Sunday, October 19, 2008

Getting to Know the Know Bookstore

Getting to Know the Know Bookstore:
Store to host Crystal Gail Mangum

Paul Scott

The Know Bookstore has been a vital part of Durham's African American community for over 20 years and has been a favorite stop off point for out of town connoisseurs of Afrocentric books. However, because reading and black folks are seen as oxymoronic by the mainstream and since there are no reports of Saturday night stabbings at the establishment , the Know Bookstore has gone virtually unnoticed by white America.

That is until it was recently announced that Crystal Gail Mangum, aka "The Duke Accuser" will unveil her book "the Last Dance for Grace" at the store on Thursday, October 23rd at a 10AM press conference.

In an exclusive interview with owner, Bruce Bridges, affectionately known in Durham's black community as "Brotha Bruce," No Warning Shots wanted to know why with all the scandal surrounding Crystal Mangum, would he hold her book debut, there?

"The Know Bookstore is a place where the Durham community can come to express their points of view where the major chains may shut them out," says Bridges.

That's true. As someone who has frequented "The Know" on a regular basis since 1991, I have been exposed to many different perspectives from visiting lecturers that I would not have gotten at one of those fancy bookstores in the mall. Also, although I attended a historically black college, North Carolina Central University, the bulk of my cultural awareness did not come from sitting in a classroom but by grabbing my usual ring side seat at the Know Bookstore at the popular Thursday night lecture series during the 1990's

Over the years the Know has been visited by such nationally renowned folks such as Andrew Young, civil rights leader and former Atlanta mayor, Susan Taylor, founder of Essence Magazine and Dr. Yosef ben Jochannan, one of the pioneers of African-centered study. Also, Crystal Mangum will not be the first controversial voice raised at the Know Bookstore, as guests have included Black Power activists such as the late Kwame Ture (formerly Stokely Carmichael) and Jamil Al -Amin (formerly H. Rap Brown.)

According to Bridges, the vision for the bookstore started with a lecture series at North Carolina Central University during the summer of 1981 which was later moved to St. Joseph's AME Church in 1982. Feeling that the cultural message needed to reach a larger audience such as the elderly and handicapped who could not venture out to the lectures, later in 1982, Bridges brought his "Cultural Awareness Seminar" to the airwaves via WDUR AM. The success of the radio broadcast created a market for Afrocentric reading and the Know Bookstore was established in 1982 on Dillard St in downtown Durham later in 1982. The store moved to its current location on Fayetteville St. in 1991.

What has endeared the store to the hearts of members of Durham's African American community has not only been its Afrocentric resources but the activism that has originated at the Know. As a young activist in the early 90's, I remember spreading information about my activities and posting fliers at the Know, something that Brotha Bruce will quickly point out that I would probably not have been able to do at a Barnes and Nobles. Matter of fact the first time that the world heard about my crusade against the malt liquor industry for targeting black youth came courtesy of the Cultural Awareness Seminar.

Also, other activists such as Minister Curtis E. Gatewood, former president of the Durham NAACP, who gained national attention for his "Boycott Against Santa's Cost" a campaign against wasteful holiday spending in the mid 90's , have done a lot of community organizing around the bookstore.

Although, there were many black bookstores around the country in the 90's, in 2008, the Know is the last of a dying breed, as many Afrocentric bookstores have been forced to close their doors over the last decade.

So what has enabled the Know to keep its head above water.

According to Bridges, it's because the Know prides itself in being more than just a bookstore.

Besides the community events that the store still sponsors, it also features The Know Restaurant where you can get a slammin' fish sandwich, side order of veggies, a big piece of potato pie and wash it down with a tall glass of freshly squeezed lemonade. I got to tell you though, if you want anything containing swine, you have to go somewhere else. Also the restaurant has Jazz Nights every Friday for those wanting to cool out after a hard week's work.

So what is the future of the Know and the few remaining African-centred bookstores and radio programs across the country ?

Empowering black people through education. Or to borrow from Brotha Bruce's book; to aid us in "recapturing the African mind.'

Paul Scott's blog is He can be reached at (919) 451-8283