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Press Room

October 16, 2010


DURHAM — In 1912, famed sociologist and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois wrote about the “Upbuilding of Black Durham,” using the city as an example of a thriving black community. He pointed out N.C. Mutual Insurance, Mechanics’ and Farmers’ Bank and what was to become N.C. Central University. His words will be echoed Monday and Tuesday before screenings of a documentary work in progress called “Hayti: The Legacy of Black America.”

While Parrish Street, the Black Wall Street, is often mentioned first when telling Durham’s African-American history, it is the bustling Hayti community that was home to more than 200 black-owned businesses and a place where leaders didn’t just give back to the community, they lived in it, set an example and were part of it day to day.

Kelvin De’Marcus Allen, Victor Stone and Jaisun McMillian are the documentary’s filmmakers. The film is less than half an hour for now, with snippets of interviews with local residents, black-and-white clips from the past, and narration explaining what it meant to live, worship, learn and work in Hayti. Eventually the documentary will be feature length or part of a series of shorter films, and used to educate in local schools.

The filmmakers hope to get feedback from the public at screenings at Hayti Heritage Center and Mount Vernon Baptist Church, where they’ll record more interviews with those who recall Hayti’s heyday.

Allen, 49, grew up east of Hayti on East Pettigrew Street and would go to “Hayti proper” on Pettigrew. The boundaries of Hayti are from the railroad tracks outside downtown to Durham Tech to East Pettigrew to beyond the Durham Freeway.

In Hayti, the insurance company president and professors lived in the same neighborhood as those who aspired to become them.

“That was the thing about Hayti,” Allen said. “Professors, educators and professional elite were all in the community. You saw them. As a child, people could look to them as a mentor to emulate one day.”

With the documentary and Hayti’s legacy of entrepreneurship, Allen hopes to mentor the next generation.

“We’re looking for answers and to ask more questions. We know that we can’t bring that community back, but it’s the spirit of Hayti we want to share with youth — that it takes a community to be successful.”

The project was Stone’s idea. While leading a video workshop last summer, a Hillside High School student couldn’t wrap her mind around the idea of Lincoln Hospital, run by and for the black community.

“That was less than 50 years ago. I thought, wow, our kids are totally removed from our legacy,” he said. Stone grew up in Durham, and attended Hillside, where he graduated in 1967.

Benjamin Speller, an evaluator for the project, was involved with the start of the Hayti Heritage Center. He received his undergraduate degree from NCCU in 1962, went away for graduate degrees and work, then came back to NCCU in 1976 as dean of the school of library information science. He retired in 2004.

Speller said Hayti was integral to the expansion of NCCU.

“It was a little place for blacks to stay, so NCCU faculty and staff built up around it,” he said. When I left, a lot of this was just disappearing. When I visited, I’d see the changes. When I came back, I had to completely reacquaint myself.”

The film touches on the reasons for Hayti’s decline in the 1960s — integration, moving away from the neighborhood and the construction of the Durham Freeway, which ran right through Hayti.

Professors moved into new homes being built in College Heights, Speller said. What held Hayti together was the 10-business structure anchored by Scarborough & Hargett Funeral Home, he said.

“That’s what kept Hayti alive,” Allen said. “It never died, it just never was what it once was.”

Speller said today Hayti is a community in spirit because so many people are a living testament to its power.

“We don’t have the businesses and so forth but their children are the next leaders of the black community. It’s still living, but in different locations,” Speller said.

When people moved out of Hayti and when schools were integrated, they lost their support system, he said. He often substituted in public schools as a librarian in newly integrated schools whose principals and teachers were white, not black.

“There was no one there to champion these kids,” Speller said. “All of that collapsed. People like [Mickey] Michaux were still out there, but kids didn’t see them. Black achievements were completely invisible for a while.”

McMillian said that when you look at the television you see black musicians and athletes, and money is equated with success. You seldom see educators, she said.

Speller said that as an African-American, he has mixed feelings about the Great Society.

“It opened up a lot of doors, but closed doors, too. There was a whole generation of kids who didn’t have to use their minds to get what they’re getting — when the word entitlement came into being,” he said. “In the black community, men of substance were expected to help out.”

Speller’s father bought new books for a school after he saw a need. “You don’t have that involvement,” he said.

McMillian said they want to offer children direction, a resource to show them what they can do when they work together.

People are conditioned not to work together now, she said. “We’re afraid the legacy of Hayti has been, maybe not destroyed, but interrupted. What happened in Hayti happened all across the country.”

Allen said they want the documentary to honor the legacy of Hayti and inspire discussion. They received an N.C. Humanities Council grant to get started, but still need funding.

“Some people think it’s better to forget history and progress forward,” Speller said. “You’d better look in the bag and see what’s in there before you throw it out.”

Read more: The Herald-Sun – Film bringing Hayti legacy to life



Kids learn about Hayti, their own histories

From Staff Reports   7/13/2010

Fourth-, fifth-graders urged to understand legacy


DURHAM — The new mayor, wearing a black blazer, stood at the podium and thanked the people of his community, distinguished guests and others for their trust in him and his team. He humbly accepted the responsibility of leading the city. He shook hands with fellow politicians and smiled for the cameras Tuesday afternoon.

Amir Jones, 11, was sworn in as mayor of the city of Hayti by another mayor, with a few more years of experience, Durham Mayor Bill Bell. Amir was elected by his peers during the Summer Road to Success program at Mount Vernon Baptist Church 21st Century Community Learning Center. The program is funded by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

The mock election of Hayti officials, and installation of city leaders, is part of the “Childhood Stories of Hayti” program for fourth- and fifth-graders in the academic summer day camp. Younger children have been working on “What Family Means to Me” projects during the program, held weekdays through Aug. 6. Every Monday and Tuesday afternoon, three documentary filmmakers help the children research their history and the history of Hayti, a vibrant black community in Durham until urban renewal.

Dottie Wiggins, project director, said that for those old enough to remember Hayti, including herself, it is inspiring to see young people learning about their heritage.

“This way we know it will not be forgotten,” she said.

It also won’t be forgotten because of the work of the filmmakers — Kelvin De’Marcus Allen, Jaisun McMillian and Victor Stone — who are working on the documentary “Hayti the Heritage: The Legacy of Black America.”

Allen said that if young people have a better understanding of their past, they’ll have a better chance at their future. Understanding their foundation leads to a better understanding of their world, he said. Their film, which includes interviews with residents who recall Hayti in its heyday, will be shown as a documentary in progress at the Hayti Heritage Center this fall.

McMillian said that they have been encouraging students to research their ancestry from Africa to Durham.

“It gives them an understanding of where they came from and gives them self esteem,” she said. “The history of our people did not start with slavery.”

Understanding the legacy of African-Americans, developing their own legacies, reconciling the past — all are goals of the project with kids, the filmmakers said.

Retired N.C. Central University administrator Beverly W. Jones helped write the grant and is project investigator for the summer program. Jones said that each week of the program has focused on issues of respect, honesty and responsibility so far.

“Those are the values of Hayti — entrepreneurial spirit, character and commitment to community,” Jones said. She said she has already seen a difference in the children’s behavior. One even started carrying a briefcase.

During the swearing-in ceremony, Bell and Durham County Commissioner Michael Page shook hands with the new Hayti government.

“Have you had a good summer so far? Are you ready for the challenge of governing Hayti city?” Bell asked the kids. He invited them to attend an upcoming Durham City Council meeting so they could be introduced to the public.

Mayor Amir said that he was elected because Hayti needed a mayor who was smart and older, and wanted to have fun. Destiny Stevons, 11, a new member of Hayti City Council, said that on the council “you can help the mayor figure out which things to do.”

New Mayor Pro Tem Justin Smiley, 9, is ready to step in for the mayor.

“I would lower my family’s taxes and I would try to rebuild Hayti and give money to homeless people. A million dollars, so they can buy themselves a house and get a good job,” Justin said.

Christian Stephens, 10, wanted to be city planner to help make Hayti better.

Seymour Shaw, 10, newly elected to Hayti City Council, said that when he first learned about the history of the Hayti community he felt really sad because of the businesses that shut down. That’s why he wanted to come to the Summer Road to Success program, to find out more about bringing Hayti back. Seymour said he might consider a career in government. He likes musicals, too, and helping the earth. A healthy earth is very important to him.

Josephus Shabazz, 9, wanted to become city manager to balance the budget and get things done. He’d like to open his own business one day that sells everything from food to furniture and school supplies, and he would also give away food to the homeless.

Take note, Bell and Page: In another 20 years, candidates like Amir and Justin will be vying for their place in local government.


Hayti, black legacy key summer program curriculum

From staff reports

July 8, 2010
DURHAM — Documentary filmmakers Victor Stone, Jaisun McMillian and Kelvin De’Marcus Allen and longtime local educator Beverly Washington Jones are teaching fourth- and fifth-graders about Durham’s once bustling Hayti community through the “Summer Road to Success” program at Mount Vernon Baptist Church.

McMillian, Stone, Allen and Jones are helping campers for two hours every Monday and Tuesday develop their own documentary on the Hayti community.

Armed with video footage from their documentary in progress, “Hayti the Heritage: The Legacy of Black America,” a dry erase board, nifty ‘wordfind’ handouts and feeding off the energy of the campers, Stone, McMillian, Allen and Jones take turns extolling the value of exploring the past as a way to create a successful future.

“We are providing them the history of Hayti to enhance their understanding of their culture — but more importantly how Hayti nurtured character, social values and entrepreneurship,” Jones said. “In our day and age the focus doesn’t appear to be on character development. If they learn anything from this camp we hope these students will redefine the importance of family values, character and commitment to community.”

Jones is a retired provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at N.C. Central University.

“We want to encourage a spirit of cooperation across race, class and gender,” Jones said.

Campers receive instruction in interviewing techniques, camera operation and editing. They augment their understanding of historic Hayti, by touring Hayti and creating their own version of the historic community. On June 29 in a mock community gathering students elected a mayor and city council representatives and drafted a community economic development plan.

On Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. at the Mount Vernon Baptist Church Education Building, 1007 S. Roxboro St., the official swearing-in ceremony will take place. Actual Durham Mayor Bill Bell will preside over the ceremony.

While most of the Hayti community’s commercial district fell victim to urban renewal bulldozers during the 1960s, there are still more than enough stories left of the community’s ‘heyday’ as one of the country’s most vibrant African-American communities.

“Hayti is known throughout the country for its accomplishments as a community and the success of future generations’ hinges on their understanding of Hayti’s glorious past,” said Allen a writer and one of the filmmakers involved in the project. “The challenges of today’s world require that young people have more than a rudimentary knowledge of their community’s history, in order for young people to truly be successful, they must know and possess the wherewithal to make use of both their familial and community’s history.”

“We have documented numerous stories from which campers selected two residents who actually lived and worked in Hayti,” said McMillian. “J.C. ‘Skeepie’ Scarborough and Panzola Cheatham-McMillan have agreed to share their oral histories in hope of bringing to life the true character of this historic community for our students.”

The “Summer Road to Success” is a 21st Century Community Learning Center program at Mount Vernon Baptist Church and is funded by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. The goal of the program is to help students raise their level of academic achievement and enhance their social development.

For more information about the Summer Road to Success program contact Ingrid Jones at (919) 672-2090.



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