Pauli Murray

  

This page is a collection of stories and projects about Pauli Murray, a civil rights activist and social justice maverick who called Durham, North Carolina home.

Read, listen and learn more about the poet, priest and powerhouse for change below.

North Carolina Public Radio presents Pauli, a podcast about the power of one person to change what's possible for us all.

Inspired by the life, work and lasting influence of Durham-based civil rights activist Pauli Murray, this series explores the bravery and brilliance of a tireless hero for social justice. WUNC's Leoneda Inge takes listeners through three chapters of Pauli's journey as a battle-ready solider against racism and sexism and a spiritual mentor for today's justice advocates.

Use the links below to listen to and download all episodes.

PAULI: EPISODE THREE

After spending decades fighting for gender equality and racial justice, Pauli Murray decided to unite her convictions for human rights with her religious spirituality.

In her early 60’s, Pauli entered a seminary and became the first Black woman ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1977. She brought to the priesthood the same power she’d carried as a firebrand all her life ― a power that is strengthened by women in the church today standing tall on Pauli’s shoulders.


PAULI: EPISODE TWO

In 1948, Pauli Murray began a years-long journey, crossing the country to document each state's segregation laws. The result was an exhaustive, 700-page tome. The text, published in 1951, may have a pretty unexciting title — “States' Laws on Race and Color”  — but its nickname is more glamorous: the “bible of civil rights law."

Pauli's work documenting discriminatory ordinances across the nation was pivotal to the NAACP’s legal team as they fought key battles against segregation in the mid-20th century. But Murray’s road to writing that bible was anything but easy, and she was often on the verge of having to forego the seminal project.


PAULI: EPISODE ONE

As a Black, queer, Southern woman, Pauli Murray endured a sinister combination of sexism and racism. She called this specific kind of discrimination Jane Crow, and no matter where Pauli  went, Jane Crow followed.

But Pauli refused to let that dictate her life. With the pen as her sword, Pauli fought to undermine Jane Crow’s grip on the lives of Black women, wielding the written word as a weapon for truthtelling.

As a legal scholar, she inspired the likes of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and helped secure equal rights for women. As a poet, Murray has given hope and resilience to countless women of color ― offering messages of brave love and bold defiance that resonate today.


There are several murals of Pauli Murray on buildings in downtown Durham, NC
Courtesy of the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice

Learn more about the effort to rename a building on the campus of UNC Chapel Hill for Pauli Murray on this episode of WUNC's podcast Tested.  

If you drive around downtown Durham, North Carolina, there are several reminders that a Black woman named Anna Pauline Murray lived here. A decade ago, at the corner of Carroll and West Chapel Hill streets, a North Carolina Historical Highway Marker was erected in "Pauli" Murray's name. 

But a marker could never do justice to someone as influential as Pauli Murray: a civil rights activist, a lawyer, a poet, a priest, a powerhouse for change.

Pauli Murray was a powerhouse for social justice. She worked tirelessly as a lawyer, an activist, a poet, and a priest to push for racial equality and gender rights, and influenced the likes of Thurgood Marshall and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

She rarely received appropriate recognition during her lifetime, but global awareness of Pauli’s legacy grows more by the day. Now, a faculty movement at UNC Chapel Hill aims to honor the social justice warrior by naming a building after her. But the proposed commemoration comes with a complicated history.
 

  

Photo of J.G. deRoulhac Hamilton
NC Digital Collections / UNC Libraries

Hear more about Hamilton and how faculty at UNC-CH are  working to undo his harmful legacy in the latest episode of "Tested" out now.

 

J.G. de Roulhac Hamilton spent decades in the first half of the 20th Century puttering along the backroads of the South in his trusted Ford, gathering the papers and artifacts that became the Southern Historical Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill. It was his life's work, and it gained him fame and a legacy that befitted an intellectual giant of the age.

Pauli Murray isn't a completely unsung hero of the Civil Rights Movement. She isn't exactly a household name either. Her brand of fighting for racial justice is defined by speaking truth to power, a tireless effort and a deep imagining of what was possible for a Black queer Southern woman during the Jim Crow era. Get to know the poet, priest and powerhouse for change on Pauli, a new podcast from WUNC.

  

Open And Out In Office

Nov 1, 2018
a photo of Harvey Milk at Mayor Moscone's desk
Creative Commons

Harvey Milk was not the first openly-gay elected official, but is certainly one of the most famous. After two unsuccessful bids for a set on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Milk won twice, Milk won in 1977 and proudly represented those on the fringes. He believed the only way for the gay community to gain rights was to have a seat at the table.

Before Rosa Parks There Was Pauli Murray

May 18, 2018
photo of pauli murray in her later years in priest's attire
UNC Digital Library and Archives

Pauli Murray is an often-overlooked civil rights trailblazer. She staged her first “protest” at 5 years old  when her aunt gave her grandfather three pancakes while she only received one. Murray was arrested for sitting in the whites-only section on a Virginia bus 15 years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat.

Pauli Murray, National Historic Landmark, Civil Rights, Women's Rights
Leoneda Inge / WUNC

The childhood home of Pauli Murray in Durham is now a National Historic Landmark. Relatives, community leaders and the Pauli Murray Project celebrated with a homecoming.

'The Firebrand and the First Lady'

Jul 27, 2016
Frank C. Curtin / Associated Press

Note: This segment originally aired February 19, 2016.

Pauli Murray and Eleanor Roosevelt could not have come from more different backgrounds. Murray was the granddaughter of a mixed-race slave, while Roosevelt’s ancestry gave her membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Pauli Murray, the imp
Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University

Scholar and activist Pauli Murray grew up in Durham and was fundamentally shaped by its history and culture, and she left a lasting legacy on the city in return.

Duke University’s Pauli Murray Project has been working to document this legacy and recently reached an important milestone: the project begins the restoration of Pauli Murray’s historic house in southwest Durham this summer.

Saint Pauli

Jul 20, 2012

In the Episcopalian Church, it is customary for someone to be deceased for 50 years in order to become a saint. However when it came to Pauli Murray, the church’s General Convention chose to set aside the rule and include her in the book “Holy Men, Holy Women: Celebrating the Saints” (Church Publishing/ 2010), giving her status as a saint.

Pauli Murray marker sits at Carroll and West Chapel Hill Streets in Durham.
Jeanette Stokes

An official state historic marker now sits in the West-End neighborhood of Durham celebrating the life of human rights leader Pauli Murray.

The childhood home of a renowned human rights leader is about to get a major face-lift in southwest Durham.

 Pauli Murray was an attorney, Civil Rights activist and the first African American female Episcopal priest.  The house her grandfather built in the 1890s sits way off Carroll Street in Durham’s West End. Sarah Bingham was one of several people to walk through the two-story house yesterday. She says it’s in pretty good shape.

Sarah Bingham:  "I see possibilities everywhere."

Inge:  "It looks kind of fragile though."

Pauli Murray mural in downtown Durham
Face Up Project, Center for Documentary Studie

There are murals of a woman in downtown Durham who was obscure to the population until just about a year ago. Her name is Pauli Murray. Murray was raised in Durham and went on to become a civil rights leader, co-founder of the National Organization for Women and the first African American woman to be ordained an Episcopal priest. Durham residents have been celebrating the 100th anniversary of Murray’s birth. There is a Pauli Murray Project at Duke University named for her and even a play in her honor.