Made in Durham

Exploring the Effects of Homicide, Incarceration and Urban Renewal in Durham, N.C., Across a Decade


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Fireworks boom over Durham, North Carolina, long after the bust of its tobacco industry.

It’s July Fourth and the Bull City revels in its renaissance. But blocks from Duke University, the food truck rodeos, and the old tobacco factories remade into bars and businesses, a gunshot breaks the night. 

Saddled with criminal records and locked out of jobs, adrift between boredom and fear and survival, young black men sell drugs and release their self-hatred by annihilating each other. Homicide is the fruit of economic isolation and a code of street justice entrenched when the law fails to protect their community. In 2013, it was the leading cause of death for African-American males ages 15-49 in this Durham. Their murders go unsolved and their mothers grieve to death; their children grow up without dads and wander toward their same fate. One bullet tears through a generation.

As young people flock to one Durham and developers remake it in their image, another Durham scarred by segregation fights for the right to exist and struggles to keep its young people alive. As condos sprout from the rubble of blighted neighborhoods, as affordable housing grows scarce, we wonder: What will Durham become? Where do we go from here? And, how do we lead the way forward?

Welcome to our Anytown, USA, where America functions as designed. But America isn't beyond redemption, and neither are Durham's boys. From the graveyard to the jail, from church basements to the street corners, our mothers, ministers, teachers, neighbors and community leaders gather in grief and solidarity. They improvise their own ways to deliver the next generation to The Promised Land. It’s an American story made in Durham.


“Since Ray been murdered, I have nightmares. I dream of him in the morgue, and when they are cutting his body I wake up because I can feel the knife cutting me,” says Joslin Simms, who weeps at the corner of Broad and Leon Streets in Durham where her son Rayburn, 30, was shot to death on May 21, 2005. The case remains unsolved. Ray left behind four kids and a mother destroyed by his absence. Nationally, the leading cause of death for black males ages 15-34 is homicide. Durham is 40 percent African-American, and similarly, homicide was the leading cause of death for black males ages 15-49 in Durham in 2013, according to police and to The North Carolina State center for Health Statistics.


"I just want to go dig up his body so I can touch his face one more time," says Joslin at her son's grave in Beechwood Cemetery in 2007.


Durham Police Officer Jeff Love discovers a concealed handgun during the search of a car in 2005. According to police, there were 37 homicides in Durham in 2005. Two were considered justifiable, and 27 of the 35 criminal homicides (77 percent) were committed with a firearm. Similar statistical patterns persist in the years since.


Bloodstains remain hours after an overnight shooting death in East Durham.


Gangs function as families for many. Young Crips gather in a circle to remember a fallen brother by spilling liquor.


Photo 1: Crosses from a memorial to unsolved homicide victims stacked inside Shepherd’s House United Methodist Church in East Durham in 2013. There were 30 homicides in Durham in 2013. The majority of the victims and alleged offenders were black males. Shepherd’s House UMC is highly active in promoting peace and reconciliation in Durham.

Photo 2: Dennis Lamb, 23, was shot to death on Wabash Street near McDougald Terrace, Aug. 7, 2012. Nearly a year after his death, the teddy bears marking where he died are falling apart.


Kalin Swinney pauses by his the casket of his first cousin, 9-year-old Jaeden Sharpe, after his committal ceremony at Beechwood Cemetery. Jaeden was shot in the head as he sat with his mother in their car near their home on Jan. 4, 2014, and died Jan. 9. His murder was the first of 2014 in Durham.


Locals, led by Pastor Sanders Tate of Mt. Gilead Baptist Church, pray for peace at an East Durham intersection at the beginning of the 2013 school year.


A squirt-gun war breaks out before a foot race outside of Fullsteam Brewery at the edge of the gentrifying Cleveland-Holloway and Old Five Points neighborhoods in Northeast Central Durham. Once riddled with vacant and abandoned homes and lots, the area is rapidly changing, but many wonder, “Into what?”


Demolition and construction continues in Durham's Southside neighborhood. Nonprofits have partnered with the City of Durham to reclaim land in the neighborhood for an urban renewal project. The goal is to build nicer and affordable low-income housing and revitalize the area. Some are excited about a fresh start for the neighborhood, with homes starting at $160,000. But other Southside residents don’t think the price is affordable and are weary of gentrification and urban infill in their proud, historically black neighborhood. They look to past urban renewal projects in Durham, including the construction of the Durham Freeway, that they believe dislocated a once centralized and vibrant black community. Many residents dub these projects “Urban Removal.”


A man who calls himself "Lil' Salt" flexes in triumph after climbing the corner store dressed as Spider-Man during Halloween festivities in Durham's Southside neighborhood. The Southside has persisted despite violence in the past decade, but is changing rapidly under the City of Durham's redevelopment plans.


On house arrest for failing to pay his restitution, Rashard Johnson is afraid to set off his monitoring anklet so he keeps one foot in the house while he smokes a cigarette. Rashard grew up without a dad, and his mother struggled to make ends meet. By 18 he had been convicted of several nonviolent property crime felonies. In 2012, when this image was taken, he had escaped gang life and wanted to start over, but was fettered by his past and debts owed from his crimes. As a felon, he faced employment, education and housing discrimination, could not vote and struggled for stability. Without an education or a job, Rashard couldn't repay his debt.


Rashard kisses his girlfriend Cheyenne after they were apart for several weeks in 2012. They eventually broke up because of the instability caused by Rashard's criminal record. In the second image, Rashard is at the Durham County Detention Center after being arrested for cutting off his house arrest ankle monitor, violating his probation and going on the run for more than two months.


In 2015 Rashard begins to slowly piece his life back together as he works on a construction crew with New Beginnings, a faith-based nonprofit that helps the recently incarcerated find work and stability.


Joslin Simms recovers at Duke Hospital after a stroke in 2015. The stress of her grief weighs on her constantly. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry found "strokes were more common among those with stressful lives and high-strung personalities, even after controlling for risk factors like smoking and diabetes."


Gloria Streeter's funeral, August 2014. Gloria died after complications from a stroke. Her son, Maurice, was killed in April 2013. Her family will tell you she never got over her son's death and a broken heart contributed to her demise.


Bonnie Turner remembers his son, Jeremy "J-Berg" Lamar Turner, who was shot to death May 17, 2011, when he was 19 years old. Here, she remembers Jeremy on July 22, 2013, which would have been his 22nd birthday, at a vigil at the family home on Gerard Street in Durham, where about 100 friends and family gathered. The Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham holds vigils at the site of each homicide in Durham as a call for peace, community unity, healing and justice.


Community is formed from grief as mothers laugh and weep when they remember their murdered sons and daughters during a meeting of Circle of Hope and Healing, held for grieving parents by The Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham at Shepherd's House United Methodist Church in East Durham.


Shae Simms gave birth to a son, Bryson DeMarcus Simms, named after her murdered father Rayburn Antonio DeMarcus Simms, at Duke Regional Hospital in Durham in July 2014.


Young men revel along Fayetteville Street during Hillside High School's homecoming parade. Hillside has a predominantly African-American student population and serves many low-income communities in east and south Durham. Hillside once had graduation rates as low as 50 percent but has improved to 83 percent.


Joslin Simms’ granddaughter, Raven (Ray’s daughter), shows off her senior prom dress to Joslin and her mother, Sheila, in 2013.


A summer storm rolls in over Angier Avenue and Driver Street in East Durham at sunset.



A Few Words From the Photographer

Justin Cook on the history of this project