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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Lawrence Ridgle, June 3, 1999. Interview K-0143. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Negative impact of urban renewal on the African American community

Ridgle laments what he saw as the negative consequences of urban renewal programs in Durham, North Carolina, during the 1960s. In particular, Ridgle stresses the devastating consequences for black-owned business. In so doing, he offers several anecdotes about previously thriving businesses and the efforts of some African Americans to resist urban renewal projects that would force them out of business.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Lawrence Ridgle, June 3, 1999. Interview K-0143. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

LAWRENCE RIDGLE:
We don't have a black drug store in Durham now. We used to have three. No, we had four.
ALICIA ROUVEROL:
And where were they mostly located?
LAWRENCE RIDGLE:
We had one on Bost Street over here that was owned by the Holloways. Dr. Garrett, he just died a few weeks ago. And it had a whole page in the paper about him. He had a very—no drug store no where in town was no—he had marble top tables in, you know, hard mahogany wood, all this cabinets and stuff around. He had a big soda thing where they made that old fashioned milk shake. And he had a top stock of all kind of pharmacist, pharmaceuticals. And the place was immaculate. In fact, he had him a marble and maroon mahogany furniture in there. A real beautiful place. And we had restaurants, Five and Ten Cents store. We had one of the best hatters in the country. But he had a small place. He made some of the best hats that's made in America. In fact, people like the Scarborough, and those same old men—Darnell, the Logans—he made their hats. And back then those hats cost a hundred dollars.
ALICIA ROUVEROL:
That's a lot of money back then.
LAWRENCE RIDGLE:
But now—his name was Abe Shaw—had a little bitty place—he made hats and he made hats. Had they bagged him he might have been a John B. Stetson by now.
ALICIA ROUVEROL:
Sure.
LAWRENCE RIDGLE:
He could have been a Velour. That was the only place blacks could get formal wear was from him. He could have had one of those big shops downtown. With the government giving up money for small businesses was coming. They knew this too. But if they put him out of business, they wouldn't be able to apply. And they promised to build those people that stuff back but they put up Heritage Square.
ALICIA ROUVEROL:
So what happened to his shop?
LAWRENCE RIDGLE:
They [unclear] paid him out. Then they stuck him in a little hole way over here in what they call North Durham Five Points. It was Magnum Street over there. He had a little bitty little place over there. And they were supposed to build them back. But they kept them living in a place they called Tin City. They did move some of the businesses with the stipulation that they were going to rebuild. Twenty-five years later they still haven't done it. So people like Abe have got no—. His son has gotten into the dope scene, which if he'd had a big business—if they'd have stayed behind him and helped him. I don't know what his business is now because the man, he loved hats. Like I said, he was the only place a black could get a formal—a tuxedo, you had to go see him. And then blacks started getting into different little clubs and they had their own little society. I could see it now. And I'm sure that the blacks should have been able to see it. They were smart men. They'd been to college. They were rich. If they'd got behind Abe, I don't know what he'd have been. And he used to tell me this story himself, you know, how they sold him out.
ALICIA ROUVEROL:
Were there other black businessmen that felt that same way?
LAWRENCE RIDGLE:
Sure. We had furniture companies here—the Boykins. He's dead but his wife has got a nice place right out here on 85, right off 85. She's out there by herself. She's got a nice, big plot of land out there, a big lake, nice big house. But after the husband died—he was in the furniture business. But he couldn't sell furniture like the downtown stores could because he couldn't get it for that. He was a small business. He couldn't sell stuff like Heilig-Meyers or some of the oldest furniture stores. They bought in big lumps and they could get it cheaper. But a lot of blacks patronized him because they had good furniture but it was a little bit higher. We had our own dry cleaner, dentist office. In fact, Doc Donnell was the dentist. He was in cahoots. I remember my little boy—I used to see him laying in the Fountainbleu in Miami, him and Sugar Ray Robinson, the boxer. Used to see them in that [unclear] magazine. Doc Donnell laying up on Miami beach. And he owned—Doc Donnell owned a whole block on 51st Street. He owned the Biltmore Hotel, which we was the only hotel—Durham had the only black hotel in the Piedmont area.
ALICIA ROUVEROL:
Boy.
LAWRENCE RIDGLE:
All the entertainers that came to North Carolina, black entertainers, that's where they stayed, at the Biltmore. You could go down to Biltmore and sit around outside and see all the stars. And the—we had a real nice restaurant called the Donut Shop. It was owned by Doc Donnell. He sold all that stuff out for urban renewal. We had one black man who refused to sell. And I thought he was stupid because I didn't know. But he knew. We had our own little publishing company at the Carolina Times. Mr. Austin gave me my first job selling papers and blacks wouldn't buy them. But he stayed there until they burned him out just a few years ago.
ALICIA ROUVEROL:
Until they burned him out when the fire happened?
LAWRENCE RIDGLE:
It was an old hosiery mill building. And I think it went out of business before I was born. But the old building was still there and he took a portion of it to put up his print shop. He died and his wife still wouldn't sell it. That was the only building—
ALICIA ROUVEROL:
Isn't that wild?
LAWRENCE RIDGLE:
That was the only building left on Pettigrew Street—
ALICIA ROUVEROL:
What was the story on that fire again? When you say they burned him out.
LAWRENCE RIDGLE:
They don't know how it happened. But she had stopped publishing and all the other—they used to have a theatre there called the Booker T. Theatre. They left. But he was in one corner of this big factory. And he refused to leave for his lifetime. And his wife, after he died, she wouldn't leave. So years later mysteriously it got burned out.