Creative Allies had the pleasure to tag along on a project with our friends Reese & K-Mac from The Sports Shop. The goal was to profile legendary Black families from Durham, North Carolina. The special tribute is Breaking Barriers.
Reese & K-Mac were on a mission to find the right mix of Durhamites that helped shape Durham into what it is today.
History Right In Front Of Us
Although I lived in Durham during my high school years, I was completely unaware of the rich history the city has. I am truly honored to bea small part in this very educational event. Reese put together a meeting with the Scarborough Family downtown Durham. None of us were ready for the class we stepped into.
We met with John C. “Skeepie” Scarborough, III and his wife Queenie. They were both very excited about what we were doing. In addition to schooling us on all of the amazing history of Durham, they pointed out a few of the key families who are still in Durham or who have family still in Durham that we could reach out to for this special event.
Mr. Scarborough is the fourth generation member of the Scarborough family and leads the legendary Scarborough and Hargett Celebration of Life Center. The funeral home is the 5th oldest black funeral home in the United States. The business started in 1881 to ensure that African Americans received dignity in death. I can’t even image a black owned business that started in the late 1800s and is still going strong today. All in Durham.
The Scarboroughs introduced us to a few other amazing Durham families. They were each honored as a 2018 Coastal Credit Union’s Breaking Barriers Recipient. We had the luxury of hosting a short roundtable discussion where each of the representatives told a little of their stories.
The Watts Family
Eileen Watts Welch and Chuck Watts attended the event. Both residents of Durham, they are the children of the first board certified black surgeon in North Carolina. Their father, Dr. Charles DeWitt Watts, came to Durham because of Lincoln Hospital, one of the only hospitals where black surgeons could practice.
Their great-grandfather was Aaron McDuffie Moore, the founder of Lincoln Hospital. He was the first black doctor in Durham. Dr. Moore was in the second graduating class of Shaw University Medical School. Once he graduated, the only place he could help people was in their homes or his home.
In fact, for the first 12 years, the hospital was actually at his house, before Lincoln was actually built. Imagine someone so gifted and talented to help save lives, wasn’t allowed to practice in many hospitals due to his skin color. Once Lincoln opened its doors, he served as the Superintendent until he died in 1923.
Several Firsts At North Carolina State University
Mr. Irwin Holmes is another legendary individual from the city of Durham, a graduate of Hillside High School. Mr. Holmes is a great storyteller and it’s truly unbelievable his experience, considering how most athletes are viewed today. He described that when he applied to NC State, it was the year after a few other black students from Hillside took UNC Chapel Hill to court and the ruling was that blacks could attend white colleges. Mr. Holmes enrolled in 1956.
He tried out for the tennis team, and since they didn’t give out scholarships back then, everybody was a walk on. According to Mr. Holmes – he was the best of the walk ons. He was the number one player on NC State’s freshman team, and third when he played on the varsity team the following year. He was the first black athlete, in any sport, in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
In 1960, Holmes became the first African-American student to receive an undergraduate degree from NC State (engineering).
More Breaking Barriers
For the Durham Bulls event, several other families and institutions were recognized. NC Mutual Life Insurance Company is one of the most influential African-American businesses in United States history. This institution was founded in 1898 by local black social leaders.
Mechanics & Farmers Bank, now called M&F Bank, is the 2nd oldest minority-owned bank in the United States – over 110 years old and currently 1 of only 22 African American financial institutions in the United States.
Revitalization Can Be Good and Not So Good
One of the things that many of us who live in North Carolina are so proud of is how much downtown Durham has changed. It’s flourishing with new businesses, amazing condos and everything you would want a downtown to have. I remember when Durham was not the place you’d feel comfortable going to late at night. But I didn’t know the details of just how amazing Durham used to.
Mrs. Scarborough shared with us that their business had been forced to move its location multiple times. Really everytime some new condos popped up. All of the newness and coolness of Durham, while bring life back to the city, also is slowly removing all the rich history of the city. If we don’t have these conversations and learn about Durham’s history, one day the real stories of Durham might be lost.
All of these wonderful individuals, families and institutions represent the inaugural class of the Coastal Credit Unions Breaking Barriers Recipients. Listening to their stories during the round table session was very eye opening. We were all just grateful to be in the presence of such history.