It took 100 years, but thanks to a push from two former elected leaders, Durham County officials have desegregated the names of local World War I soldiers who died in combat as part of a memorial to their sacrifice.
In 1921, Durham leaders erected a statue in the downtown district to honor fallen WWI soldiers from the Bull City.
In keeping with the backwardness of the times, however, the names of white soldiers were segregated from the names of Black soldiers who also served and died during the wartime period from 1917 to 1919.
A century later, the names of the fallen are now desegregated.
Former city council member Eddie Davis first proposed to Durham County commissioners an update to the WWI honor roll and worked with former commissioner Michael Page to modernize the memorial, according to the county’s press office.
Thanks to Davis’s efforts, the county board issued a resolution in 2013 to add contextual signage in front of the original statue that would combine the names of all Durham residents who lost their lives, regardless of race.
The integrated names of the soldiers who sacrificed their lives in what was certainly one of the deadliest conflicts in history are now featured on a commemorative sign that was installed in March in front of the historic county courthouse in downtown Durham.
County officials placed the sign in a statue garden on the eastern lawn of the courthouse. The newly installed sign now contains the names of 59 Durham soldiers, and the only way one can determine the race of the fallen heroes is by looking at the original statue that contains the names of the 49 white men who died during the conflict. The statue garden also honors the 172 Durham soldiers who died during World War II, the 23 who died in Korea, and 39 in Vietnam.
“The separation of the soldiers’ names by their race in the 1921 Commission of the monument depicts a time not forgotten in Durham’s history,” Peri Manns, who serves as an assistant general manager for environmental stewardship and community prosperity, said in a press release.
Manns, who is also deputy director of Durham County’s engineering and environmental services, added that the “updated signage features the appropriate alphabetical order of the soldiers and additional names that were missed during the initial design.”
Lois Harvin-Ravin, who is Durham County’s director of veterans services, called the updated memorial “a sober reminder that the time to do what is right is always ‘now.’”
Harvin-Ravin added that the new memorial is about more than rearranged names.
“This plaque speaks from the heart of Durham and shouts that every life is important, regardless of race,” she said in the press release. “It’s not only a great symbol but a wonderful and timely tribute to those men who died to advance and protect our freedom.”
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