Upbuilding Black Durham: Gender, Class, and Black Community Development in the Jim Crow South

Upbuilding Black Durham: Gender, Class, and Black Community Development in the Jim Crow South

Upbuilding Black Durham: Gender, Class, and Black Community Development in the Jim Crow South

Upbuilding Black Durham: Gender, Class, and Black Community Development in the Jim Crow South

Synopsis

In the 1910s, both W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington praised the black community in Durham, North Carolina, for its exceptional race progress. Migration, urbanization, and industrialization had turned black Durham from a post-Civil War liberation community into the "capital of the black middle class." African Americans owned and operated mills, factories, churches, schools, and an array of retail services, shops, community organizations, and race institutions. Using interviews, narratives, and family stories, Leslie Brown animates the history of this remarkable city from emancipation to the civil rights era, as freedpeople and their descendants struggled among themselves and with whites to give meaning to black freedom.Brown paints Durham in the Jim Crow era as a place of dynamic change where despite common aspirations, gender and class conflicts emerged. Placing African American women at the center of the story, Brown describes how black Durham's multiple constituencies experienced a range of social conditions. Shifting the historical perspective away from seeing solidarity as essential to effective struggle or viewing dissent as a measure of weakness, Brown demonstrates that friction among African Americans generated rather than depleted energy, sparking many activist initiatives on behalf of the black community.

Excerpt

Robert George Fitzgerald met freedwoman Cornelia Smith in Chapel Hill, Orange County, North Carolina, in the fall of 1868. He described her in his journal, using the language of the day, as “a fine-looking octoroon.” He was conscious of her color and beauty, but he also was struck by her “modesty” and “spirit.” Robert impressed Cornelia, too. a freeborn black from Pennsylvania, he had volunteered for the Union cause and enlisted in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War. Though he had suffered an injury that affected his vision, he returned to his studies at Ashmun Institute (later Lincoln University) in Pennsylvania and then answered the call to teach in the South at emancipation. Robert ran a local freedmen’s school and became a leader in the black community. a courageously active member of the Union League, an organization dedicated to politicizing freedpeople, he attended rallies, wrote songs to celebrate Republican victories, and ran for a place on the school board. Cornelia and Robert married in August of 1869. the morning after the wedding, she traveled to the nearby town of Hillsborough. “She is to sew for several ladies,” a very pleased Robert wrote in his journal. “She is anxious to do all she can for me. She is to be away three weeks.”

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