Commentary: Remembering Black Wall Street

By Norman Gossett, Jr.
UNC Staff Writer
The Durham VOICE

Former Durham resident and Voice staff writer Norman Gossett takes a walk down old Parrish Street and reflects on his impressions.

At the corner of Parrish and Mangum streets lies a historical marker commemorating Black Wall Street.  Placed at intervals along Parrish Street are sculptures representing an artist’s impression of the history behind the phrase, Black Wall Street.

William Glenn stops by the historic Gladsteins to remember his father working there. Now, it’s a trendy restaurant with a catchy name. Staff photo by Norman Gossett, Jr.

Only a few of the original buildings remain on Parrish Street.  Of the ones that still stand, the detail used in the building’s brick work attests to the quality in their construction.  Saving the storefronts maintains the the historical presence of Parrish Street.

William Glenn, an Appalachian State University alumnus, said his father worked for one of Black Wall Street’s founders, Jed Gladstein, from the 1940s until the business folded.

“Gladstein hired him because he was a hard worker and because he was black – whites couldn’t communicate with blacks and it made selling hard,” Glenn said.

“Gladstein’s [store] was over behind Clements Funeral Home on Orange Street.  Everybody on Parrish Street had to go by there to get to the post office,” he continued. “He always kept his merchandise up to date.”

“My dad used to talk about how busy it got in the fall when school started.  Seasonal workers from around the city would come into town to buy new clothes for the children to wear to school,” Glenn explained.

“In good years in the late summer, when the tobacco money was flowing, people paid for things with cash.  Retailers didn’t have to run accounts.  Now days, the money is gone.  The street is broke.”

Returning to Parrish Street, Glenn pointed to the upstairs windows where workers were gutting the old buildings in preparation for remodeling.  The first floors were boarded up, allowing only a peek through the front door which showed the extent of the work.

“Somebody is spending a lot of money on all this work,” Glenn said.

Susan, the Angel Lady, feels a responsibility to share her angels with her patients. (Staff photo by Norman Gossett, Jr.)

Glenn remarked about the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Co. also having a property and casualty line that insured dwellings.

In this one block on Parrish Street, before some of the major players moved away, an interested party could find business and personal merchandise, a bank with money to lend, insurance on the borrower and the collateral and — if the deal went south — a mortuary.

A placard on the front of the Mechanics and Farmers building indicates North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Co. used to be housed in the building next door.  Although it was gutted, standing beside the bank placard was a head completely covered with a hat full of shining little angel pins.

“My name is Susan.  People call me the Angel Lady.  I do angel therapy by changing the atmosphere and changing stress levels,” she said.

She seemed genuinely concerned about other people’s suffering and thought she could do something about it.  She was convinced that the angels had something to do with good health and a number of other things.

It was an interesting predicament that presented itself.  Here on Parrish Street trying to find Black Wall Street with the help of Susan, the angel lady.

“Black Wall Street was just people trying to survive.  Didn’t any color matter except green,” said Glenn. “People took care of each other.”

Maybe Susan had found what she was looking for in her angel therapy.  If she’s good at it and it keeps her busy, who knows?  People might start crowding Parrish Street again, this time looking for Susan and her angels.

For a printer-friendly version of this story, click here.

One thought on “Commentary: Remembering Black Wall Street

  1. Brandon T. Hanner says:

    William Glenn is a good friend/mentor of mine. He has explained the history of Black Wall Street to me, in great detail. Mr. Glenn was a good source for this article!

Comments are closed.