Durham County

Pauli Murray House — Celebrating its historic status

Attorney, activist, poet and priest Pauli Murray, who grew up in Durham.
Attorney, activist, poet and priest Pauli Murray, who grew up in Durham.

The childhood home of the late Pauli Murray -- the trailblazing attorney, poet, Episcopal priest, champion for women’s and civil rights and a saint to boot -- was made a National Historic Landmark in January. On Saturday, Durham will celebrate Murray at the house she grew up in at 906 Carroll St.

The celebration begins at 1 p.m. Saturday at the house in the West End with a plaque and proclamation ceremony. A commissioned poem by Alexis Pauline Gumbs and Julia Wallace will be read, and the National Historic Landmark plaque will be presented by Doyle Sapp on behalf of the National Park Service. Durham Mayor Bill Bell, Durham County Commissioners Chair Wendy Jacobs and other dignitaries will speak. Both sides of Murray’s family -- the Fitzgeralds and the Murrays, will also be represented.

A walking tour called “Pauli’s Place” starts at noon at the Durham Co-op on West Chapel Hill Street and ends at Murray’s house in time for the 1 p.m. ceremony. Barbara Lau, who leads the Pauli Murray Project and efforts to bring Murray national recognition, said the walking tour was created especially for the event. Another walking tour called “Pauli’s Durham” begins at 3 p.m. Saturday starting at the house.

After the ceremony, there will be activities from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday on the grounds, including two exhibits about Murray on display inside the house. Visitors will be able to go inside to see the first floor of the home that is still a work-in-progress and under renovation. The two-story house is being turned into the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice, slated to open in 2020.

Two art activities will be led by local artists Malcolm and Assata Goff, and Bryant Holsenbeck. Visitors will be able to decorate recycled shoes and lay them out in a labyrinth they can then walk and think about the question, “What inspires you?” For the other art project, visitors may add to mural drawings on six banners. Author Patricia Bell-Scott, who wrote “The Firebrand and the First Lady, Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt and the Struggle for Social Justice” will sign copies of her book, sold through The Regulator Bookshop. The Regulator will also sell copies of Murray’s books.

Lau also said that items found during archeological digs during the house’s renovation will be displayed, including pottery, doorknobs and glass bottles.

“We found a tin dipper in the wall of the front of the house, which is attached to a tradition that you put a water vessel in the walls to bring prosperity to your home,” Lau said.

When the Department of Interior named the “Pauli Murray Family Home” at National Historic Landmark, they stated that “Murray served as a bridge figure between social movements through her advocacy for both women’s and civil rights. Her efforts were critical to retaining “sex” in Title VII, a fundamental legal protection for women against employment discrimination. After decades of work for black civil rights, her vision for a civil rights association for women became the National Organization for Women (NOW).”

“This is a huge step forward in our efforts to create a permanent home for Pauli Murray’s story, in Durham but also in the country,” Lau said Wednesday. “I think this is the conversation Pauli always wanted to be in. She tried several times to be in a larger national conversation about human rights, civil rights, women’s rights. I think this is finally happening.”

Parking for the event will be available at Morehead Baptist Church, 1008 Morehead Ave., and also at First Calvary Baptist Church, 1311 Morehead Ave.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563, @dawnbvaughan