Posted on 15 January 2019
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER. We sat down with six Durham OGs to listen and learn about our city’s history and their experiences growing in it. Class is now in session.
Henry ‘Bruh’ Gunn grew up in the neighborhood of Brookstown near Duke East Campus. The construction of highway 147 destroyed most of the neighborhood decades ago, however the community still stays close. After graduating from Hillside High in 1960, Henry joined the military and met his wife while stationed in Germany. “The reason I kept volunteering to go overseas was because of racism in America. I had made up my mind that I wasn’t coming back here. But I ended up coming back to Durham. Durham is one of the best cities in the world. I went around the world, I can tell you.”
Leon & Delores Stephens live on Benning Street in East Durham. They met at the Stallion Club in the 1960s(now closed) and married shortly after and have 3 children. Delores worked at UNC, while Leon worked in construction and served in the Vietnam War. Leon reflects on the city’s socioeconomic landscape: “Durham has transitioned from a city environment that used to be more black than it did any other race. We owned more as a people back then during that time in the 60s”.
Steve Schewel first came to Durham in 1969 to study at Duke and has lived here ever since. His involvement in anti-war protests as an undergrad(long hair and all) sparked a career in activism and politics. In the late 70s at an anti-nuke rally, Steve was arrested for civil disobedience and jailed for 8 days. It was during that time in jail that he and Dave Birkhead decided to start the Independent Weekly to counter conservative media coverage in the area. As an elected official, Steve has worked on Durham’s School Board, City Council and is now the Mayor. “I’m really inspired by your generation in Durham. The idealism, the energy, the commitment to the city, the commitment to each other, the way Durham embraces diversity and difference. The kind of robust democracy that we have that all voices are heard, honored, and cherished and are very loud and people feel free to express themselves.”
Akeem ‘Fish’ Miller was born and raised in Durham. He works as a barber at Changing Faces Barber Shop at Phoenix Square on Fayetteville Road. Cutting hair has been a passion of his for years and kept him from “being a knucklehead”. We first met Fish at our flagship store years ago and his energy was contagious, so we took a trip to the barber shop to chop it up and capture him in his element. When asked about change in Durham he had this to say, “Downtown used to be a ghost town, now it’s building up. Just seeing different cultures, everybody innovating with each other, it’s smooth. I like that.”
Bill Bell was born in DC, moved to Winston Salem at age 5 and visited Durham for the first time with his high school band. He eventually moved here in 1968 to take a job at IBM, relocating to the Emory Woods neighborhood off Fayetteville Road. “I wanted to be in Durham for several reasons. I knew some of the history of Durham; North Carolina Mutual, Mechanics & Farmers Bank, NCCU. I had friends that were here and I wanted to be in a university town, I just liked what I saw here.” After becoming president of his neighborhood association, a zoning dispute positioned him against Durham’s Board of Commissioners. “I was probably young and stupid enough to figure if you can’t beat ‘em, try and join ‘em.” Bill ran for County Commissioner and won, beginning a storied political career and was eventually elected Mayor of Durham in 2001. He was re-elected as mayor 6 more times, retiring in 2017. Go Bill.