Durham County

Duke taking ideas on replacement for Lee statue, and a Durham icon’s in the mix

A number of people at Duke University have suggested putting a statue of Pauli Murray in the empty niche at the entrance Duke Chapel once occupied by the image of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
A number of people at Duke University have suggested putting a statue of Pauli Murray in the empty niche at the entrance Duke Chapel once occupied by the image of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The Herald-Sun

From having a Robert E. Lee statue at the entrance to Duke Chapel to having one of Episcopal priest and civil-rights icon Pauli Murray?

Now that Lee’s statue is down, replacing it with Murray’s likeness is one of the ideas people at Duke are urging the “Commission on Memory and History” advising President Vince Price to consider, said Gráinne Fitzsimons, management and psychology professor

Fitzsimons, the committee’s vice chair, was responding to Duke Divinity School professor Mary Fulkerson, who said she’d consider Murray a fine choice because “it would be great to have a female African-American there rather than another white guy.”

Pauli Murray has been suggested by several others as well, so you’re not alone on that one,” Fitzsimons told Fulkerson during the Academic Council meeting Thursday..

But she stressed the commission is still looking for both suggestions and expert advice as it goes about the job of advising Price and campus trustees not just on what should fill the niche at the chapel entrance left by the removal of the Lee statue on Aug. 19, but on how they should handle questions and disputes about memorials and facility names.

The group is supposed to turn in its report by Nov. 17, and members have been fanning out this week to urge various groups on campus to weigh in.

“We are definitely going to need to hear from the rest of our community if the committee is to be successful,” Fitzsimons said, adding that the Nov. 17 deadline is “crazy, frankly.”

But Price and other officials at Duke have had the matter on the fast track ever since rioting in Charlottesville, Virginia, left one person dead last month at the hands of an alleged neo-Nazi.

That protest, and others since, have focused on the question of whether Confederate iconography in public places should be removed.

After Charlottesville, protesters in Durham pulled down one such memorial outside the county government’s offices. Others demanded that UNC-Chapel Hill officials take down Silent Sam, the statue on McCorkle Place.

In between, Price ordered the removal of the Lee statue, though not before it was vandalized.

He coupled that to the announcement that Duke would convene a group “to assist us in navigating the role of memory and history at Duke.” That became the commission, now chaired by Charlotte lawyer and former Duke trustee Frank Emory Jr.

The 16-member panel includes Duke School of Law dean David Levi, dean of Duke Chapel Luke Powery, UNC-CH history professor William Ferris and former Duke Alumni Association President Barker French.

The commission’s subsequent outreach has targeted not just campus interests, but “civic and religious groups in the Durham community,” Fitzsimons said.

On campus, members are assembling and want to consult a “list of people we know have relevant knowledge,” but they’re eager to hear suggestions about other experts they might add to it, she said.

Murray died in 1985. She grew up in Durham, and is renowned among other things for having urged civil-rights lawyers in the early 1950s to challenge the constitutionality of the Jim Crow-era separate-but-equal doctrine.

Ray Gronberg: 919-419-6648, @rcgronberg

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