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Exhibit Overview


Making A Way Out of No Way brings lesser-known histories about Stagville descendants to light. Through this exhibit, we invite you to explore how formerly enslaved folks and their descendants contributed to the making of early Durham and its surrounding areas from the post-Emancipation era until around the 1930s. Many of these contributions are still reverberating today. The findings we have uncovered for use in this exhibit will be relied upon for other forthcoming exhibits and the creation of public art in Durham. 

The exhibit is divided into the following sections: 

Introduction: Here you can learn more about Stagville Plantation, how slavery impacted folks there, and the founding of early Black neighborhoods
Descendant Spotlight: A few Stagville descendants who contributed to the strength of their community
Family Photos: Photos submitted by living descendants of their relatives to help bring the discussed themes to life
Exhibit Narratives: Stories of how descendants shaped Durham in the areas of culture, economy, education, and politics
Timeline: Events related to local and national histories for a broader historical context 

Right:  Map of Durham plantations and surrounding areas, 1887. 

Courtesy of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Cameron Plantation 1887 Map



By 1865, around 900 people had built their lives and families as best they could while enslaved by Paul Cameron and his relatives on the 30,000 acres of Stagville and Fairntosh Plantations. Although this exhibit mainly focuses on the lives and legacies of formerly enslaved people after Emancipation, some background on their experience while enslaved will provide context.

Many families lived in Horton Grove, a group of four two-story homes with eight rooms each, with one source noting that as many as 40 people could have lived together in each house. Enslaved people built the houses themselves, although under the direction of Paul Cameron for the design. The fingerprints of adults and children remain in the bricks of a Horton Grove chimney: the builders left their marks on their homes.

In oral histories completed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the 1930s, formerly enslaved men Doc Edwards, Abner Jordan, and Cy Hart discussed the kinds of jobs that enslaved people did at Stagville. Enslaved people worked to grow, harvest, and process wheat—the main crop—into flour with a machine. Abner Jordan’s father, Obed, was a blacksmith, and would have worked making nails and other metal farming tools. Doc Edwards stated, "We had big work shops where we made all the tools." After the wheat harvest concluded in the fall, Doc Edwards noted they used hand looms with cotton to make "the cloth that was to make the clothes for [enslaved people] to wear." Edwards also mentioned there was a cobbler's shop, where the cobbler made wooden soled shoes. A blacksmith, like Obed Jordan, would use a strip of metal to secure the sole to the shoe. Some people continued working in the jobs they learned at Stagville after they were emancipated and migrated from the plantation.

The men interviewed in the WPA Slave Narratives did not focus on domestic work at Stagville or provide much insight about their personal lives or opinions. However, historians have noted that enslaved people who lived and worked in the enslavers' home, rather than working in the fields and living in their own quarters, could have felt more psychologically trapped because they were under more constant scrutiny. When Edwards was a cook and "houseman," he said, "My health failed from doing so much work in the house and so I would go for a couple of hours each and work in the field to be outdoors and get well again." Edwards and Jordan also told similar stories about how there were so many people enslaved at Stagville that Cameron did not recognize everyone by name: when they were outside of Cameron's or his overseers' view, in their homes at Horton Grove, this anonymity might have given them a little more independence.

Enslaved people at Stagville, other than trying to have what little independence they could in their homes at Horton Grove, also found community and hope in practicing faith. Either during or shortly after the end of slavery, they established Cameron Grove Baptist Church at Stagville. As more people moved away from Stagville to nearby Bragtown, the church also moved there.

After Emancipation, whether they stayed at Stagville, migrated to nearby rural communities like Bragtown, or settled farther into Durham, the portion of their lives as enslaved people left a mark like a fingerprint on brick: they carried on the desire to help their families and build independent communities.

A dramatic reading of an interview with WPA worker Daisy Whaley and Abner Jordan between 1936 and 1938. Original transcript courtesy of the Library of Congress, reading courtesy of the Museum of Durham History and North Carolina Central University.  

 Images of Stagville State Historic Site. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.


Some newly emancipated families, like Emma and Dempsey Henderson, sought new dwellings away from their former enslavers right away in 1865. The Hendersons bought land in what would later become the West End neighborhood, including what is now Maplewood Cemetery. Others continued living and working on Cameron’s land as free people. Some stayed there for decades in the homes their ancestors had built at Horton Grove. Some moved later during Reconstruction, forming what would later become Durham neighborhoods like West End, East End, and Hayti, as well as others, or developing communities like Bragtown that would eventually be annexed by Durham. Whether they stayed or moved, they kept the community ties they had built during slavery.

Each section of this exhibit to follow demonstrates the continuing connections among Stagville descendants, as family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers, for decades to come during a period of intense growth for Durham, amidst both oppression and opportunity.

DURHAM FROM 1884 TO 1913

This map shows the digitized Sanborn® maps available for Durham, NC as neighborhoods developed from 1884 to 1913. For instructions on how to change backgrounds or map overlays, click the "i" button in the top right corner of the interactive map. Courtesy of UNC Chapel Hill.

Durham racial demographics 1897

This chart was made by researchers for this exhibit with statistics from the 1897 City Directory. The labels show the number of Black and white residents per neighborhood. 868 Black people lived in Hayti, with only 11 white neighbors.

Descendant Spotlight



These descendants’ stories relate to the exhibit’s themes of Durham’s early culture, economy, education, and politics through family records and other primary documents. 

Scroll through and click to learn more about family members from six different lineages at Stagville

Charles Amey Portrait


Tree Lined Path


Inez Cleopratra Suitt Yearbook Photo



Click on the camera icon below to view the full collection of images from descendant relatives and project contributors

Want to contribute to our spotlights
or photo album? Email us here

Exhibit Narratives


Select a tab to read about Stagville descendants' lives post-Emancipation via our thematic groupings



Stagville descendants played a significant role in the founding of some of Durham's Black churches in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Either during or shortly after the end of slavery, descendants established Cameron Grove Baptist Church at Stagville. As more people moved away from Stagville to nearby Bragtown, the church also moved there in 1901.

In 1883, David Justice, Charles Amey, Cornelius? Jordan, and Jasper Jones transferred some of their land to Robert Justice and Frank Davis, the deacons of the Colored Primitive Baptist Church. That church was also one of the temporary locations of the first Black school in Durham before it became permanent as the Whitted School in a different location. Cornelius Jordan also deeded land to the "trustees of the Colored Missionary Baptist Church" in 1877, which would become the location of White Rock Baptist Church. These two churches served as places of worship in the Hayti community until they were both demolished as part of urban renewal in 1967.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at White Rock Baptist Church 1960

Images from the White Rock Baptist Church's history. In 1960,  after sit-in demonstrations began in Greensboro, NC, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously delivered his "A Creative Protest" speech at the church. Dr. King traveled to Durham instead of Greensboro to deliver the speech following the invitation of Reverend Moore, a former graduate classmate of King's. In the speech, King urged Black demonstrators to be willing "to fill up the jails of the South." Courtesy of the North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives at UNC Chapel Hill and David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.




This timeline discusses the history of post-Emancipation Black life locally and nationally, highlighting the contributions of Stagville descendants to these events and providing context for the exhibit narratives.

Click on the arrows to move forward or backward through events

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