Tag Archives: durham history

Blue Devils’ Blue Light

Post contributed by Josh Larkin Rowley, Reference Archivist for the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History

Spend a moment chatting with me and there’s one thing you’ll likely learn: I really like beer. Since my arrival in Durham nearly a decade ago, I’ve spent an uncomfortable amount of my income at Sam’s Quik Shop. It’s changed a lot since my time here—expanded indoor space, the addition of outdoor seating, a less surly staff. However, it has always been a hub for me, a family-owned bottle shop that still feels like the Durham I met years ago. In an evolving cityscape featuring more new high-rise condominiums than personality these days, Sam’s is iconic. Like many local beer drinkers, I was stunned but not altogether surprised by the news that the bottle shop will close at the end of the month and the property sold. As a beer-loving member of the Duke community I started thinking about what Sam’s, in all its historical iterations, has meant to generations of Duke students. Taking advantage of resources available in the Duke University Archives we catch a glimpse of the evolution of Sam’s and a feeling for what the institution meant to generations of Duke students.

Sam’s Quik Shop ad from the July 12, 1976 Chronicle. The ad shows an illustration of Uncle Sam driving a car and text about the Quik Stop's hours, products, and address.
Sam’s Quik Shop ad from July 12, 1976 Chronicle

In the 1950s, when the Woman’s College was still active, codes of conduct choreographed interactions between men and women on campus. Consequently, students sought friendly establishments off campus where they could socialize freely. One of these was Sam’s Blue Light Basement, named after the hit song “The House of the Blue Lights,” which opened its doors in 1954 to students eager for a new nightlife spot in the city. Modeled on the German Rathskeller, students could dance to juke box tunes, drink beer, and mingle in proximity to the opposite sex, all without the heavy hand of administrative oversight. In a 1981 profile of Sam’s Quik Shop in The Chronicle, owner Sam Boy spoke fondly of current Duke students who tell him that their parents “came a courtin’” to the Blue Light years earlier.

While the basement boomed, the ground floor Blue Light Cafe thrived as well, with locals and students alike lining up for the drive-up food delivery. During the annual Joe College celebration, a mainstay of every Duke students’ social calendar in the 1950s, students found the time between scheduled events for a trip to the Cafe. “At 5 the lawn concert breaks up . . . a quick stop at the Blue Light for an in-car supper,” reads a poetic homage to Joe College weekend in the 1955 Chanticleer. The in-car service was so popular that by the 1960s local police were required to direct traffic on busy weekends. “Cars were lined up outside looking for a place to park,” Sam Boy remembered. In 1974, Sam and his wife Gerry converted part of the business into a convenience store, changing the name to Sam’s Quik Shop, while retaining the neon Blue Light sign that adorned the facade.

The Quik Shop became a one-stop establishment for anything one might need. From convenience store staples to automotive supplies, the Quik Shop had it all. However, alongside the self-serve carwash, books and newspapers, and VHS rentals (over 3,400 titles!), beer was the most prominent feature of their offerings. Sharing shelf space with standard brands like Miller, Budweiser, and for those with an aversion to beer, Bartles and Jaymes and a large selection of wines, the Quik shop also stocked less familiar names and imports like Old Peculiar, Glacier Bay, Chihuahua, and Sol. “That’s our drawing card as opposed to the supermarkets,” noted a prescient Sam Boy in 1981. Sam’s found its niche.

By 1984, a legal drinking age of 21 put beer drinking by law-abiding college students out of reach. However, thanks to advances in home computing technology and photo editing software, a surfeit of fake IDs hit the nightlife scene in the late 1990s. During this scourge of lawlessness, many Durham drinking establishments reported an increase in fake ID confiscation—IDs most easily identified by their atrocious quality. Sam’s on the other hand reported a decline in the number of fake IDs. “Usually we have a whole wall full by the end of the semester,” exclaimed Robert Clark, a Sam’s clerk in 1999. “Right now, we only have four or five.” (If you were one of those lucky students publicly shamed on the walls of Sam’s circa 1999, let us know!).

Sam’s Quik Shop ad from the November 11, 1988 Chronicle. Ad shows a map of Sam's location and information about the products they carry.
Sam’s Quik Shop ad from the November 11, 1988 Chronicle

“It has been said that one cannot stand in the way of progress,” began an editorial by student Marc Weinstein in the October 5, 1990 issue of The Chronicle. The extension of the 147 Expressway to the west turned the area around Sam’s Quik Shop into a construction and traffic nightmare that affected the livelihood of the family-owned business. While approving of necessary infrastructure improvements, Weinstein went on to say that he equally liked Sam’s Quik Shop. “I like being able to snatch a 6-pack of Colt 45 . . . rent Breakin’ II: Electric Boogaloo, and grab some hot pork rinds at 10 on a Friday night,” said the Trinity senior. Weinstein vowed to contribute in some small way to ensuring the survival of this “shoppers paradise” by making extra trips to the Quik Shop each week. His fear, surely shared by many, was that the institution would go the way of Pete Rinaldi’s Chicken Palace, a beloved eatery on 9th Street.

Alas, progress has finally caught up to Sam’s Quik Shop. As another Durham landmark is swapped for clean, commodious living, let us—Durhamites and Duke students alike—mourn the loss of one of the city’s most enduring locales . . . over a beer, of course.

Notes from Durham’s Musical Past: Polonaises and Mazurkas on Main Street

Post contributed by Paula Jeannet Mangiafico, Visual Materials Processing Archivist

There are many music-related collections in the Rubenstein Library, but the Gilmore Ward Bryant papers are special to the history of Durham, North Carolina.  This small collection of diaries, photographs, school records, and sheet music documents a time when turn-of-the-century citizens held cultural aspirations that included unleashing the terpsichorean muse on Durham—hoping perhaps that arpeggios and arias would temper the roughness of the tobacco town (population 18,241 in 1910).

Enter Gilmore Ward Bryant, born in 1859 and raised in Bethel, Vermont.

Gilmore W. Bryant, circa 1870, from the Gilmore Ward Bryant papers

After a successful musical career in New England and Virginia, he was reportedly lured to the Southern upstart town of Durham by the Duke family, who financed the design and construction for what was to become the Southern Conservatory of Music.  Finished in 1898, the grand Italianate-style building stood on the corner of Main and Duke Street, across from the Liggett Myers Building, on land that today belongs to the Brightleaf Square parking lot.

Here is a view of the Conservatory.  This is what you would have seen if you stood at Toreros Mexican restaurant and looked across the street:

Conservatory Calendar, 1920-1921, Gilmore Ward Bryant papers

Its auditorium, practice rooms, and parlors were classically grand in scale—the reverberations must have been amazing, to say the least:

Conservatory Calendar, 1920-1921, Gilmore Ward Bryant papers
Gilmore Ward Bryant, circa 1920, Conservatory Calendar, 1920-1921

“G.W.” Bryant served as Director of the Conservatory, and along with his partner and wife, Mattie Emily Bullard Bryant, the head of the Voice Department (his daughter-in-law also taught piano), kept the undoubtedly expensive venture thriving for many decades.  The school was a huge success, hosting large concerts, alumni dinners, and recitals several times a year.

Bryant was also a composer, penning scores as early as 1895 and continuing into the 1930s.  He wrote and published many pieces, including a “Tiny Waltz” and another piece entitled “Topsy Turvy.”

Sheet Music Series, Gilmore Bryant papers
Sheet Music Series, Gilmore Ward Bryant papers

Eventually, perhaps due to a familiar pattern of rising downtown rents, the Bryants laid the cornerstone for a new Conservatory on South Alston Avenue, then open countryside, in summer 1923, and the old Conservatory was demolished in 1924.  Bryant’s wife writes in her 1923 diary on December 31: “Went up & thru the old Conservatory— was terrible—nearly dropped to pieces.”

Today Durham hosts several music schools, but the era of grand edifices and classical conservatory training has yet to return.  In the meantime, we applaud the Bryants’ vision for and dedication to their adopted Southern hometown.  Luckily, some of the Conservatory’s records and the Bryant family’s personal papers and photographs have been preserved for researchers at the Durham County Library and the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscripts Library.  You can see the inventory for the Rubenstein collection here:

http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/findingaids/bryantgilmore/

(Thanks to the Open Durham and Durham County Library websites for background information.)

 

Author Scott Ellsworth on “The Secret Game”

Date: Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Time: 4:00 p.m.
Location: Edge Workshop Room, Bostock Library
Contact: Valerie Gillispie, valerie.gillispie@duke.edu or 919-684-8929

Cover of "The Secret Game" by Scott EllsworthPlease join us on Tuesday, March 31, at 4:00 p.m. for a special reading by historian and Duke alumnus Scott Ellsworth. He will be reading from his new book The Secret Game: A Wartime Story of Courage, Change, and Basketball’s Lost Triumph.

The Secret Game tells the incredible story of a Sunday morning in 1944 when the all-white Duke University military team from the Medical School traveled across town to North Carolina Central College for Negroes (now North Carolina Central University) and played a secret interracial basketball game. Under legendary coach John McLendon, the NCCU Eagles won the match-up. The players then continued to socialize and play a pick-up game that mixed players from each team.

Scott EllsworthAgainst the backdrop of World War II and the Jim Crow South, Ellsworth explores the way this extraordinary game came about, what it meant for the players involved, and how the details of this game were forgotten—and remembered. Ellsworth conducted research in the Duke University Archives, Duke University Medical Center Archives, and NCCU archives in writing the book.

Ellsworth will be introduced by Timothy B. Tyson, Duke University faculty member and author of Blood Done Sign My Name. The event will be followed by a book signing and reception in the Edge Lounge. Copies of The Secret Game will be available for sale by the Gothic Bookshop.

This event is sponsored by the Duke University Archives, the Center for Documentary Studies, the Gothic Bookshop, the Duke University Libraries, and the Office of Public Affairs and Government Relations.

Post contributed by Valerie Gillispie, Duke University Archivist.

Wense Grabarek in the First Person

The 50th anniversary of a key moment in the desegregation of Durham, North Carolina came and went largely without fanfare last month.  It was in May 1963 that, amid growing racial discord in the city, Mayor Wense Grabarek prevailed upon business and community leaders, black and white alike, to cooperate in desegregating the city. The mayor was in an unusual position: having held office for less than a day when a series of sit-ins around Durham resulted in 130 arrests, Grabarek’s first task upon being sworn in was to stop a riot at the jail. Achieving this by letting supporters deliver sandwiches and cigarettes to the jailed protesters, he then turned his attention to the NAACP and CORE, who promised mass demonstrations in the wake of the arrests. Jean Anderson, in Durham County: A History of Durham County, North Carolina, tells the story this way:

He went in person, a slight, dapper man, always with a red carnation in his lapel, to a meeting of protesters, one thousand strong, held at Saint Joseph’s A.M.E. Church.  Habitually soft-spoken and immensely polite, he asked permission to enter and address them.  Then, pointing out that by their demonstrations they had informed the community of their deeply felt grievances, he spoke about the danger of racial tension and division and promised to take positive steps to respond to their complaints.  Finally, he asked for their support and understanding.  Impressed by his coming, his tone, his words, they accepted his sincerity and promised to halt demonstrations and give the mayor time to act on his promises.

Mayor Grabarek formed the Durham Interim Committee to reconcile the community’s opposing groups, in so doing acknowledging the damage of segregation and the real possibility that Jim Crow could prevent Durham from realizing its potential, particularly given the economic promise of the newly formed Research Triangle Park. The efforts of Grabarek and of the leaders appointed to the Committee allowed Durham a degree of progress that eluded many other southern cities.

Wense Grabarek addressing the congregation at St. Joseph's AME Church, May 1963.
Wense Grabarek addressing the congregation at St. Joseph’s AME Church, May 1963.

A modest man and a successful accountant who continues to work full time six days a week, Wense Grabarek is now 93 years old and eager to add his perspective to the history of Durham, the adopted hometown that called him mayor from 1963 to 1971. To this end he has donated to the Rubenstein Library a number of recorded interviews he has given since the early 2000s, as part of a larger collection of papers that he is gathering for donation later this summer. You can check out the finding aid for the interviews here.

Wense Grabarek in conversation with Tim Tyson, Sept. 2011
Wense Grabarek in conversation with Tim Tyson, Sept. 2011

The recordings include an interview with Steven Channing for his documentary Durham: A Self Portrait, an 8-hour conversation with author and scholar Tim Tyson detailing his work as mayor, and, presented here, with the permission of WTVD, an interview with Angela Hampton on the events of May 1963:

An oral history has been scheduled with Mr. Grabarek in July, and this time the interviewer will be the Rubenstein Library. We hope to learn more about the mayor’s life before and after the 1960s, including his experiences as a soldier in World War II and the philanthropic work he and his wife have done over the years in education.

Post contributed by Craig Breaden, Audiovisual Materials Archivist in the Technical Services Dept.

The Power of This Story: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality in Durham 1960-1990

Whole Women Carologue

 

The Sallie Bingham Center has partnered with the Women’s Studies Senior Seminar to present a series of public conversations exploring how social change happened here in Durham. Each panel features individuals and representatives of organizations whose papers are held by the Bingham Center.  Please note the different locations for each panel.

 

 

Panel 1:

Joanne Abel, YWCA’s Women Center, Triangle Area Lesbian Feminists, and War Resisters League
Barb Smalley, Ladyslipper Music
David Jolly, NC Lesbian and Gay Health Project

Date: Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Time: 5:30-6:30 p.m. (Reception to follow)
Where: East Duke Parlors, East Campus, Duke University

 

Panel 2:

Jeanette Stokes, Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South
Kat Turner, Lesbian Health Resource Center and NC Lesbian and Gay Health Project
Donna Giles, Triangle Area Lesbian Feminists and Feminary

Date: Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Time: 5:30-6:30 p.m. (Reception to follow)
Where: Perkins Library, Room 217, West Campus, Duke University

 

Panel 3:

Mandy Carter, Southerners On New Ground (SONG) and War Resisters League
Caitlin Breedlove, Southerners on New Ground (SONG)
Steve Schewel, Founder, Independent Weekly

Date: Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Time:  5:30-6:30 p.m. (Reception to follow)
Where: Durham County Library, 300 N. Roxboro Street, Durham, NC

 

Sponsored by Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture, Rubenstein Library; Durham County Library; Duke Program in Women’s Studies; Vice Provost of Academic Affairs; the Pauli Murray Project; and in conjunction with Women’s Studies Senior Seminar.