For the second year in a row, Juneteenth in Hayti promises to be a memorable commemoration and celebration.
he monument honoring Durham’s former Lincoln Hospital School of Nursing. | Photo by Thomasi McDonald
The theme for Durham’s second annual Juneteenth, “Keeping the Fire Lit,” is inspired by a monument that honors the former Lincoln Hospital School of Nursing that first opened in 1901 in the Hayti District.
Angel Iset Dozier, one of the Juneteenth organizers and founder of the nonprofit Be Connected, which addresses inequities in communities, says the theme resonates with the Lincoln Hospital Monument in that it recognizes “how rapidly the city of Durham is changing.”
“And we want to emphasize the story of Hayti as a beacon, shining light on a more equitable vision of Durham as a city that resists forms of renewal that do not serve all of Durham across intersections,” Dozier says.
The nearly seven-foot-high granite obelisk topped by a large metal oil lamp sits on the verdant, oak-tree-shaded lawn in front of the current Lincoln Community Health Center. The memorial, erected in 2005, shares its space with a commemorative plaque in a curving, hourglass-shaped area defined by small white and brown rocks dotted by larger, smooth black rocks.
“It’s known in the community as the ‘genie lamp,’” Dozier says. “You rub it three times and make your wish.”
This week’s celebrations at Hayti are spearheaded by the nonprofit Village of Wisdom (VOW), a Hayti-based, education equity nonprofit that works to eliminate racism in the classroom. VOW held its first Juneteenth event at the Hayti Heritage Center in 2018 and partnered in 2021 with Be Connected, which curates the Fayetteville Street Corridor Fellows Project “LIVE! Hayti’s 3rd Friday Art and Business Walk.”
This year’s celebrations have been expanded to include partnerships with Spectacular Magazine, the state’s representative with the National Juneteenth Committee, and the Bragtown Neighborhood Association.
Urban sprawl will take on a new meaning this weekend.
Friday’s events along the Fayetteville Street corridor will take place at the Hayti Heritage Center, the historic Algonquin Club, College Inn, and the W.D. Hill Recreation Center area in the 1300 block of Fayetteville Street, according to a press release.
On Saturday, the Golden Belt campus in East Durham will feature music and messages from the National Juneteenth Committee, hosted by Spectacular Magazine. On Sunday, Spectacular will host a barbeque cook-off.
One could ostensibly grab a barbecue plate on Sunday afternoon and then head over to a gospel festival in Bragtown, the oldest African American community in the state, which was founded by formerly enslaved people who toiled at Stagville plantation.
The Bragtown Community Association will host its second annual Juneteenth, themed “INSPIRATION,” at Lakeview Park on Dearborn Drive starting at two p.m.
Dozier notes that last year’s event in the Hayti community celebrated the presence of Erzulie, the Haitian Mother Mary and goddess of love, whose veve (a religious symbol) has adorned the steeple of the Heritage Center (formerly the church) for 130 years. It also celebrated the Haitian veve for Papa Legba, the “spirit of the crossroads” who facilitates communication, which sits atop the William H. Robinson Science Building on the NC Central University campus.
Legba sitting atop the science building, which was built in 1939, does not appear to be a happenstance occurrence. Both veves can be seen simultaneously while standing in front of the home of NCCU founder James E. Shepard. The old church steeple appears to sit in the middle of Fayetteville Street, nearly a mile away.
With the church’s completion in 1891, roughly 90 years after the Haitian revolution, one can only wonder if community leaders during that period were trying to transmit a message of self-sufficiency to future generations.
Dozier says this year’s theme is apt: despite the broken promises of urban renewal and the threat of gentrification, “Hayti belongs to the Black community.”
“It’s important that we continue the legacy,” she says.
The nursing school, which closed its doors in the 1970s, is yet another institution that succumbed to the broken promises of urban renewal in the historically Black neighborhood and its early residents, whose community resilience and enterprise in the face of Jim Crow won the admiration of W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington, two titans of civil rights who rarely agreed on anything.
Juneteenth is the nation’s oldest celebration commemorating the end of slavery. Historical records indicate not all former slaves in all parts of the country were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, such as those living in the westernmost Confederate state of Texas. But freedom finally came on June 19, 1865, when some 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay. The army announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved Black people in the state were freed by executive decree and the day came to be known as “Juneteenth” by Texas’s newly freed people.
Dozier calls the holiday “a significant event” because “it represents the ultimate microcosm of not getting information on time, the ultimate afterthought, especially in the Hayti neighborhood.”
Organizers of Durham’s Juneteenth celebrations say it’s well past time to move beyond the symbols and instead fight for things that are much more substantive in a community that’s now threatened by gentrification.
The three-day event, which begins with the ongoing Third Friday at the Hayti Heritage Center and will feature the short film Hayti Stories, a vendors’ marketplace, spoken word performances, visual art, live jazz and hip-hop, dance, and drummers.
Dozier says it’s about using art as a vehicle for change and to promote healing in a once-vibrant community that has been broken. However, she adds that the celebration will also emphasize the importance of activism, especially among the community’s young people. The Hayti celebration will include a youth artists panel and feature the work of seven youngsters.
The celebration will also focus on past efforts by community elders to sponsor youth activities such as the near-legendary Algonquin Club, a “social club and a community center, primarily for the African American ‘elite’ of Durham and Hayti,” according to Open Durham. The club was organized in the 1920.
According to writer Dorothy Phelps Jones, the Algonquin Club “voted to become a part of the Algonquin Tennis Club, which was the older organization and emphasized social growth as one of its primary objectives. It was the group that brought Althea Gibson at the height of her fame as a tennis champion and bragged of Arthur Ashe as one of the youngsters who played on their tennis courts—‘the bourgeois has arrived.’”
Dozier points to another little known fact about the old Algonquin: young people, with the help of adult members, built go-karts that they raced at soapbox derbies on a Jim Crow “chitlin’ circuit” but also nationally in integrated events during the 1930s and 1940s.
A 1963 story in a midsummer edition of The Carolina Times extolled the racing prowess of 15-year-old William “Little Willie” Bowman in a story headlined “Durham Has Its Own ‘Fireball Roberts’: New Derby King.”
The event organizer says the go-karts were part of a sports mecca in the community that included the W.D. Hill Recreation Center, Hillside Park, the old location of Hillside High School, and the Algonquin Club. The youngsters in the community were also supported by community businesses, including the now-closed College Inn and Scarborough & Hargett, one of the nation’s oldest Black-owned funeral services.
Dozier says there is a spiritual kinship between the old go-kart kids and today’s youth who ride their motorbikes along the Fayetteville Street corridor on Sundays.
“These young men are often criminalized for riding, but they actually have strong principles and significant cultural influence,” she explains. “One group calls themselves ‘Wheels Up, Guns Down’ because, while they are experiencing joy and being themselves, they are also reminding us of our own cultural abundance.”
Dozier also points to last year, when the city announced plans to demolish the Wheels Family Fun Park skating rink in East Durham that’s been closed since 2020 and replace it with a state-of-the-art aquatics center and a park. Durham’s youth responded by circulating a petition and collecting 1,100 signatures requesting the skating rink be included in the plan. The petition drive was led by youth fellows with the Fayetteville Street Corridor. This week, the 9th Street Journal reported that city council members were receptive to a multiracial group who requested that the skating rink, long a safe space for marginalized youth, be preserved and renovated.
“This is how the city of Durham can be held accountable,” Dozier explains. “Partner with the citizens of the city, and well you should be.”
Stories are at the heart of the Hayti District’s healing and activism, with “the concept of memory as a way to heal and recall the codes and dreams of the ancestors,” Dozier says.
Dozier says the community’s blight was caused by the city and that its residents never received reparations from the misnamed urban renewal plan that demolished hundreds of homes and businesses to make way for Highway 147.
“We don’t have the capacity to sustain things,” she says. “There’s a reason for all of the nasty attention and crime. We are at overcapacity and our people are tired of always having to turn something out of nothing.”
Despite the obstacles, Dozier alludes to the Juneteenth theme.
“The lamp reminds us of fire and light, powerful symbols for Black communities, particularly in times of darkness and stagnation,” she states in the press release. “We come from a place of cultural abundance, we build upon what is already here.”
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