Bring African American Performance Art to Life at the Hayti Heritage Center
Durham, NC 27701
It is impossible to miss the grand steeple topped with a Haitian vevè and the elegant stained glass windows of the Hayti Heritage Center as you walk down Fayetteville Street. Once the home to the congregation of the historic St. Joseph’s AME Church, the Center’s mission is now “to preserve and advance the heritage and culture of the historic Hayti neighborhood and the African American experience through cultural arts and education programs.”
The church was built in 1891, and for many decades it was a gathering place for African Americans, an institution of faith and a strategic locus and stepping off point for civil rights organizing and protest actions. After urban renewal decimated the neighborhood, the congregation decided to move and built a new church just over a mile further south on Fayetteville Street closer to North Carolina Central University.
However, culture and arts now enliven the original church building, which transformed into the Hayti Heritage Center in 1975. Core programs include classes and presentations of visual arts, performing arts, film, storytelling, and poetry that bring the Center’s mission to life. The Hayti Heritage Film Festival (HHFF) keeps Black Southern film alive by featuring outstanding filmwork from the African diaspora; it is one of the nation’s longest-running Black film festivals. The Bull Durham Blues Festival, the annual Kwanzaa Celebrations, and the Afrofuturism conference are woven together with exhibits and a concert series that brings world-renowned musicians to the Center’s historic performance hall.
Managed by the St. Joseph’s Historical Foundation, the Center remains an agent of social change by fostering cross-cultural understanding between historically marginalized communities and promoting intercultural awareness. The sounds of African drumming and dance, slam poetry, and jazz concerts reverberate through these halls, inviting all of us to embrace the experiences of Black Americans and preserve the African American culture that is central to Durham’s history.