February is Black History Month—an opportunity to remember and celebrate the challenges and contributions of Black Americans in our organization, community, and country.
The brainchild of historian Carter G. Woodson, Black History Month was originally a week-long celebration of the achievements of Black Americans that started in 1926. Although Black History is American History, Black History Month is an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the invaluable contributions that Black Americans have made to society. Learn more about the beginnings of Black History Month in a background piece from NPR.
Below are many ways to explore and recognize the impact of Black Americans in the Bull City and beyond:
2 or so mins:
- Learn about Black history by watching a mini documentary hosted by renowned historian Henry Louis Gates Jr.
- Learn about the history of Durham Parks and Recreation in a blog post featuring Bimbé Cultural Arts Festival, W.D. Hill Recreation Center, and more.
- Learn about the contributions of African Americans to the transportation industry in a blog post by our Transportation Department.
20 mins or so:
- Listen to this history of the blues to learn about how Black Americans have shaped the musical landscape in the US.
an hour or more:
a few hours:
For a full list of Black History Month events in the Triangle, check out WRAL’s Black History Month Guide.
During February, we will share photos from the City's archives highlighting the contributions of Black Americans in City government:
Durham's First Black Mayor
From 1989 to 1991, Chester Luther Jenkins served as the first Black mayor of Durham after having previously served on the Durham City Council for eight years. Thirty years later on December 6, 2021, Durham native Elaine O’Neal was sworn in and now serves as the first Black female mayor of Durham.
City's First Black Police Officers Broke Barriers While Facing Barriers
Pictured above are the pioneer Black police officers of the Durham Police Department (DPD) alongside five school crossing guards in the front row. The picture includes the City's first Black officers, James B. Samuel (front row, far left) and Clyde Cox (second row, far right) who were hired by DPD on July 1, 1944. At the time, Samuel was one of the first Black men to obtain an officer's rank in a North Carolina police department. Shortly thereafter, Frank McCrea (second row, far left) was hired, joining Cox as one of the first two Black detectives in the department.
Though Samuel and Cox broke barriers as the first Black officers, they were technically hired as "Colored Police" and were only permitted to patrol the Hayti Community, a predominately Black neighborhood. Unfortunately, due to segregation laws at the time, Black officers did not become fully integrated into the department until the 1970s.
Today, the Durham Police Department's sworn force is approximately 23% Black and has been led by five Black police chiefs including current Police Chief Patrice Andrews.
Bimbé Cultural Arts Festival Established in 1969
A group of African-American students from Duke University, North Carolina College at Durham (now North Carolina Central University), and a host of community members met to plan a cultural arts festival for the residents of Durham. After months of planning, the first Bimbé Cultural Arts Festival was held in Duke Gardens in 1969. The festival was established in honor of the West African festival of harvest and celebration. Over the years, the festival has moved to different locations and eventually Durham Parks and Recreation took the lead in planning the festival. Read the full history at DPRPlayMore.org and save the date for this year's festival on Saturday, May 21.