Upbuilding Black Durham

Gender, Class, and Black Community Development in the Jim Crow South

By Leslie Brown

472 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 28 illus., 1 table, 1 map, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5835-6
    Published: September 2008
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-7753-1
    Published: November 2009
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-7974-5
    Published: November 2009

John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture

Buy this Book

For Professors:
Free E-Exam Copies

To purchase online via an independent bookstore, visit Bookshop.org

Awards & distinctions

2009 Frederick Jackson Turner Award, Organization of American Historians

2010 Honorable Mention, Darlene Clark Hine Award, Organization of American Historians

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.

About the Author

Leslie Brown is assistant professor of history at Williams College.
For more information about Leslie Brown, visit the Author Page.


"Brown ingeniously frames her history as an evolution of consciousness across generations. . . . A deftly rendered study of a place that once fascinated and bedeviled America's foremost black individuals."--Southern Historian

"Insightful. . . . A study in community transformation and a commentary on gender, race, and class within the African American community. . . . Highly recommended."--Choice

"This book follows in a distinguished line of scholarly research providing a strong and in-depth analysis of a local subject that is broad enough to attract readers across interdisciplinary fields. . . . This book is an important addition to the historiography of African American studies. The author skillfully recounts the advocates and activists who engineered the approaches used by the civil right activists during the mid-twentieth century."--American Historical Review

"Offer[s] a rich and textured portrait that illuminates many themes in the existing literature. . . . A worthy addition to the mosaic of studies charting the black experience in southern cities and states."--The Journal of American History

"Brown's powerful writing and careful research come alive in the many voices she uses in tracing the development of Durham's black community from emancipation to the early 1940s."--The North Carolina Historical Review

"A well-researched, textured, and eloquent community study that highlights the forms of cooperation and conflict between white and black Durhamites and within Durham's black community."--Journal of Social History