Durham in auction season: Let the carnival begin

“A popularly circulated saying about warehouse people was that ‘they work like hell, drink like hell, and loaf like hell.’ But the long months of loafing came to an end when Durham’s warehouse district woke up and the auction season began.

” ‘During these busy days,’ [Leonard] Rapport observed [circa 1940], ‘shooting galleries, medicine shows, sidewalk preachers, string bands, 10¢ photographers, beggars, and flimflammers have established themselves along Rigsbee Avenue or on its cross streets.’

“Rapport vividly described the intensity of the warehouse district at night: ‘All during the night — warm for November — the streets are alive with men. The cafes are filled. Shooting galleries and fruit stands stay open until one and two or later. There is a movement of men walking, riding; and all-night stirring; slow talk, laughter, lights, shouts of drunks, music of guitars, radios, shouting of doormen, the rumble of a heavy truck on the wooden drive.’ ”

— From “Reasons to Talk About Tobacco” by Pete Daniel in the Journal of American History (December 2009)

Leonard Rapport, a Durham native and UNC graduate (’35), joined the Federal Writers’ Project to collect the life stories of tobacco warehouse workers. As this passage suggests, his eye for the scene was remarkable.

Rapport left his papers to the Southern Historical Collection, where they are being processed.

 

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