Duke Plays Prominent Role in Durham’s 150th Anniversary Celebration

The year-long celebration concluded Saturday night with a ceremony sponsored by the university and health system

On Saturday, Nov. 2, the year-long celebration of Durham’s 150th anniversary concluded with a well-attended ceremony at the Durham Performing Arts Center that featured music, the honoring of influential citizens and many other activities.

The evening-long event was sponsored by Duke University and Duke Health, and wraps up the valuable role that Duke community members played in Discover Durham’s commemoration of the city’s history.

“Duke was honored to collaborate in the final celebration of Durham’s 150th anniversary,” said Stelfanie Williams, vice president of Duke’s Office of Durham and Community Affairs. “We are grateful to the City of Durham and Discover Durham for showcasing our finest citizens. This includes Duke’s lasting legacy in our city and our path into the future.”

Duke’s involvement in the project was evident during the closing ceremony, as John Brown, head of the Duke Jazz Program, served as the event’s musical director. The Durham Medical Orchestra, largely comprised of Duke Health medical students, staff and faculty, performed in the DPAC lobby as attendees entered. And a group of Durham city school students, organized by David Stein, senior education program coordinator for Duke’s Office of Durham and Community Affairs, presented a short animated video of what they expect Durham to look like in 50 years.

Stein said the organizers of the closing ceremonies approached him about such a project in the spring. But rather than do a retrospective, the 25 middle and high school students, from a variety of city schools, preferred to focus on the future. That led to a half-day session led by a futurist who helped guide the students in determining what they might want to include, such as which technologies are emerging and what they might mean for Durham.  A senior city planner provided the students with background on the city’s strategic future planning, and a professional illustrator helped them visualize what all this might look like.

That led to three day-long sessions in Perkins Library in August where 11 of the students, with help from several volunteers, completed the multimedia animation project.

“It was a really interesting group of students, from 6th to 12th graders, with very different backgrounds. They worked incredibly well together,” Stein said.

Another project of significance was a community-sourced children’s book led by Quynh-Chi Vo, the America Reads America Counts program coordinator in Duke’s Office of Durham and Community Affairs. Young students across Durham provided illustrations and writings for a book about Durham’s history that’s aimed at elementary school-age children. The book will be provided as a teaching guide to Durham Public School teachers, and will also be available at local libraries, community centers and online.

“We are providing personalized lesson plans and facilitation to bring Durham's history to life,” Vo said. “Young people across Durham will have the opportunity to engage in Durham’s history, people, and sesquicentennial celebration through facilitated, interactive learning.”

The year-long sesquicentennial celebration included many other Duke connections. A community commission, elected by the City Council and co-chaired by Duke law professor Joseph Blocher, selected 150 individuals who have made significant contributions to the city. Twenty nine of these individuals were honored posthumously at the closing ceremony, including Duke historian John Hope Franklin, the School of Medicine’s Dr. Monte Moses, former Duke President Terry Sanford and philanthropist and former Duke trustee Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans.

Duke was also well-represented on the broader 150 honorees list; about 20 percent of those selected have Duke ties. The full list can be seen here.

And earlier this year, Duke professor of public policy and history Bob Korstad led a public history initiative that looked at social inequities in the community. This effort included hosting pop-up exhibits and staffing a table at the Durham 150 Opening Celebration.

Other Duke events that appeared in Durham 150’s official calendar included:

“This year-long celebration reminds us that Duke and Durham have a rich history and a bright future together in art, science, education, public service, and leadership,” Williams said.