The following blog was written by Sam Christensen, a Freshman in the Bonner Leaders Program at the Campus Y. Sam works at the Marian Cheek Jackson Center this year.
by Sam Christensen
A wonderful part of being a Bonner is the chance to learn fascinating material with and from your fellow Bonners. I know that during the recent First Year Experience, many of us gained a deeper understanding of the Triangle’s past and present during a day-long outing full of learning, laughter, and bonding.
On April 2nd, a contingent of the Bonner Class of 2019 accompanied by Lucy and the three senior interns set out early from the Campus Y to the first stop: The Museum of Durham History. Here, we gained an understanding of the many factors influencing Durham’s history, listened to some oral histories, and learned about the Hayti community which thrived in Durham. Even as a two year resident of Durham, I had never heard of this place. It turns out that from the late 19th century into the mid 20th century, the Hayti community was a nearly self-sufficient African-American community in downtown Durham! Hayti flourished for many years, fostering African-American owned businesses such as NC Mutual Life. However, what intrigued me was how this incredible community was eventually torn apart. In the 1950’s, Urban Renewal projects and the construction of Highway 147 uprooted and then bisected Hayti. Both of these factors were deliberate and calculated efforts to break up the community, and after the highway was built Hayti did indeed decline, but the legacy is still going strong.
After stopping by Only Burger for lunch and walking through Tobacco District, we continued on to the Hayti Heritage Center. Originally St. Joseph’s Church and a center for protesters to assemble, the Church has been converted into a gorgeous community space. The moment we stepped in, we were immersed in a sea of activity. On this one Saturday, there were at least 3 different events going on, from a City of Durham informational session, to a celebration of African culture and dance workshops. We got to tour what was once the sanctuary of the church. It’s now a gorgeous performance space that incorporates and celebrates the history of Hayti. It’s also played host to the likes of Branford Marsalis. After spending time discussing the history and culture of Hayti with our guide, it was time to go, and we returned to Chapel Hill to debrief.
What struck me and others as well is that the even though some of us have spent years in the area, we had never heard of this incredible community. I, for one, felt like the thing had given me a fuller understanding of the history of the Triangle, and reminded me that there is always more below the surface. Huge kudos to Sanah for organizing such a fantastic trip, and thank you to the rest of the Bonner family for such a fun, educational day. Here’s to 3 more years, guys!