The St. Joseph’s Historic Foundation, Inc. (SJHF) founded in 1975, is deeply rooted in the historic Hayti community of Durham, North Carolina. The once thriving business and residential district was dubbed “Black Wall Street” by Booker T. Washington.
The Hayti Heritage Center opened in 1975 under the management of the SJHF. The Center is a cultural enrichment and arts education facility that promotes cultural understanding through diverse events, activities and programs that preserve the heritage and embrace the experiences of Americans of African descent.
The Foundation is committed to the Hayti Heritage Center, the former St. Joseph’s AME Church, a National Historic Landmark, as a cultural and economic anchor to the greater Durham community. St. Joseph’s Historic Foundation, Inc. is a nonprofit, charitable organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code.
In 1868 Edian Markham, an African American Methodist Episcopal Missionary and former slave, came into Durham to establish a church. He brought property from Minerva Fowler and built his first place for worship, a “Brush Arbor.” Four posts were anchored in the ground surrounded at the top with four boards covered with branches forming the roof; the ground was the floor. Those who came to worship brought boxes, chairs and homemade stools or sat on the bare ground. As winter approached the little band of worshippers and Rev. Markham built a log church. More members were added to the six who organized the Church that was called Union Bethel AME Church. Rev. Markham left Durham in 1870. Two more frame churches were built, the first by Rev. George Hunter. As the congregation grew and more pastors came, it was decided by the members and pastors that a brick structure was needed. Under the leadership of Rev. Andrew Chambers the church flourished. The cornerstone was laid by the masons in 1891 and the name was changed to “St. Joseph Church.”
St. Joseph’s African Methodist Episcopal Church
The original structure of St. Joseph’s AME Church with its grand steeple and elegant stained glass windows, constructed in 1891 through the efforts of a proud and determined African American congregation and the support of local white philanthropists, has long symbolized the dignity and resolve of a people in what was once known as the most prosperous African American community in the United States. Eventually this community fell victim to “urban renewal,” as did the existence of theater productions, blues and jazz artists’ renderings, practicing medical and education professionals, and entrepreneurs of every sort. The historic St. Joseph’s Church building, now known as the Hayti Heritage Center, has always been an important monument in Durham. Booker T. Washington stated: “Never in all my travels have I seen a church as great as St. Joseph’s.” The church’s stately architecture was as distinct as the community for which it was built; it exemplified the spiritual nourishment of its members and their pivotal role in the civil rights movement of the era. The historic structure’s role in community development continues today.
A Philadelphia architect, Samuel L. Leary, in plan and composition, designed one of Durham’s more interesting vernacular examples of Victorian religious buildings. It is reminiscent of the Richardsonian Romanesque design of the Gothic Revival from the Neo-Classical movement. The bricks for the exterior were fired by the Fitzgeralds, Black artisans who moved from Chester County, Pennsylvania. The Historic Significance Report described the towers, stepped buttress and bays as powerful and at times almost overpowering. The entrances into the sanctuary opened onto the chancel focal point which was a huge ornate pipe organ flanked by two lancer stained glass windows. The organ, built by the W.H. Reisner Manufacturing Company, Inc., had two manuals and twenty-nine ranks.
The Ceiling, Chandelier, and Electrical Fans
The pressed tin ceiling is painted a brilliant turquoise accented by gold on an off-white background. Large coffers formed by bands of reeding with plaited ribbon shape the squares. Identically trimmed diamond shapes fill each square and floral bosses decorate the intersections for the coffers. The margins are filled with guilloche molding intertwined with avillan crosses.
Hanging dramatically over the center aisles is a two-tiered Art Nouveau chandelier. A buttercup shape encircles the stem of an opalescent glass light fixture. Falling in open quatrefoils to form the base of each tier are pendant drops. Two very large electric fans were installed by a Black electrician, E.N. Toole, during the 1930′s. The pews have scrolled arms above flat-paneled lancet arches. A second story wooden gallery supported by slender columns begins on each side of the center aisle.
St. Joseph’s Memorial Windows
Twenty-four stained glass windows enhance the beauty and dignity of the former sanctuary. Most are memorials to individuals who made outstanding financial contributions and/or gave dedicated service to St. Joseph’s Church.
Each window tells a story, often based on Biblical references. Through the years some of the names of the those memorialized have been erased by time or were destroyed by vandalism. Fortunately, the Scarborough Papers give a description of several of the windows and the names of the people they honored.
A window facing old Fayetteville Street at the front entrance keeps alive the memory of Edian Markham, the organizer. To the right, Moses’ Tablet memorializes Rev. George Hunter, the first builder of Union Bethel frame church. In the center facing old Fayetteville Street is the image of philanthropist Washington Duke.
A closing quote from the Scarborough Papers for all the windows in the sanctuary reads: “These windows add greatly to the spiritual significance of St. Joseph’s as they emit a golden radiance that time cannot dim.”
Hayti offers several core programs for youth and adults. These programs serve the broader community and align with our mission to preserve and advance the heritage and culture of historic Hayti and the African American experience through cultural arts and education programs.
The organization is committed to support the wealth of talented artists in the Triangle area through engagement and in other ways.
Visual Arts :
Curators are engaged to produce artist exhibitions that showcase 20-25 artists annually. Marketing of the event and of the artists is extensive. Each exhibition opens with a reception open to the general public. Refreshments and live music are provided. Artists are on hand to discuss their works, most of which are for sale.
Artist Exhibitions support rising and established artists works that are curated and presented quarterly with an opening reception of refreshments and live music. Artists are present and artwork is for sale
Black History: Artists’ Perspectives is a multi-artist collaborative of paintings and sketches celebrating African American history. This popular exhibition represents the diversity of perspectives on our history as captured by our artists, most of whom are Durham residents and all of whom are immensely talented
African American Quilt Circle is a collaborative of women whose original quilts are exhibited at Hayti every two years and who often meet at Hayti to work on their creations
Performing Arts :
The Center is home to the Chuck Davis Dance Emporium; the North Carolina Jazz Ensemble’s annual holiday concert; an annual Kwanzaa celebration; the Jambalaya Soul Spoken Word Team; the NCCU Cultural Arts celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; the Heritage Film Festival; Wimmin at Work dance and music performance celebrating Women’s History; the Durham Symphony Orchestra spring concert; Winifred Garrett, harpist in residence; and the Bull Durham Blues Festival.
The Jambalaya Soul Poetry Slam Team under the leadership of educator, community activist and author Dasan Ahanu performs every third Saturday each month at Hayti. The team also competes locally, regionally and nationally
The Heritage Music Series presents concerts quarterly. Among those are the NC Jazz Ensemble and the Durham Symphony Orchestra annual performances.
The Bull Durham Blues Festival presents blues, rhythm & blues, gospel and jazz artists along with vendors and other activities every September
Special Events :
Hayti presents special events throughout the year. In December children and adults alike are treated to a visit from Black Santa. A photographer is on hand for pictures that are available on site for purchase. Beautiful holiday ornaments are also on sale during Black Santa’s visits to Hayti.
The Heritage Film Festival showcases films by and about African Americans and black culture. The two day festival presents documentaries, shorts, full length features and classics that explore relevant themes and provide entertainment for the entire family. An annual event held in February that includes popcorn, candy and drinks
Arts Education :
The Afrofuturist program series provides STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) exposure for youth and their families. The program, developed by artist and professor Darrell Stover, also promotes reading. Discussion on the Black Panther comic book series, the music genius of the late Bernie Worrell, talks by the first families of Afrofuturism, the music of George Clinton and other topics are presented throughout the year.
Meet the Author series in collaboration with the Durham Library brings authors to Hayti for book discussions and autograph sessions
Afrofuturism series presents STEM influenced discussions, readings, films, art and fashions by contemporary Afrofuturists. The program was developed by scientist and educator Darrell Stover
African Rhythms Dance Class for adults every Monday 6:30 pm under the direction of experienced dance instructors with live drumming
Aerobic Boxing Class for adults every Tuesday 6:30 pm under the direction of instructor Damien Bynum
Tours are available year round. Walking tours extend from Parrish Street at the Black Wall Street marker to the Carolina Times newspaper, and other tours at Hayti are facilitated by our Board historian.
Tours are available year round. Walking tours from Parrish Street’s “Black Wall Street” marker past Hayti are conducted by educator and artist Aya Shabu. Tours at Hayti are led with talks by Hayti’s historian and businessman John “Skeepie” Scarborough. Arranged by appointment
The Foundation’s goals are to consistently present the very best in quality cultural arts programs related to the African American experience, promote cross-cultural understanding between isolated communities, and foster intercultural support. We accomplish our mission by providing enlightening and enriching programs in cultural arts and education. The St. Joseph’s Historic Foundation/Hayti Heritage Center continues to be an agent of social change with a long-term commitment to utilizing the arts as a tool to bring communities together and establishing common ground among diverse cultures. The Foundation is committed to providing the local community and patrons-at-large with core programs and other events throughout the year.