With municipal elections coming up, there’s been a lot of talk in Durham about equity, particularly as it relates to housing.
But the current landscape of housing inequality in Durham was set in motion long before this election cycle. An exhibit opening Friday seeks to fill in that history.
“Uneven Ground: The Foundations of Housing Inequality in Durham, NC,” is the work of Bull City 150, a collaboration between the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity and the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University that explores the historical context of current issues facing Durham. At its core, Bull City 150, created ahead of Durham’s
in 2019, seeks to expose the realities of white privilege and how it has influenced Durham’s past and present.
An opening reception for the exhibit will be held Friday at six p.m. at the MDC building at 307 West Main Street.
The exhibit will explore how urban renewal, segregation, private industry, and
have shaped housing in Durham today. It will include maps, photographs and oral histories, archival material, and original artwork by local artist Moriah
. Bull City 150 team members will be available to discuss the exhibit. The team includes Mel Norton, Tia Hall, Kimber Heinz, Bob Korstad and Tim Stallmann.
Norton says the exhibit begins with colonial settlers and slavery, covers post-Civil War landowning patterns, sharecropping, and the Jim Crow era.
“As we start to get more into the twentieth century, we start to really dig into a set of tools that really served to reinforce and solidify patterns of segregation and inequality,” Norton says. That includes investment patterns (public and private); redlining, a practice by which banks refused to lend money in black neighborhoods; deed restrictions that either explicitly or effectively prohibited the sale of property of black people; public housing; and steering, a practice in which real estate agents steered clients to certain neighborhoods based on their race.
“There were lots of different ways even before modern zoning that communities found to really create neighborhoods that were filled largely with people of the same race and class—really, white people,” Norton says.
The exhibit also takes a close look at urban renewal, a government-funded program revitalizing largely black neighborhoods, and activists who organized around it locally in the 1960s. In Durham, urban renewal manifested in the demolition of an estimated forty-five hundred homes and businesses, in part to make way for the Durham Freeway.
Norton says the aim is to spark “community dialogue and reflection about how this history impacts both the challenges and the hopes that we have about housing and land equity in Durham moving forward.”
The exhibit will also be on view October 20 and November 17 as part of Durham’s Third Friday events. On November 14, Bull City 150 will host a housing policy discussion.