayti Resident Reverend Casimir Brown during a panel hosted by the Neighborhood Improvement Service Department in Durham.

The rise of urban renewal programs would eventually stifle Black business communities across America. The Durham Redevelopment Commission embarked on an urban renewal program in 1958 that sought the destruction of so-called slums to make room for primarily white business and housing.

The gentrification of Hayti displaced hundreds of Black businesses, the majority of which were unable to survive the move. As for the residents of Hayti, they were forced into housing projects or other white-owned housing. The area formerly known as Hayti is now a part of Highway 147, the Durham Expressway.

“They didn’t replace none of the business. They didn’t replace none of the houses. They really didn’t replace it with nothing but 147,” said Community Organizer Marie Hunter in the video “Negro Removal: The Destruction of the Hayti District through Urban Renewal.”

Today, the Hayti Heritage Center keeps the spirit of Hayti alive with film festivals, art exhibitions, history tours, and dance performances.

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