Preserving the past, shaping the future: Durham’s historic communities fight against urban development

Community is one of the primary ways we connect with one another. It’s a key part of how we’re socialized; it determines who we are.

As a community journalist, my job is to focus on the nuances of communities and provide a voice to the voiceless. Durham is a growing community with changing needs, but it is also composed of long-standing voices — voices which comprise much of Durham’s distinct sense of community and aesthetic qualities. 

What is now the city of Durham, used to be almost exclusively agricultural land, with very few businesses. Stagville Plantation was one of the largest plantations in North Carolina — totaling approximately 30,000 acres of land by the 1860s. The Bennehan-Cameron family, which owned the plantation, enslaved over 1,000 people.

Stagville Plantation is now home to Historic Stagville, which is located 10 miles north of Downtown Durham. The Stagville Memorial Project, founded in 2019, is dedicated to creating a memorial in Durham to honor those enslaved at Stagville. 

Bragtown and the Merrick-Moore community were historically Black communities. Bragtown was founded by formerly enslaved individuals from Stagville, while the Merrick-Moore community was established by veterans after WWII who purchased land for their families. These communities persist today and are maintained by dedicated community members who strive to preserve Durham’s history. Bonita Green, president of the Merrick-Moore Community Development Corporation, is committed to protecting the area from the increasing challenges of urban development and gentrification.

Preservation is a huge part of what makes up the Durham community; many residents work overtime to protect their spaces and support those they care about. In some ways, survival has become a huge part of what it means to be a Durhamite due to rising housing costs and rates of homelessness.

Durham is, and always has been a home. It is the newly elected Council’s utmost responsibility to maintain Durham and make it a liveable and welcoming space. 

The Council should not forget who built Durham, who maintains Durham and who fights for Durham. 

Edited by Lauren Baddour & Ryan Christiano