The Duke-Durham Leadership Giving Society is grounded in the friendships and collaborations between members of the Duke family and their Durham contemporaries. These are the stories behind each pairing.


Mary D.B.T. Semans – Emanuel J. “Mutt” Evans Society
Annual gifts from $1,200 – $2,399

Upon entering Duke University, Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans became an active member of the Durham community. She followed in her mother’s footsteps as a trustee of Lincoln Hospital, and she served on the Durham City Council and as mayor pro tem in the 1950s. During that time, Semans’s strongest ally was Mayor Emanuel J. “Mutt” Evans. Semans and Evans were elected to their positions in the same year. In their roles as elected officials, they were tireless advocates for civil rights and equality for all Durham residents. During his record six terms as mayor, Evans oversaw the desegregation of Durham’s schools, public agencies, and police and fire departments. Semans was an avid champion for the arts, women’s rights and social justice in Durham and beyond.


Mary Duke Biddle – Aaron M. Moore Society
Annual gifts from $2,400 – $3,599

The Duke family provided the funding for Lincoln Hospital in 1901 as a gift to Durham’s African-American community, which at the time did not have access to proper medical facilities. When Mary Duke Biddle moved from New York to her hometown of Durham in the 1930s, she joined the hospital’s board and became a close friend and ally to Aaron M. Moore, a doctor and prominent leader in Durham. Dr. Moore was the visionary who first persuaded Mary Duke Biddle’s father and uncle, Benjamin and James, of the importance of building a hospital for the African-American community. Through Mary Duke Biddle’s financial contributions and her active participation as a trustee, the Duke family’s support for Lincoln Hospital remained strong one generation to the next.


Benjamin N. Duke – James E. Shepard Society
Annual gifts from $3,600 – $5,999

After the death of his father, Benjamin N. Duke took charge of the family’s philanthropic ventures. Though best known for the steady stream of support he provided Trinity College, Benjamin Duke was a key supporter of many other organizations that promoted the health and education of all people, throughout the Southeast. Duke took a particular interest in North Carolina Central University. The college had recently become the nation’s first state-supported liberal arts college for African-American students thanks to the perseverance of Dr. James E. Shepard, who founded the institution in 1909 and went on to serve as president until his death in 1947. Shepard worked tirelessly to gain support for the college, its faculty and its students. At his request, Duke provided critical financial support for the college and took an active and ongoing interest in its success.


James B. Duke – Clinton W. Toms Society
Annual gifts from $6,000 – $9,999

As a former superintendent of Durham schools, Trinity College trustee, supporter of local charities and executive in the American Tobacco Company, Clinton W. Toms was well positioned to act as advisor and liaison to James B. Duke, the benefactor of Duke University and founder of The Duke Endowment. More so than his father or siblings, James Duke spent much of his time outside of Durham as he built his businesses in New York and Charlotte. But Duke maintained a strong attachment to his hometown and to the college that would come to bear his family’s name, and Toms provided updates and information critical to Duke’s ability to continue his support of Durham’s schools, colleges, hospitals and churches.


Washington Duke – John E. Merrick Society
Annual gifts from $10,000 and above

Washington N. Duke was a progressive force in local and state politics, and his philanthropy championed the well being of all Durhamites. One of Washington’s friends and partners was John E. Merrick, the Durham entrepreneur wildly successful in business ventures ranging from barber shops and real estate to banking and drug stores. The relationship between Merrick and Duke began as that of barber and client – Merrick cut Duke’s hair during the time that he was also expanding his barbering business to five shops around Durham. As the friendship between the men grew, Duke and Merrick discussed business and philanthropy. Duke introduced Merrick to some of his financial contacts, and Duke ultimately supported the venture for which Merrick is best known today: the founding in 1898, along with Dr. Aaron Moore, of the N.C. Mutual Life Insurance Company, which in the twentieth century would become one of the largest black-owned businesses in the world.