Time International - 02.03.2020

(Jacob Rumans) #1
celebrating black capitalism. A quintessentially Southern
city, marked by racial histories and racist inequalities, Dur-
ham struggled in the early 1990s to find both an identity
and an economic base. By the 2000s, a renaissance was
taking place, one that looked a lot like the ones in similarly
situated midsize urban areas across the country. The cult of
quirky regional identity is remarkable for its sameness. In
Durham; Pittsburgh; Louisville, Ky.; Indianapolis; or Boise,
Idaho, you can find craft breweries, dog parks, clubs where
you throw axes at a wall, and farm-to-table everything but
especially food trucks.
The conference name, Black Wall Street: Homecoming,
was a callback to the district in downtown Durham known
as Black Wall Street in the late 19th and early 20th centuries,
one of several economic corridors in the U.S. where black
wealth was consolidated during segregation. Black-owned
businesses served black customers whom white businesses
either would not serve or did not serve equitably. Black
Wall Street in Durham was decimated the way many such
corridors were in the mid–20th century. Urban planners
used federal funding for the cross-national highway system,
forcibly displacing black residents and business owners.
The government built a freeway through Black Wall Street.
The audience at the conference was full of enthusiastic
black men and women, mostly in their 30s, 40s and 50s,
who identified as entrepreneurs. Programming was orga-
nized by the kinds of buzzwords that animate the digital
economy. One does not advertise, he brands. A woman
with an online marketing company does not tweet or post;

she creates content. Mostly, participants
wanted to get better at pitching. One
conference organizer explained while
infrastructure was essential to the “old
way” of doing business, the new era of
entrepreneurship is about developing
processes and selling disruption. To help
them thrive in this model of personal eco-
nomic uplift, the conference encouraged
black entrepreneurs to hustle in a way
that white capital and consumers could
understand. This was the art of the pitch.
Just over a year later, in Decem-
ber 2019, a North Carolina chapter of
Fight for $15—a national campaign ad-
vocating a $15-an-hour federal mini-
mum wage—held a forum called “Work-
ing in Durham: A People’s Hearing.” The
event brought together low-wage work-
ers, many of them black, to talk about un-
safe working conditions, wage theft and
the need for unions in the workplace. Per-
son after person shared stories of working
in service-sector jobs, some of the only
jobs available in the area to those with-
out a college degree. Although workers in
other states have seen their paychecks go
up because of state and local increases in
the minimum wage, in Durham the rate



under a sign that
reads “Colored
Waiting Room”
at a bus station
in Durham, N.C.,
in 1940



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