CommunityPam's House Blend

Durham: A Self-Portrait

Tonight Kate and I — and a lot of folks in the Bull City —  will head downtown to take in a free screening of Durham: A Self-Portrait at the Carolina Theatre. The first show at 7:30 is sold out.

The documentary chronicles the people and neighborhoods of my hometown, as well as the history of race and class here.  It's the work of Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Dr. Steven Channing and Durham-based VideoDialog.

The city has a rich heritage as a textile center and of course, tobacco production (Liggett-Myers, which vacated long ago); my father's side of the family has long been a part of the city's history as well, in business, public service and civil rights. It will be interesting to see how civil rights era history will be covered in the doc.

When surfing by the excellent local blog  Bull City Rising, I found a short video tribute to the city center by Luther Blissett. It’s below the fold. Before Liggett-Myers shut down, you could smell the oddly pleasing scent of tobacco curing in the warehouses as you walked or drove by. These days nearly all of the old warehouses are being converted into living spaces and businesses; I work in one of the earlier warehouse conversions (not seen in this video). You'll get a peek of Southern urban charm from days gone by and an idea of the place I call home — restored product murals, renovated office buildings, and the jewel of Bull City restoration, the American Tobacco Historict District.

The song in the short is “Silverline” by M. Ward.

Our town gets a bad rap in the media and the public grapevine — the fable that Durham is some kind of crime-ridden, gang-infested hole. I lived in an in-town neighborhood,  Old West Durham for years, and never was the victim of a drive-by shooting or was not able to walk along the streets at night. I don’t see gangs roving the streets where I live now (the southern area of town) either. What I do see in abundance are a lot of Cary (Containment Area for Relocated Yankees) residents invading my local mall, lol — and that’s just fine. All cities have sections of town that aren’t where you’d want to be at night.

Perhaps it’s the percentage of brown people here that freaks out the surburbanites and, let’s be frank, a good number of our neighbors to the east in Raleigh. The racial makeup of the city — 45.50% White, 43.81% African American; Hispanic or Latino of any race 8.56% (the latter which has surely grown since the 2000 census), clearly is browner than many are used to. I’ve lost count of how many people Kate comes in contact with (she works in Raleigh) that she hears the most outrageous statements from about the “rampant crime” in Durham. One woman wasn’t sure if she should go to Southpoint Mall because she might get caught in crossfire. No, she wasn’t joking.

Q of the day: what is the state of your downtown district? Has business abandoned it for the suburbs, leaving a ghost town, or has it been revitalized and drawn people to live in the city center?

To learn more, check out the Historic Preservation Society of Durham, the Hayti Heritage Center and the Durham Visitors Bureau.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding