Penny: A Black Capital for the World to See 

Historical Markers

As a “Black Capital for the World to See," and ultimately so successful it was given the nickname "The Capital of the Black Middle Class,” a number of famous civil rights leaders and other prominent African-Americans flocked to visit Durham and see the positive development for themselves. Some of Durham's most famous African American visitors included:

W.E.B DuBois
In the early 1900s, W.E.B DuBois wrote about his visit to Durham saying, “There is a singular group in Durham where a black man may get up in the morning from a mattress made by black men, in a house which a black man built out of lumber which black men cut and planed; he may put on a suit which he bought at a colored haberdashery and socks knit at a colored mill; he may cook victuals from a colored grocery on a stove which black men fashioned; he may earn his living working for colored men, be sick in a colored hospital and buried from a colored church; and the Negro insurance society will pay his widow enough to keep his children in a colored school. This is surely progress.”

Booker T. Washington
In 1910, Booker T. Washington came to Durham and visited NC Mutual Life Insurance accompanied by CC Spaulding, Aaron McDuffie Moore and others responsible for the progress in Durham. Washington was impressed, saying “if blacks across the south would emulate blacks in Durham, they would be on their way to prosperity and economic security.”

Malcolm X (Malcolm Little)

A gifted orator and advocate for political action to advance black interests, speaks in a Durham lodge hall on April 18, 1963. Originally scheduled at North Carolina Central University, his speech was moved after university officials denied the controversial former Black Muslim permission to appear on campus.

Photograph by Harold Moore, courtesy of the Herald-Sun and Durham Public Library, Civil Rights Heritage Project.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
During the civil rights era, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., made five public appearances in Durham. The most dramatic was on February 16, 1960, as the sit-in movement swept across the Jim Crow South. After visiting the Durham Woolworth's, located on Parrish Street, which had closed its lunch counter after demonstrations the previous week, King addressed a standing-room-only crowd of 1,200 people at White Rock Baptist Church. On April 4, 1968, King was scheduled for a visit to Durham, but cancelled at the last minute. Instead, that day, he was murdered on a motel balcony in Memphis.


Martin Luther King, Jr., center, visits the Woolworth's lunch counter in downtown Durham, February 16, 1960. Photograph by Jim Thornton of the Herald Sun, courtesy of Civil Rights Heritage Project, Durham County Library.

The photograph above was taken after Woolworth's had closed the counter after sit-in demonstrations there the previous week. With King are associate Ralph Abernathy, at left; Rev. Douglas Moore, who led Durham's first sit-in, at the Royal Ice Cream Company, in 1957; and an unidentified man.