Black Wall Street Gardens
The City of Durham’s Cultural and Public Art Program and the Public Art Committee commissioned the artist team, David Wilson and Stephen Hayes to design, fabricate and install public art in the green-space known as Black Wall Street Gardens, located at the corner of W. Parrish St., W. Main St., and N. Mangum St. The public artwork commemorates and illuminates the importance of Black Wall Street and the legacy of Durham’s African-American business community and features poems by Aya Shabu. The plaza has undergone lighting, landscaping, and walkway improvements to further enhance the green-space as a pedestrian-friendly gathering space. Two walkways traverse the green-space and provides a space for moveable seating, tables, and the future site for the Black Wall Street permanent art installation.
David Wilson is a Durham-based public artist who explores the connection between architecture, nature, and the public to create site-specific work. Wilson was born and raised in Clarksburg, West Virginia, and obtained his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Hampton University. Stephen Hayes is a Durham-based creator specializing in sculpture, fabrication, ceramics, metal working, and exhibition installation. Hayes received a Master of Art from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and has been exhibited in the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. and the Nasher Museum at Duke University, among others.
In the artist's own words...
The Prism is inspired by the history of the unheralded and unknown people behind Black Wall Street and its success. Most people are familiar with Black Wall Street’s history and the story of NC Mutual’s founders – John Merrick, Aaron Moore and Charles Spaulding. These businesses were unique for their era, and in the opportunities they provided for educated Black men and women to succeed in the world of business.
The Prism looks to shine a light on Black Wall Street’s unsung heroes – particularly the women – who helped establish Black Wall Street as the hub for business and financial services. Few know about the women who shaped Black Wall Street’s legacy. These women, who were often an overlooked part of the community, did more than the traditional labor of that time such as homemaking and typing dictation for male executives. In many instances, Black women were those who kept these businesses running at a high level of success.
Through Black Wall Street Prism, I sought to tell the stories of enterprising women of strength like Viola Turner and Bess Whitted, two "founding mothers" of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company; Rosa Johnson and Elsie Campbell, two Insurance saleswomen for NC Mutual; and Julia Taylor, the first female CEO of Mechanics and Farmers Bank.
Standing at 10’ x 16” x 16” tall, The Prism features layered materials such as stainless steel, acrylic, and bronze to narrate the unseen stories of strength, determinism, and success that gives Black Wall Street’s history new perspective. The Prism also has a kinetic base that allows the structure to rotate, affording the viewer the opportunity to experience the entire narrative while stationary.
The Prism, 2021
Stainless steel, acrylic, and bronze
In the artist's own words...
The Book Tree is inspired by the history of Black Wall Street in Durham, North Carolina and Yoruba sculpture. The form metaphorically narrates the history of the African-American business and financial services hub in Durham, North Carolina, during the late 1800s and early 1900s. From its base to its apex, The Book Tree is a response to or reflective of this recognition of Black financial entrepreneurship and addresses the theme of generational wealth through use of cultural connections, materials, and finish.
Additionally, The Book Tree celebrates the importance of education in the process of economic empowerment. The wealth generated from Black Wall Street stems from men and women who received degrees and certifications in finance, medicine, and various trades. The top of the sculpture boldly sprouts open like the pages of a book and symbolically promotes the wellspring of generational income via education and learning in the Black community.
Some of the imagery of faces are retrospectives that expand stories of wealthy African nations such as Ghana and Nigeria. Some speak to societal conditions and the enduring spirit to be self-sufficient and respected that Blacks faced during Black Wall Street’s era, while others calibrate a connection to the history and experiences of Black Americans.
The Book Tree features a bronze patina finish that pays homage to the organic nature in which the Black Wall Street community grew and the earth-toned people who farmed its growth. This finish showcases the growth of entrepreneurial spirit that envisions the past, present, and future through the prism of Southern Blackness. Artist David Wilson, highlights the intersection between southern Black wealth and African trade nations of Ghana and Benin via the stylized street map that wraps the base and creates a rich and complex portrait of the layered elements that led to Black Wall Street’s prominence.
The Book Tree, 2021
Metal, Bronze Patina Finish, 24K Gold Leaf
For information about the public art project, please contact the Cultural & Public Art Program staff here: