Durham is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, and the many Durhamites who have gone before. Many, many Durhamites.
One hundred and fifty of them made the list to be recognized by the city’s Sesquicentennial Honors Commission. But there’s a short list, too. Sort of short. Twenty-nine late Durhamites are on it.
If you didn’t know them before, you will now. Here’s the short list, with a little about each person who helped shape the Bull City.
History and Education
▪ Louisa Whitted Burton. One of the first women admitted to Shaw University, Burton taught grammar school and high school and was Hillside High School’s dean of girls.
▪ Dr. Lucinda McCauley Harris, educator and founder of Durham College, a junior college that operated from the mid-1940s until 1980.
▪ Dr. John Hope Franklin. Franklin was one of the most prominent historians of African-American history in the United States. Interstate 85 through Durham is named for him, as are the John Hope Franklin Center and Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University.
▪ C.P. Ellis and Ann Atwater. African-American activist Atwater and Klansman Ellis co-chaired the 1971 “Save Our Schools” charette and famously became friends. The film based on their story, “Best of Enemies” comes out in April.
▪ Dr. James E. Shepard. Shepard was the founder of what is now North Carolina Central University, the first public liberal arts college for African-Americans in the U.S.
Arts and Sports
▪ Ernie Barnes. An NFL player turned artist, Barnes is known for paintings such as “Sugar Shack,” featured on the television show “Good Times” and the cover of Marvin Gaye’s 1976 album “I Want You.”
▪ Dr. Baba Chuck Davis. Founder of the African American Dance Ensemble, Davis called on everyone he met to have “Peace, love and respect for everybody.”
▪ Rev. Gary Davis and Blind Boy Fuller. Both musicians, they were part of the development of folk blues, and represented Piedmont Blues.
▪ Dr. Monte Moses and Mrs. Connie Moses. Monte Moses, a scientist, and Connie Moses, a champion of the arts, saved the Carolina Theatre from demolition.
▪ Alex Rivera. Photographer and civil rights activist.
▪ Dr. LeRoy T. Walker. Olympic Games coach, first African-American president of the U.S. Olympic Committee and chancellor of NCCU.
Social Equity and Robust Democracy
▪ Dr. Louis Austin. Editor and publisher of the Carolina Times newspaper.
▪ Tana Hoffman-Ramirez. Advocate of Latina women’s rights.
▪ Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray. Episcopal saint, activist, poet, attorney and first African-American female Episcopal priest.
▪ Gov. Terry Sanford. North Carolina governor and U.S. senator who improved the state’s education system.
▪ Carl Wittman. Civil rights, anti-war and gay rights activist.
Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy
▪ John Merrick, C.C. Spaulding and Richard Fitzgerald. The three men were business leaders and entrepreneurs. Merrick and Spaulding were both leaders of N.C. Mutual Life Insurance Co. and Mechanic & Farmers Bank. Fitzgerald was a real estate investor and started Coleman Manufacturing Co.
▪ Viola Turner. The first female vice president of N.C. Mutual.
▪ Dr. Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans. The Duke family heir became one of Durham’s biggest philanthropists. She was also Durham first female mayor pro tem.
Environment and Health
▪ R. Kelly Bryant Jr. Advocate and historian of Durham’s African-American business history. The blue arc R. Kelly Bryant Jr. Pedestrian Bridge spans the Durham Freeway.
▪ Dr. Sharon Elliott-Bynum. Nurse and co-founder of Healing with CAARE Inc.
▪ Dr. Aaron McDuffie Moore. First African-American physician to practice in Durham and founder of Lincoln Hospital.
▪ Hildegarde Ryals. Historic preservationist and environmental conservationist.
▪ Dick Westcott. Grew the N.C. Museum of Life and Science, including the old Dinosaur Trail.
How to honor them
The Sesquicentennial Honors Commission has recommended three ways to honor the list of 29 late Durhamites.
▪ Using the East Coast Greenway trail that connects the city, by placing bronze plaques on brick and mortar pedestals along the trail.
▪ Renaming CCB Plaza, the concrete area now home to the Major the Bull statue. CCB was the name of the adjacent bank building, later renamed SunTrust, and which is now the 21c Museum Hotel. The city’s holiday tree is also located on the plaza every December. The plaza was once the location of the Washington Duke Hotel.
▪ Creating an oral history project of “our elders outside of the black and white cultures here in Durham, to make sure we document their achievements for posthumous honors in the future. This is includes the Latino, Asian and Middle Eastern communities and more which contribute to the fabric of Durham.”
Commission co-chairs Michelle Gonzalez-Green and Joseph Blocher presented the list to the Durham City Council on Thursday. The council will vote to accept the presentation at its April 1 meeting.
“Most of our list is actually not born in Durham,” Gonzalez-Green said. She said most came here in their youth and had their biggest impact here.
Mayor Steve Schewel said that he already wants to argue about the list, which he called “fantastic.”
“One of the great things about the list is it’s one [that] people are going to want to argue about,” he said. “It will be fun throughout the sesquicentennial year to have these names out there.”