The Bulls of Durham intern CJ Jeffries worked with Angela Lee of the Hayti Heritage Center to create this section.
The Hayti District, or simply Hayti, was an independent African-American community that formed following the Civil War. Originally named after the country of Haiti, it was established by freed individuals formerly enslaved moving to the area in search of work in the growing tobacco business. Thanks to the likes of Bull Durham Tobacco Company and Duke and Sons Tobacco Company, the industry was beginning to thrive and shape the surrounding communities.
James E. Shepard, North Carolina Central University's founder, was also one of the Hayti community’s founding fathers. Hayti’s prosperous neighborhood eventually succumbed to the ills of an ‘urban renewal’ project. The creation of NC Highway 147 wiped the district off the map leaving the remnants to be incorporated into Durham.
Formerly enslaved Methodist Episcopal Missionary, Edian Markham along with his wife Molly, moved to Hayti to start a church in 1868, a year before Durham became incorporated. He purchased land from Minerva Fowler and constructed a brush arbor for worship. A brush arbor is a makeshift building that consists of four corner posts that hold a wood-slatted roof which is then covered with tree branches. The floors were dirt and worshipers often sat on the ground or brought their own handmade chairs.
Markham and his newfound congregation eventually constructed a log church to fend off the cold from the upcoming winter. More members soon joined the congregation in the log structure which would be named the Union Bethel AME Church. In 1870, before the brick and mortar form of the church could be completed, the church’s founder Reverend Markham left Durham. A new reverend, Andrew Chambers, took over the ministry and the small congregation began to grow.
As more members joined the church, plans to create a permanent structure were put in place. In 1891, what would later be named St. Joseph Church began construction with the help of the Durham famous Fitzgerald bricks. The church was constructed by the Black congregation while receiving funding from white philanthropists of the time. Its elegant architecture and detailed stained-glass windows drew praise and awe from many, including Booker T. Washington. He is recounted saying, “Never in all my travels have I seen a church as great as St. Joseph’s.”
In its heyday, the community was a part of Black Wall Street which boasted 600 plus businesses and homes and was totally economically self-sustainable. The Hayti District was home to all classes and more than 200 black-owned and operated businesses. The historically entrepreneurial community paved the way for theaters, barber shops, libraries, jazz venues, schools, the Lincoln Hospital and more.
Today, the Hayti Heritage Center is the last remaining original structure tied to the Hayti community. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Hayti Heritage Center has become a hub in the Durham community as a cultural enclave since 1975. The Hayti Heritage Center is currently regarded for its history, participation in the arts, and community involvement. Since its opening, it has been a host for poets, artists, historians, and one of the longest running African American film festivals, the Hayti Heritage Film Festival.
This excerpt is from "The Bulls of Durham" living history book. Get your copy today to discover Durham's IncrediBULL history from 1701 to February 2019.
This Bull City History bit was brought to you by our Community Partner Brian Bonomo Photography.
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