By Thomasi McDonald

November 17, 2021

H.M. “Mickey” Michaux, North Carolina’s longest-serving member of the General Assembly before he retired in 2019, grew up in Durham.

Before he was elected to the state house in 1972, Michaux worked at his father’s law and real estate offices on the 800 block of Fayetteville Street. His father’s business was one of many in the Hayti District that was upended by the “urban renewal” of the 1950s and ’60s that promised new wealth and prosperity but instead drove the Durham Freeway through the heart of the community, displacing thousands of residents and business owners, Michaux told the INDY this week.

“We had to move,” Michaux recalls. “We succeeded, but there were those that did not.”

Now, decades later, the federal government—whose urban renewal program, initiated by President Dwight Eisenhower, destroyed Hayti and other burgeoning Black communities across the United States—is proposing to help rebuild a part of Durham’s most historic Black neighborhood.

This summer, during the city’s Juneteenth celebrations, Henry McKoy, a professor of entrepreneurship in N.C. Central University’s business school, introduced Hayti Reborn, a $1 billion proposal to transform the vacant 20-acre Fayette Place into a “global equity project,” anchored by “the world’s first equity research and development park,” to “systematically close racial wealth gaps by creating global networks of equitable cities.”

McKoy envisions a sparkling global-minded environment where people in the community live, have access to centrally located resources, visit the Hayti museum, study at an innovation school and research lab, work at a biomanufacturing facility, shop at a grocery store, enjoy food halls and retail spaces, and have structured parking.

This week, McKoy told the INDY that the Hayti Reborn concept proposes reconnecting the two sides of the Durham Freeway “to represent what needs to be mended from the past harm.”

McKoy says the federal funds set aside for reconnecting communities could be used in Hayti in at least two ways: First, the city could set up a reparative justice fund, he says, and collect the names of families who were displaced residentially or business-wise from the [Highway 147] project and the urban renewal.

“The reparative justice fund could compensate those individuals or their families directly— or purchase them replacement homes or businesses from what was destroyed,” McKoy says. “Likely [it] would be for their descendants. But [it] would try to address a past harm.”

Then, McKoy says, the city could set up a fund to support the same for the next generation, because African Americans were harmed by the highway.

“The number of homes and businesses destroyed without adequate compensation could be replaced currently and ensure they are owned by African Americans,” McKoy explains. “This could hopefully lay the foundation for a rebirth of the community, based on direct reparative justice or indirect.”