Hello, and thank you for visiting our digital project. Our names are Sophie Polson and Tyler Goldberger, and we are undergraduate students at Duke University studying Computer Science and History and Spanish, respectively. We hope to explore the shifting demographics in the Durham political scene leading up to and throughout the 1950s. What events led up to this shift in demographic representation in different political positions in Durham? Why did this shift occur beginning in 1951? Which key leaders and groups encouraged the election of these minority representatives?
Through this format, we are looking forward to providing an interactive, publicly accessible platform to explore the Durham city elections in the 1950s. Prior to 1951, the Durham political scene had largely been defined by white men, as politics and economics across the country were, indeed, wholly dominated by white men. However, in 1951, the first two women were elected to the Durham city council. These two women were Kathrine Robinson Everett and Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans. 1951 also brought about the first election of a Jewish man, Mayor Emanuel J. “Mutt” Evans. Two years later in 1953, Rencher Nicholas Harris was the first black man to be elected to the Durham city council. It was this shifting culture in Durham that encouraged us to delve into the political scene of this city during this time and understand how these diverse identities achieved political positions of power.
This website will allow you as the viewer to engage in a number of ways with the early 1950s Durham elections. Firstly, an accessible timeline will allow users of the site to track the lives of Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans, Kathrine Robinson Everett, Emanuel Evans, and Rencher Nicholas Harris before, during, and after the important elections of the early 1950s. This format provides an accurate and neatly legible chain of events that occurred in the lives and elections of these new demographic identities. Images are embedded within many of the timeline entries to enhance the information provided for each important event to more critically engage the audience in our research interest.
We have also reconstructed the precinct polling data during these election years using a precinct map in Durham in the 1950s. We formatted the election results for 1951 and 1953 in a user-friendly table for all political races that include our candidates of interest to show the trends in different precincts that allow the viewer to interpret what the data means. We have also published a map that considers the Durham of the 1950s versus the Durham of today. Both of these formats include the viewer in the conversation regarding understanding which populations were most likely going to vote for minority identities like women, a black man, and a Jewish man during this era. We are hoping to connect these electoral results to certain sectors of the community with other minority identities or families who see the importance of embracing diversity and inclusion in the political framework of Durham.
Our last portion of this project will be to give a brief overview of each of these political voices during the 1950s to contextualize their platforms with a shifting Durham. We believe that this will allow the audience to understand the importance of learning about these figures and the history surrounding the lives, of Semans, Everett, Evans, and Harris. This will include information about how their lives led them to their political backgrounds, what they did while in positions of political power, and what their activism looked like after their terms on the Durham political scene ended. In order to obtain this information, we have incorporated a variety of primary sources including a plethora of information from the Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library archives as well as local newspapers like The Durham Morning Herald and The Carolina Times to contribute a number of diverse voices to this investigation of the Durham political scene in the early 1950s.
We were so fortunate to engage with so many valuable primary sources throughout this research process. We therefore recognize the importance of citing all of this information to inspire future researchers to continue learning about this fascinating shift in Durham politics. Everything presented in the “Election Data” and “People” sections has been cited by footnotes attached to the bottom of the page to ensure that all of the information we analyzed has been based in primary source-work. The “Timeline” portion of our website includes the citations for every entry, linking the increased representation of identities in Durham to the rich photos we compiled during the research process. Through all of this information, we hope to shed some light on an important era in Durham in a way that is both publicly accessible and interactive!