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Timeline for Durham Food History

Food security is inextricably tied to issues of poverty, housing, health care, and employment. The timeline below illustrates how public policies have systematically disadvantaged Black and brown populations in Durham, North Carolina.


  • Indigenous Nations have created a sustainable food system and share land and resources communally


  • Europeans beginning enslavement of West African and Indigenous Nations people
  • European colonizers attempt to establish Roanoke Colony in Roanoke, North Carolina


  • Permanent settlements of Europeans established in North Carolina
  • King Charles II seizes all land between 31 and 36 latitude (area that is now southern Georgia to North Carolina’s northern border)


  • Beginnings of erasure of indigenous peoples, including forced removal from land, forced assimilation in boarding schools and the wearing of European clothes
  • Official private land ownership forced onto Indigenous Nations. King George II awards Earl of Granville the upper half of what is now North Carolina. This includes what is now Durham County
  • Many Native People leave area to join other tribes. Some remain, but “hide in plain sight,” dispossessed of their ancestral lands


  • European agricultural practices have depleted soil quality and lower crop production
  • Rise of the Ku Klux Klan and a focus on voter intimidation, violence against Black leaders
  • Civil War begins
  • One out of every three people in Durham County were enslaved. An estimated one quarter of white farmers owned enslaved people. The Cameron Plantation, located largely in Durham, was the largest in the state
  • Homestead Act grants 160 acres of stolen Indigenous Nations' land in the West to any American who applies and works the last for 6 years. Black people are excluded from such land ownership Over the next 60 years, 246 million acres of western Native lands become privately owned
  • Morrill Act of 1862 established North Carolina State University as a land grant university. This university does not admit Black students
  • General Sherman orders redistribution of 400,000 acres of land in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, to freed slaves
  • President Abraham Lincoln assassinated
  • Order is rescinded by President Andrew Johnson
  • Freedman’s Bureau fails in taking responsibility for health and welfare of freed people. An estimated million Black people became sick from malnutrition, disease and near starvation. Tens of thousands die
  • Black Codes are passed, denying Black people the right to vote, serve on juries, or testify against white people in court. Interracial marriage outlawed. Capital punishment established for Black men convicted of raping white women. Blacks people are prohibited from owning or carrying firearms unless licensed
  • North Carolina Tenant Act codifies sharecropping, and creates an insurmountable power imbalance between landowners and sharecropping farmers (both Black and white farmers)
  • Ku Klux Klan fear campaign influences voting for NC state legislature
  • Ku Klux Klan activities temporarily curbed by Federal Legislation
  • Nearly a third of people in Durham County work as sharecroppers. Twenty-eight percent of white people own land in Durham County
  • Ku Klux Klan fear campaign influences voting for NC state governorship
  • Withdrawal of federal troops from the South
  • Further legislation passed in the North Carolina Tenant Act. Sharecropping becomes known as slavery under another name. The laws entitled property owners to set the worth of a crop at settling time and did not obligate landlords to put contracts in writing or require tenants to have access to ledgers or records
  • North Carolina State Bureau of Labor Statistics reports critical of crop lien system and cites gross misconduct of landowners
  • More than 75% of the North Carolina population are farmers
  • North Carolina A&T University established as the state’s second land grant university for Black students. This university does not receive funding at the same level as NC State
  • Rise of Fusion Politics and a period during which Black and whites leaders united in shared economic and political interests. Some Black people are elected to public office


  • White supremacy supporters hold the Senate, House and governorship of North Carolina. Governor Charles Aycock restricts Black voter eligibility through a literacy requirement for Black people only, and a poll tax. Voter numbers for Black people drop from 126,000 in 1896 to 6,100 in 1902
  • Durham’s population swells as rural people migrate to the city seeking employment. Nearly a third of the population are Black people
  • Black women outnumber Black men by 15%, and are hired as domestic workers for whites, and also find work in tobacco factories
  • Textile Mills established in East Durham, Edgemont and West Durham, with subsidized homes and a company store, creating mill villages. Mill families allowed to maintain gardens and livestock.
  • Black people barred from working in textile industry, but allowed to work lowest paying job in tobacco factories
  • Canning becomes popular, and government urges people to create Victory Gardens
  • Segregation by elevation occurs in Durham as Black neighborhoods of West End/Lyon Park, Brookstown, Hickstown, Walltown, Hayti, and the East End established in low-lying areas prone to flooding (the Bottoms)
  • White suburban neighborhoods established in Forest Hills, Hope Valley, Hospital Hillandale, and Duke Forest
  • Black leaders found Mechanics and Farmers Bank to support Black entrepreneurs, homeowners and farmers. This stimulates the rise of Black-owned businesses, particularly in the Hayti area
  • Hayti becomes known as the center of the Black middle class across the country
  • Hayti includes Lincoln Hospital, the North Carolina College for Negroes (now North Carolina Central University), and Black civic institutions
  • Land ownership grows dramatically for Black people
  • Durham establish the city’s first curb market
  • WWI begins
  • Smith Lever Act of 1914, establishes a system of cooperative extension services in each state connected to land-grant agencies
  • Second rise of the Ku Klux Klan, revived as a fraternal organization of white supremacy
  • Durham County Commissioners hire extension agents for home demonstration service for whites
  • Rise of the Durham Jeanes Teachers movement, aimed at helping Black students improve their lives and employment opportunities
  • Great Migration of Black people to northern and western cities begins, and continues through the 1970s
  • Durham County Commissioners hire Black extension agents (at lower pay than white agents) to conduct home demonstration services for Black women
  • Durham Cooperative Exchange runs agricultural education programs to promote youth entrepreneurship through segregated programs. Future Farmers of America program serve white farmers, and New Farmers of America serves aspiring Black farmers
  • WWI ends
  • Farmers comprise 50% of population in Durham, with 75% of cultivated land planted in tobacco, cotton and corn
  • Approximately 25% of Black farmers own their land. This is the peak of land ownership in Durham for Black people
  • Negro Credit Unions note that lack of capital and access to fair credit is a crippling factor for Black people
  • Racial Covenants and deed restrictions are used to keep Black people from owning lands in some Durham neighborhoods
  • Great Depression
  • Mill company store replaced by neighborhood grocers. Perishable foods are delivered daily to people’s homes
  • Whites engage in unionization and strikes against mill employment wages and practices
  • 1930 survey indicates that 75% of Black middle class homes and approximately 50% of working class homes had gardens
  • Black people are six times more likely to experience pellagra – a disease caused by nutrient deficiency and poor quality food
  • Refrigeration, improved food preservation techniques, mass production and better transportation begin to reshape the food system
  •  Works Progress Administration established as another source of food relief
  • Durham Hosiery Mill closes, putting 450 people (whites) out of work
  • Social Security Act and National Labor Relations Act create new labor protection laws, minimum wage, and right to organize. The legislation excludes domestic and agricultural positions – dominant employment areas for Blacks at this time
  • 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act passes and excludes domestic and agricultural positions, continuing to enable allow racial inequality
  • Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC) creates neighborhood risk maps between 1935-1940, redlining Durham’s predominantly Black neighborhoods as areas not suitable for loans and public investment
  • Local Durham government bans livestock in the city limits, severely impacting the food system for Black people
  • Black farm families in Durham County have decreased by a third
  • Bracero Program legislation allowed contract laborers from Central American to fill the labor gap opened up by WWII solders serving abroad, and by Black people who were part of the Great Migration to northern and western states.
  • Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (GI Bill) made mortgages available to WWII veterans with little to no down payment and very low interest. Discriminatory lending guidelines and restrictive neighborhood covenants largely excluded the more than one million Black WWII veterans, and Native American veterans. Between 1935 and 1968, less than 2% of federally-insured homes loans went to Black people
  • WWII ends
  • Nearly a quarter of all Durham restaurants designed as “Colored,” including 21 restaurants owned by and operated for Black people in Hayti, and five more in Walltown, the East End, and West End/Lyon Park
  • Durham bans interracial dining
  • Practice of racial covenants limiting sale of Durham neighborhood homes to Blacks is outlawed
  • Third rise of the Ku Klux Klan, focused on opposition to civil rights movement and white supremacy, using violence and murder to suppress activists.
  • Black people have had no city government representation until the late 1950s
  • Durham development is racially biased, with white neighborhoods receiving amenities such as parks and public infrastructure like water, sewer and paved roads much earlier than Black neighborhoods. Public nuisances such as incinerators and water treatment facilities are placed in Black neighborhoods
  • Durham develops segregated housing project neighborhoods
  • The City of Durham establishes a Redevelopment Commission and created an urban renewal plan in consultation with the University of North Carolina’s City and Regional Planning Department. The plan called for a large section of the Hayti area to be demolished and redeveloped, and for the building of NC Highway 137. City officials promise the Black community: new housing, new commercial development, and major infrastructure improvements in Black neighborhoods
  • Howard Johnson protest on interracial dining
  • Referendum for urban renewal that demolishes Hayti is passed
  • Sit-in protests at six downtown Durham restaurants to challenge ban on interracial dining
  • Study by the Johnson administration finds evidence of racial discrimination in every program of the USDA in regards to funding, employment/promotion, and decision-making
  • Civil Rights Act legally ends racial discrimination in federal programs, and legally ends racial segregation
  • Housekeepers and cafeterias at Duke University organize and demand higher wages and better working conditions
  • The Black Solidary Committee sends a list of 88 demands to the Durham Chamber of Commerce and Merchants Association related to employment, education, political representation, and policy conduct in the Black community. They organize a nine-month protest of white businesses to win some of the demands
  • Malcolm X Liberation University established in the Hayti area. Educational programs focus on the physical, social, psychological, economic and cultural needs of Black people. MXLU moves to Greensboro and ultimately closes in 1973
  • Over 4,000 families and 500 businesses are displaced by the Durham urban renewal project, including a significant part of the area’s food infrastructure such as grocery stores and restaurants. Hayti was not renewed, replacements for lost housing and businesses never came
  • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigates farm aid and finds that Black farmers received fewer loans for smaller amounts, were less likely to get deferred loan payment schedules, and more likely to agree to liquidation of their property if they defaulted
  • Heirs Property law and partition sale action become tools to force Blacks to give up their land. Black farmers lost their land at more than twice the rate of white farmers
  • Erwin Mill, American Tobacco, Golden Belt, and Liggett & Myers close, leaving empty factory space and thousands in need of jobs. Many people leave the city.
  • Microwaves are now in most homes, and refrigeration and convenience foods allow more women to work outside the home
  • Processed convenience foods begin to negatively affect people’s diets and health, particularly in low income Black neighborhoods
  • Food insecurity spikes as President Ronald Reagan reduces spending for the poor, public housing, welfare benefits, grants for mass transit, and food assistance
  • H2A Guest Worker program allows agricultural employers to hire season foreign workers. Such individuals do not have the same labor protections as US citizens
  • Anti-Drug Abuse Act is passed. Even though evidence shows white people use more drugs than Black people, the war on drugs disproportionately targets low-income communities of color, especially Black men
  • Durham Housing Authority receives federal funding to pay off-duty police officers to patrol high-crime areas, and targets public housing developments
  • Gentrification begins as downtown development projects are funded. This includes the Durham Bulls Athletic Park (1995); renovation of American Tobacco (phase 1, 2005); West Village, Durham Central Park and the Farmers Market Pavailion (2007), and the Durham Performing Arts Center (2008); along with streetscape and infrastructure improvements. Real estate values in proximity to downtown rise significantly
  • The 1996 Farm Bill significantly reduces the SNAP program budget over six years
  • President William Clinton signs the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, known as the Welfare to Work program. Together, these policies changed the landscape of food assistance by limiting eligibility and length of benefits for able-bodied adults without dependents who are not working at least 20 hours a week or participating in a work program. Currently, Durham is one of only 13 out of North Carolina’s 100 counties that have such programs.


  • Latino Community Credit Union opens, creating a financing resource for Latino owned and operated restaurants, grocery stores, jobs, and opportunities
  • SNAP benefit recipients in Durham county have decreased by 14% since 1997, even though the poverty rate increased by nearly 2% during the 1990s
  • Great Recession increases food insecurity as a result of job losses, wage reductions and foreclosures
  • SNAP transitions to electronic debit cards (electronic benefits transfer), which lessens the stigma of using the program
  • 2008 Farm Bill introduces the concept of a food desert, defined as a census tract with a substantial share of residents who live in low-income areas that have low levels of access to a grocery store or healthy, affordable retail outlets
  • President George W. Bush’s Secure Communities Policy heightens deportation fears among immigrants, as federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies partner to police immigrant populations
  • The 2014 Farm Bill reduces benefits for 48 million people participating in the SNAP program
  • Latino residents of Durham have grown from 2,000 people in 1990 nearly 40,000
  • Durham County has more than 10,000 eviction filings, the highest rate of any county in the state. Average rent in Durham increased by 35% between 2011 and 2017
  • Black patients in Durham are 80% more likely than white patients to have diabetes
  • The average hourly wage for food preparation and serving related occupations in Durham is $10.83 an hour, or $22,516 annually before taxes