Friday, September 13, 2013

The Seeds of Durham’s Transformation of North Carolina – Part 2 of 3

Led by Thomas Yancey (T.Y. or Yancey) Milburn, in a few years a group called the Durham Committee of 100 set the stage for the transformation of Durham and North Carolina from tobacco and textiles.

This occurred long before their demise was evident.

The Committee of 100 was formed by Milburn and a few others after he retired here in 1950.  It operated until 1962 when it was voluntarily disbanded,  mission accomplished.

Born in Kentucky and a WWI veteran like Willie Carver, T.Y. was no stranger to Durham.  In the early 1900s, when he was a boy, his father Frank spent time here while the architect for Southern Railway on construction of Union Depot.

While here, the Milburns would have also witnessed the first emergence of Durham’s “Black Wall Street” a little more than a block away.  Frank also took time to design the President’s House at the University of North Carolina in nearby Chapel Hill.

In the period just before T.Y. Milburn set off to “Make The World Safe for Democracy” in the War to End All Wars, he graduated from UNC.

On his return, the younger Milburn stopped in Durham to marry the daughter of one of J.B. Duke’s former officials, W.J. O’Brien, and then joined his father’s D.C.-based firm.

Soon, the couple moved back to Durham so T.Y. could oversee a number of Durham projects, including the the Carolina Theater, Durham County Courthouse, Durham High School (now Durham School for the Arts) and what is now King’s Daughters Inn.

The young couple settled into Durham’s historic Morehead Hill at a time when the population of Durham was in the process of more than doubling over the course of a decade from 21,719 in 1920 to 52,037 in 1930.

The young Milburns erected a historic home across Vickers Avenue from what is now Greystone Inn & Conference Center and just behind the repurposed Morehead Manor Bed & Breakfast

T.Y. would have approved that Durham’s transformation over the past two decades into a visitor destination is also helping the community preserve and sustain its history and sense of place.

During this stint in Durham, T.A. would have also witnessed the erection of Duke Chapel and West Campus.  He would have been in awe of the Duke family, who earlier had not only transformed Durham following the Civil War, but aided entrepreneurship in the black community, as reflected by “Black Wall Street.”

Now J.B. Duke was setting the stage for yet another transformation by endowing what would become one of the world’s great universities including one of the most renowned medical teaching and research centers.

At this time, T.A Milburn would have also met another professional his age, Bill Umstead, a Durham native and its newly elected District Attorney.

The relationship would soon prove pivotal to North Carolina’s future.

Following his retirement In 1950, Milburn and his family returned to Durham for good.  They settled in historic Forest Hills which was evolving during their stint here in the 1920s.  They built a more modernist house, a few blocks from where I live.

With old friends, he helped found the Durham Committee of 100 which he would soon lead.  In just twelve years, the group quickly forged three new tools to economically transform Durham and North Carolina:

DIDO provided the template by which Durham local government has facilitated supply-driven economic development over the years, both via internal agencies and via contracts with numerous non-profits including Downtown Durham Inc. and the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce.

Even though it remains largely unheralded, The Durham Committee of 100 in general, and specifically T.Y. Milburn, George Watts Hill and Governor Bill Umstead, arguably had as much or more than any other group or individuals to do with development of Research Triangle Park, as the mid-century cornerstone for the economic transformation of Durham and North Carolina.

Umstead grew up in rural northern Durham, a contemporary of Willie Carver.  He and Milburn were classmates at UNC and all three had served in the Great War, Umstead in Europe with a machine gun battalion.

Hill was just a few years behind them in age but would have known Carver and Umstead in their early years when he and his grandfather John Sprunt Hill would often take him the 12 mile carriage ride to a hunting lodge there holding rights over 3,000 acres of north Durham.

The was “deep country” and remains so.  Later the younger Hill and his wife Ann converted 1,800 acres into growing prize-winning Guernsey dairy cattle and thoroughbred horses including racers, jumpers and steeplechasers.

They would have all crossed paths again as young professionals during Millburn’s incredibly productive stint in Durham in the 1920s.  Hill would have introduced them to the visionary thinking of a new professor and researcher at UNC, Howard W. Odum, a Georgian who was founding what what has become the Odum Institute.

Soon Odum began to promote a vision that would radically transform Durham and North Carolina, the notion of a research park equidistant from three research universities - Duke in Durham, UNC in Chapel Hill and NC State in Raleigh.

Odum also felt it should also be near the airport then being jointly-developed between the co-owing communities of Durham and Raleigh.  The professor obviously knew how to put strategic into thinking.

Elected governor in 1952, Umstead immediately set out to dramatically retool the division of commerce and industry in the NC Department of Conservation and Development, populating it with Odum disciples and challenging them to implement Odum’s vision.

Umstead, who died in office in late 1954 should also be remembered for how he responded to the public school integration required by the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education.

He didn’t stonewall as some try to do with healthcare reform today.  Governor Umstead immediately formed a statewide, bi-racial commission to recommend how integration might best be accomplished.

Umstead also made a huge impression on Terry Sanford, a young North Carolina state senator at the time who would go on to nominate John F.Kennedy for president, serve as governor himself during the latter years of the Durham Committee of 100, then president of Duke University and as a U.S. Senator.

Odum, who had also documented the early days of the civil rights movement, died four days after Umstead, but the ball was already rolling to transform North Carolina socially and economically.

It was clear to those implementing Odum’s vision for the research park that the campus would best be located in an area of southeast Durham farmland and pinelands between downtown and the airport.

Individuals who frequented the commerce division’s offices in the early to mid-1950s when implementation of Odum’s research park was under discussion included T.Y Milburn, a Durham friend of Governor Umstead’s, and Romeo Guest, a Georgia construction executive scouting for business leads after relocating his headquarters to Greensboro.

Hearing that Commerce officials were zeroing in on southeast Durham for the project, Guest who is credited with coining the name the name “Research Triangle Park” by inserting the word Triangle to signify the three universities, set out to make it a private venture.

This failed in part because North Carolina had just experienced a recession in 1954 and was lurching toward a deeper one in 1958.

But simultaneously, Durham officials were hard at work on a more hybrid public-private approach, which would ultimately succeed.

To be continued…

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