The Durham 150 year anniversary
Celebration

Friday five of the former mayors of Durham came together with the current mayor to celebrate the city’s 150th anniversary.

City of Durham will Celebrate 150th Anniversary

by: Aaron Mandel

photos by: Chrystal Kelly

from the left former Mayors Nick Tennyson, Sylvia Kerckhoff, Bill Bell, current Mayor Steve Schewel, Wense Grabareck, and Wib Gulley photo by Chrystal Kelly

from the left former Mayors Nick Tennyson, Sylvia Kerckhoff, Bill Bell, current Mayor Steve Schewel, Wense Grabareck, and Wib Gulley photo by Chrystal Kelly

It would be so easy for the City of Durham to simply pat itself on the back for its 150 year anniversary celebration.

It is a testament to Mayor Steve Schewel’s character and grace that at Friday’s sesquicentennial celebration kick off press conference at the Durham Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, downtown, on Main Street, a different story was at least in the air.

Mayor Steve Schewel photo by Chrystal Kelly

Mayor Steve Schewel photo by Chrystal Kelly

Mayor Schewel’s remarks from the very top faced reality.

“Durham 150, this is our chance to face our history head on. The good and the bad. We don’t want this anniversary to simply be a celebration of all that’s wonderful about Durham, of which there’s so much.”

So, at least, Mayor Schewel clearly gets it. Durham’s poverty rate now and historically is far too high. Durham’s done great work on veteran’s homelessness and not so much on anyone else’s homelessness. Our eviction rates are sky high. Durham’s Public Schools have struggled. Durham’s murder rate is near a twenty year high. (Violent crime would be, too if the DPD weren’t going with The Wire’s Amsterdam strategy—not necessarily of their own volition.)

Former Mayor William "Bill" Bell said he has lived in Durham for fifty years by choice, not chance. Photo by Chrystal Kelly

Former Mayor William “Bill” Bell said he has lived in Durham for fifty years by choice, not chance. Photo by Chrystal Kelly

Though Mayor Schewel poses the experience as a duality, good and bad, we know from personal experience, he has a far more nuanced perspective than that on housing, poverty, schools, and a panoply of issues.

Mayor Schewel knows there are far more than two very different life experiences going on in Durham.

He continued, “We also want to look at our history and talk together about the things that have been difficult…the good moments as well as the challenging ones.”

This is still the careful, nuanced language of power.

He continued, “It is also a great opportunity to uplift the people in our past who are heroes. People who have really made Durham…”

This will be the key. Who is brought to the fore?

 

Mayors Steve Schewel and Wense Grabareck, photo by Chrystal Kelly

Mayors Sylvia Kerckhoff, Steve Schewel and Wense Grabareck, photo by Chrystal Kelly

Public input will be crucial in how the story of Durham’s first 150 years is told. Inevitably power will tell its side of the story. (Mainline history is still written by the winners.)  The press release that accompanied the press conference displayed the kind of framing one might expect.

Co-chair of the Durham 150 Convening Committee, from the Museum of Durham History, Patrick Mucklow is quoted, “From just a railroad depot in 1869 to a nationally recognized hub of technology and innovation and an aspiring model of social equity today, Durham has come a long way and there are many, many important stories to tell. Durham was built on innovation and regeneration, as will be reflected in the Durham 150 commemorations and programming at the Museum of Durham History.”

The other Co-chair Shelly Green of Discover Durham explained the committee’s spirit and efforts, “Early on, Durham 150 set a goal to make sure 95 percent of all residents are aware of the anniversary by the close of 2019, ensuring outreach is purposefully diverse and grassroots efforts are prioritized. We’re excited to get going and engage groups from all corners of the community. We’ve also already heard from many who are excited to participate and lead anniversary-related initiatives of their own – people who we look forward to collaborating with to create an unforgettable, inclusive yearlong celebration.”

The committee and its leadership decided Durham 150 promotions will center on four cornerstones – or pillars – of Durham’s community: history and education, innovation and entrepreneurship, arts and leisure, and social equity.

It would be interesting if a parallel 150th year celebration non-governmental narrative were to emerge. Perhaps in Durham’s art programming? Blackspace? The Carrack? Pleiades?

A paradigmatic example of sharing stories is Monet Marshall’s “Buy my Art and Call it Holy”.

Similarly, I recall covering Gary Kueber’s epic presentation called “Untold Durham: A Roaring Old Place”. Back then in 2012 I wrote, “We have to face our history to face it down.”

Kueber opened the underbelly of Durham’s less talked about history from being a hub for speakeasies and the black market liquor trade to the 1934 textile strike and the accompanying tent city to neighborhoods like Edgemont and Monkey Bottom.

Kueber directly addressed the Durham Freeway’s deliberate demolition of the culturally vibrant and historically remarkable Hayti. He talked about Black Wall Street before it was popular to do so.

Will the Sesquicentennial Honors Commission address Durham’s history head-on?

Who will be the public figures the Sesquicentennial Honors Commission honors and remembers?

Mayor Steve Schewel said the Sesquicentennial Honors Committee will “take names and ideas of people we will uplift in our history. The people we do want a statue to…”

Festivities kicked off this past weekend with the revived annual Durham Holiday Parade, featuring Grammy-winning saxophonist, Branford Marsalis.

The press release suggests the best way to get involved is through the website, Durham150.org and/or to follow on social media.

Former Mayor Sylvia Kerckhoff listens photo by Chrystal Kelly

Former Mayor Sylvia Kerckhoff listens, photo by Chrystal Kelly

 

Former Mayor Sylvia Kerckhoff speaks photo by Chrystal Kelly

Former Mayor Sylvia Kerckhoff speaks, photo by Chrystal Kelly

 

Former Mayor Wense Grabareck speaks, photo by Chrystal Kelly

Former Mayor Wense Grabareck speaks, photo by Chrystal Kelly

 

Former Mayor Wib Gulley speaks, photo by Chrystal Kelly

Former Mayor Wib Gulley speaks, photo by Chrystal Kelly

*CORRECTION: Our apologies an earlier version of this article conflated the Durham 150 Convening Committee and the City of Durham’s Sesquicentennial Honors Commission. The Sesquicentennial Honors Commission will select the changemakers/heroes from Durham’s past to celebrate the city 150th anniversary. The Durham 150 convening committee is responsible for the opening and closing events of the 150th anniversary celebration, as well as the marketing around Durham’s 150th year anniversary. Shelly Green and Patrick Mucklow co-chair the Durham 150 Convening Committee.

Written by Aaron Mandel, with research and contributions by Josh Factor.

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