In the 1910s, both W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington
praised the black community in Durham, North Carolina, for its
exceptional race progress. Migration, urbanization, and
industrialization had turned black Durham from a post-Civil War
liberation community into the "capital of the black middle class."
African Americans owned and operated mills, factories, churches,
schools, and an array of retail services, shops, community
organizations, and race institutions. Using interviews, narratives,
and family stories, Leslie Brown animates the history of this
remarkable city from emancipation to the civil rights era, as
freedpeople and their descendants struggled among themselves and
with whites to give meaning to black freedom.
Brown paints Durham in the Jim Crow era as a place of dynamic
change where despite common aspirations, gender and class conflicts
emerged. Placing African American women at the center of the story,
Brown describes how black Durham's multiple constituencies
experienced a range of social conditions. Shifting the historical
perspective away from seeing solidarity as essential to effective
struggle or viewing dissent as a measure of weakness, Brown
demonstrates that friction among African Americans generated rather
than depleted energy, sparking many activist initiatives on behalf
of the black community.