Last month in the Hayti District, during a community meeting with three city council members about the future of historic Fayetteville Street, a remarkable exchange took place between Faye Calhoun, who owns a home on Fayetteville Street, and Mark-Anthony Middleton, the city’s mayor pro tem.
Calhoun, a retired deputy director with the National Institutes of Health, stood up during the meeting at the Phoenix Crossing shopping center and announced that she wanted to talk about “the F-word,” Fayette Place, a 20-acre parcel of vacant land on Fayetteville Street that was formerly the site of the Fayetteville Street public housing complex.
Calhoun, like many of the residents at the meeting, is not happy with the Durham Housing Authority’s (DHA’s) decision to choose three companies outside of Durham to build more than 700 apartment units at Fayette Place. Calhoun says the city should have chosen a developer that had been working alongside the community.
“It was a mistake in 2017 when the city took 20 acres that belonged to us and brought in developers that were not part of North Carolina Central University,” said Calhoun, who currently works part-time as a special assistant to the chancellor at NCCU.
Calhoun was referring to a June 2017 city council meeting during which the council approved a $4.162 million grant that allowed the DHA to repurchase Fayette Place.
The site had been the location of a public housing complex built in 1967 following the destruction of the community during a misnamed urban renewal process that destroyed thousands of homes and hundreds of businesses.
In 2002, DHA sought to convert the site into for-profit public housing, but those plans were never realized. In 2007, Fayette Place was sold to Campus Apartments for $4 million.
The land, whose boundaries include Fayetteville, Umstead, and Merrick Streets, was purchased by the Philadelphia-based firm with the condition that the company would develop a certain amount of affordable housing for students at nearby NCCU.
Campus Apartments, after clearing the site of everything but the foundations of the former housing complex in 2009, never followed through on the agreement, and as a consequence, the DHA had the option to buy back the land by August 6, 2017. In November 2016, the housing authority declared Campus Apartments in default of the contract and began to reacquire the land.
Two years ago, NCCU business professor Henry McKoy spearheaded Hayti Reborn, a plan to develop Fayette Place into a residential, educational, and commercial hub. The plan captured the imagination of many residents who think the city never fulfilled its promise of urban renewal. Now, more than a half century later, Hayti’s older residents are still clamoring for a reparative form of justice to rebuild the community’s businesses and homes.
Residents who attended last month’s meeting included members of the Hayti Reborn Community Action Council and the Fayetteville Street Corridor Planning Group. They wonder why their historic community has not been a part of the city’s growing prosperity and how the growth taking place in their neighborhoods has largely been the result of gentrification and development by outside groups, such as the hundreds of luxury apartments built by Charlotte developer CitiSculpt on more than 12 acres of land along South Roxboro and West Pettigrew Streets that was once the commercial retail hub of the Hayti District.
Hayti residents point to ongoing developments by outsiders, such as the recent purchase of Heritage Square, an eroding commercial space that sits between the 600 block of Fayetteville Street and the 400 block of East Lakewood Avenue, by Sterling Bay, a Chicago-based development firm with deep pockets, whose officials announced the project as a joint venture with another Chicago firm and a New York developer.
As the INDY previously reported, community members witnessing the ongoing development now contemplate a not-so-distant future in which they will have little if any say, no place to live, and no business to own in the Bull City’s most historic Black community.
Larry Hester co-owns the Phoenix Square and Phoenix Crossing shopping centers with his wife Denise and hosted last month’s meeting. He told the INDY that the new developments will result in higher property taxes and “run people out” of the community.
“The property owners will have to charge more rent,” he says. “We have 40 businesses, and 90 percent are African American, some African, and some Caribbean. When you bring in large developments, it changes the community, and it changes rapidly. People aren’t looking at what the effects are, and how quickly these effects will take place.”
“Durham,” Hester adds, “is responsible for the destruction of Hayti and has a duty to rebuild.”
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That was the backdrop at the community meeting where Calhoun decried the “snow-white developers” of Fayette Place who were given “a 99-year lease on 20 acres of land” and “all of a sudden [the city council] ain’t got no power to impose imminent domain on the property” in her request that the city choose a developer who is more aligned with the community’s vision of what should happen to Fayette Place.
“We took our land and gave a 99-year lease to white people,” Calhoun told Middleton and his fellow council members DeDreana Freeman and Leonardo Williams. “You got the power to give DHA [the land], you’ve got the power to get it back.”
Middleton told Calhoun that “facts matter.”
“That land,” the city’s mayor pro tem explained, “was always tracked for housing,” and after Campus Apartments failed to honor its agreement to build student housing, the Philadelphia company’s officials “had the right to do what they wanted” with Fayette Place.
Middleton added that leaders with the nonprofit Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods (Durham CAN) persuaded the city to give DHA $4 million “so we can control the land.”
“Not for a museum, not for a business incubator,” he added, remarks that seemed to take aim at Hayti Reborn. “Had the city not intervened, there’s no telling what might be there now.”
The city, Middleton explained, fronted DHA the money so we wouldn’t have more expensive, high-rise apartments at the location “right now.”
Middleton added that the city does not have the legal means to break the agreement between DHA and the three companies selected to build 774 apartment units at Fayette Place by Durham Development Partners—a joint venture team that includes F7 International Development, Greystone Affordable Development, and Gilbane Development Company.
But Calhoun is not convinced the city’s hands are tied.
“It’s remarkable,” she says. “People fought and died for that land.”
Calhoun, who was born and raised in Washington, DC, says she had been traveling back and forth to Durham since the 1980s, when her daughter enrolled at UNC-Chapel Hill. Fascinated by the history of the Hayti District, she moved here in 2004 and bought a home on Holloway Street before purchasing the former parsonage of the White Rock Baptist Church in the 1200 block of Fayetteville Street in 2017.
“To know the history of Durham, you have to embrace Hayti,” she says.
“Why is Black Wall Street not Black anymore?” she asks just days after the NC Mutual Life Insurance Company, once the largest Black-owned business in the world, closed its doors for good.
“Can you believe they are giving away part of the African American community to someone else for 99 years? That’s five generations, and the city is not trying to build generational wealth or an economy that serves the area. We don’t have a grocery store. We don’t have a dry cleaners. It should be a destination place, and it’s not.”
Calhoun notes that during segregation, Black dignitaries could not stay at white-owned hotels, but then the Black-owned Biltmore Hotel was built in the location where luxury apartments now stand, which Hayti residents can’t afford.
“I say build it back,” she adds. “For Central’s homecoming, there was a list of hotels. Nothing was close to NCCU.”
Calhoun says that on July 30 she sent to the city council a list of amenities she thinks the community needs after attending a public meeting with the Fayette Place developers who proposed a dog park, walking trails, and a historic site at the entrance of the proposed development. She wants a rebuilt Biltmore Hotel; a new Regal Theater; a restaurant with a counter, booths, and a jukebox; an old-school jazz club; doctors and dentists offices; a bank branch; a grocery store with a Black farmers market section; and most of all, a “communiversity” center partnership between Duke, Durham Tech, and NCCU that promotes health and wellness.
Calhoun laughed when asked why not accept city leaders’ assertion that they are legally bound from intervening in DHA’s choice for the Fayette Place developer.
“Because they lied,” she says. “Because it’s not true. [Middleton] said his hands are tied. So we have to figure out a way to untie them. Who tied his hands?”
Middleton this week told the INDY that he was one of the leaders of Durham CAN who raised the alarms to city council members that the Fayette Place property was about to be converted for private usage.
“The land was not in possession of the city,” he says. “The city fronted the money to DHA to prevent the land being used [in the manner] that people feared. [No one] should be surprised that DHA is building housing on the land. That’s what DHA does.”
Middleton again emphasized that the city does not have the legal means to repossess Fayette Place, saying he defers to mayor Elaine O’Neal, who, before being elected as the city’s first Black woman mayor, was a district and superior court judge as well as interim dean of the NCCU law school.
“The law matters too,” he says.
* * *
Joyce Page says her grandparents opened the long-closed J.L. Page & Son grocery store on Fayetteville Street in 1910, the same year that James E. Shepard, a pharmacist and religious educator, founded the National Religious Training School and Chautauqua for the Colored Race, which eventually became NCCU, one of the nation’s flagship historically Black colleges.
Page says her grandparents lived across the street from the store on the corner of Linwood Avenue. She remembers as a child sitting on the porch of her grandparents’ home across the street from the former Lincoln Hospital, now the Lincoln Community Health Center.
“I thought Lincoln Hospital was the most beautiful structure in our community, sitting on that grassy elevation,” says Page, now an administrator with the county’s public health department. “I would sit on my grandparents’ porch and just watch the doctors and nurses coming and going. I was so proud.”
Shepard, the NCCU founder, was a friend of her grandfather and often consulted about the character of residents who applied for work at the school. The famed historian John Hope Franklin was a neighbor and a friend of her grandmother. The opera singer Dorothy Maynor, who founded the Harlem School of the Arts and performed at the presidential inaugurations of Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, was also a family friend.
“I remember her performing at Central and changing clothes at my grandparents’ home,” Page says.
Page remembers visiting downtown and enduring racism “that I never felt in my community. Hayti was a beautiful place.”
“I would go for candy and had to wait until the whites were waited on first,” she says. “I knew that I was not welcome.”
And she remembers how the community was devastated by “urban renewal” that was so dire that by the end of the 1990s, drug dealers in the community told her parents living on Linwood Avenue to move for their own safety. More than 30 years later, Page says that section of the neighborhood is still a high drug-traffic area.
“It was sad. It was very sad,” Page says.
“When White Rock [Baptist Church] was torn down, it was unthinkable. It was rebuilt, but it was never the same. The city promised new buildings and a fancier, nicer highway. You saw what they gave us in Tin City,” she adds of the fewer than a half dozen businesses that survived urban renewal’s bulldozers, housed in nondescript fashion on old Fayetteville Street, where the now-closed Carolina Times building now stands empty.
“I thought our leaders were influential,” she continues. “I realized they were not strong against the white man and his plans. It took you down a notch.”
Page, like Calhoun, laughed when asked about city officials’ assertion that their hands are tied when it comes to reconsidering the developer for Fayette Place. She says it sounds like a repeat of urban renewal.
“I’m sure that’s why there are so many angry people in that community,” she says.
Still, after working for decades in government at the federal, state, and local levels, Page says she doesn’t doubt local elected leaders feel their hands are tied.
She remembers sitting in the pews of White Rock Baptist Church, where the legendary pastor Miles Mark Fisher presided over the congregation from 1933 until 1965.
“Rev. Fisher used to preach that with integration, we were anxious to have it, but with integration [we were] going to be the ones who lose jobs,” she says.
Meanwhile, Middleton encouraged Hayti residents to not hang their heads low over the fate of Fayette Place.
He says the next city council budget includes a local version of a Marshall Plan, which enabled the United States to rebuild Western Europe after World War II.
“The municipal corollary here is for Durham’s Black legacy neighborhoods,” Middleton says. “Our Marshall Plan does not have to be tied to one parcel of land. It can be used across the entire city: in Merrick-Moore, Braggtown, and the entire Fayetteville Street corridor. It’s important that we get this in the next budget cycle because it’s the biggest opportunity to make substantive change in recent history.”
Career educator, longtime president of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, and fiery civil rights advocate Lavonia Allison owns two homes in the Hayti District that were set afire recently by unhoused community members. She mourns the loss of NC Mutual and laments that the Mechanics & Farmers bank, which once had a branch in the Hayti District, “is on a string.”
Allison says the stately homes that belonged to some of the city’s leading Black luminaries along Fayetteville Street were not supposed to be torn down during urban renewal.
“On Fayetteville Street, with the houses of [NC Mutual executives] C.C. Spaulding, William J. Kennedy, and [banker] Richard McDougald, are you kidding me?,” she says
For Allison, Hester, Calhoun, Page, and a great many other Hayti residents, a municipal Marshall Plan can’t come soon enough.
“It’s awful,” Allison told the INDY. “Gentrification is killing us.”
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