You've seen the bumper stickers and shirts. You've heard it more than once. You've probably dropped it into conversation or an Instagram post a time or two. If you're real lucky you've met the incrediBULL women who operate Dirty Durham, Nicole and Tamra. But do you know how Durham came to be known as Dirty Durham?
This is little bit of history is one of my absolute favorites shared in "The Bulls of Durham" living history book. Oh goodness, it's juicy and distinctly Durham. What's more it may be the first attempt at our neighboring cities to hold down the Bull City, to which Durham flipped the script and owned it. We ain't petty. We're thriving.
In short, 'upstanding' young men tried to cover up their tracks to and from Durham's original Pinhook (bars, brothels, and good times, oh my) by making a very distinct, nuanced, Shakespearean dig at Durham.
Yet another bit of Bull City history you couldn't make up if you tried.
The 180 year old Dirty Durham moniker came from 4 lines in Hamlet.
Here's an excerpt from "The Bulls of Durham" living history book explaining it. (It feels weird quoting something you wrote, BTW.)
"How did such a desirable area become a “Dirty Hamlet” and what the hell is a Dirty Hamlet anyway?
"To call a city a Hamlet was an old-timey way of calling it a small town filled with lowbrow people. It denotes being inferior to another city or other cities. The Dirty portion of this slight, the part that continues to stick roughly 180 years later, is adding another layer onto jab - a layer of moral judgment.
"The "Dirty" in Dirty Hamlet was in reference to the prostitution and carousing of the Pinhook by way of Hamlet’s line to Ophelia when he slyly calls sexual relations, “country matters.”
"Men from neighboring Chapel Hill, Hillsborough, and Raleigh took a shining to secret Durhamville trips to take advantage of the cash, spirits, and prostitution, but publicly called it the Dirty Hamlet of the South. Perhaps this was their way of covering up the time and money they’d invested into the Pinhook.
"Of this Shakespearean slight, the ‘Dirty’ stuck. Dirty became synonymous with the predominantly blue-collar workforce of Durham in contrast to the white collar workers and politicians of Raleigh. And eventually, possibly concurrently, ‘Dirty’ became an oh-so-clever means for racists to reference Durham’s Black population.
"Currently, “Dirty Durham” is now an established brand and the cool thing to call Durham. Additional variations of the moniker include the “Dirty D” and “The Dirty”. The locals have owned it as a term of endearment for the grit of the city."
These days Durham is a destination and home to the most expensive real estate in North Carolina. People travel from all over to come get in on this Dirty D. Perhaps it's time to start a Shakespeare in the park series to entertain them old school.
For more unBULLievaBULL bits of Bull City history, preorder your copy of "The Bulls of Durham" living history book. From Shakespeare to peculiar low fences it covers it all from 1701 to February 2019.
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The Bulls of Durham
"The Bulls of Durham" living history book. Launched on April 10th, 2019, Durham's 150th Anniversary.
"The Bulls of Durham" living history book blends Durham's rich history with stories and perspectives of our city's greats that are continuing to build upon that history. And in this way, this is the story of Durham, North Carolina through the bulls' eyes.
Learn how a city that literally started from a tobacco seed in the ashes of the Civil War grew into the best city on earth. Discover how a stolen bull brought about a history shifting, global tobacco empire; and how 150 years later that relates to a British mustard company having beef with Sheila. #NotSorry
Find out the backstory to how the now hippest, foodiest, tech-hub of the South also gave rise to the bullpen, billboards, branding and baseball cards. Delve into our city's strong Black history that proves "Do It Like Durham" isn't a passing trend and will give you a profound sense of reverence walking down Parrish Street.
Best of all, see the common thread that runs through the stories of teachers, politicians, business owners, hip-hop artists, painters, activists, historians, architects and the real Bull City OG's. Hint: it's the BULLief that in Durham anything is possiBULL.
Welcome to Durham the incrediBULL place where grit meets grace. Here all you have to have is a dream and faith the size of a tobacco seed, because well, tobacco seeds build global empires, not mustard seeds.
Project book launch date: April 10, 2019 - Durham's 150th Anniversary.
Cover Art by DeCario Allen.