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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with George Esser, June-August 1990. Interview L-0035. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Nathan Garrett helms the United Durham Corporation

Esser describes the emergence of the United Durham Corporation, a community development corporation (CDC) that he spun off from the North Carolina Fund. He put Ivy League-educated Durhamite Nathan Garrett in charge.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with George Esser, June-August 1990. Interview L-0035. 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

FRANCES WEAVER:
I think that's wonderful. George, you mentioned Nathan Garrett a number of times. I would like to know about him and your long association with him.
GEORGE ESSER:
Nathan Garrett, his father is still alive in his nineties. He's a pharmacist who came from Carrboro, North Carolina to Durham, I think, after World War II. But anyhow, Nathan grew in Durham, went to Yale, and later to Wayne State. He became a CPA and during the early years of the Fund John Wheeler, the banker from Durham, who was on the Fund board, suggested to me that Nathan would like to come home and he would like me to talk to Nathan. Well, Nathan and I hit it off very quickly. He joined the Fund staff in 1964 as the controller, I believe was the initial title.
FRANCES WEAVER:
I believe so. It's in that document you made.
GEORGE ESSER:
Eventually I made him Deputy Director of the Fund, and as part of our spin-off from the Fund, we spun several hundred thousand dollars off to an organization called the Foundation for Community Development, which was intended, and for five years did, to encourage grassroots community development, including economic development in North Carolina generally. Several of the so called CDC's, which started with Bedford Styvasent Corporation.
FRANCES WEAVER:
What's a CDC?
GEORGE ESSER:
Community Development Corporation. The first one was in Bedford-Styvasent, which is supported by the Ford Foundation and initiated under the leadership of Bobby Kennedy. Some of them ran into difficulties, political difficulties really, some of them operational difficulties, in the early '70s. The Ford Foundation withdrew support from those that had advocacy as a function. They continued to support those that were primarily economic development, but advocacy was creating problems. OEO, the Office of Economic Opportunity, did the same thing. So the FDC, which I would regard as an intermediary organization—that is, it was helping organizations at community levels get established. One of it's first primary staff was Howard Fuller, who was a superb person and a good friend of mine. He's been much misinterpreted in North Carolina. But anyhow, when it became clear that, while United Durham Corporation would continue to get support as an operating CDC and that some other in the state did, money for a statewide organization to support and encourage new community ventures was not forthcoming from either foundations or the federal government. So rather than see it go bankrupt, Nathan simply closed it out. He had helped bring another CPA from Detroit to the Fund, Dewitt Sullivan, and so he and DeWitt, who was then controller for MDC, established a CPA firm in Durham called Garrett and Sullivan. Now, Mike Sviriridoff of the Ford Foundation and later of LISC knew Nathan through me. And he suggested that it would be good—well, I forget who suggested it first, but anyhow—there was general agreement that anything that I did in eastern North Carolina would be done using Nathan and DeWitt for support and for access to the black business community. We had no problem, I don't know anybody that I have worked with on an informal basis more effectively than Nathan and DeWitt, particularly Nathan. We see each other. We see problems the same way.
FRANCES WEAVER:
Wonderful, yeah.
GEORGE ESSER:
That doesn't mean that in some things, some ways, we don't differ, but in differing [Laughter] we understand each other. So he was very much involved, he and DeWitt, his partner, were very much involved in the early years of the LISC movement. Then DeWitt went back to Mississippi, and the firm broke up and reformed itself. Now, the primary partner to Nathan is a young man named Walter Davenport who operated out of Raleigh. The firm is known as Garrett and Davenport. DeWitt is still associated with the firm in Durham but from Mississippi.