Pauli Murray’s World

Pauli Murray mural, Chapel Hill St. in Durham, N.C.

Pauli Murray mural at 313 Foster St. in Durham, N.C. Courtesy, Pauli Murray Center

Tomorrow night– Thursday, Nov. 9– the Pauli Murray Project’s exhibit “Finding Jane Crow in Pauli Murray’s Contacts” opens at Duke University! If you’re in the area, I sure hope you get the chance to see it! It’s free and open to the public.

Curated by my daughter Vera Cecelski, the exhibit explores the life and times of one of the most extraordinary human rights activists in 20th-century America.

Raised largely by her grandparents, Pauli Murray grew up in Durham in the 1910s and ‘20s. She was a civil rights lawyer and activist, a women’s rights activist and an LGBTQ pioneer.

She was also the first black woman ordained an Episcopal priest, and she was the author of a still widely-read memoir called Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family.

Pauli Murray's address book

Pauli Murray’s address book. Photo by David Cecelski

You can find Vera’s exhibit at Smith Warehouse, Bay 5, at 114 S. Buchanan Blvd. in Durham. The exhibit opening tomorrow is part of the Pauli Murray Project’s special celebration of Murray’s birthday.

The celebration will also include remarks by Jacquelyn Hall from UNC-Chapel Hill and Rosalind Rosenberg, the author of a remarkable new biography of Pauli Murray.

Working with Barbara Lau, the Pauli Murray Center’s director, Vera first curated the exhibit for a special one-day-only event last spring.

Vera Cecelski and Barbara Lau at the Pauli Murray House in Durham, N.C., spring 2017

Vera Cecelski and Barbara Lau at the Pauli Murray House in Durham, N.C., spring 2017. Photo by David Cecelski

That was at the old house at 906 Carroll Street in Durham where Pauli Murray grew up. On April 1st the Pauli Murray Center celebrated the house being recognized as a National Historic Site.

After renovations, the site will open as the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice. (Learn how to contribute here!) The center’s mission is to honor Murray’s legacy and to lay the seeds for a new generation of social activists.

The genius of Vera’s exhibit is that she took a single artifact—Pauli Murray’s address book—and used it as a door into a whole age of struggle for social justice in America. She does so by telling the stories of Murray’s friends and collaborators (and showing how they are linked), ranging from civil rights icons such as Rosa Parks to her endearingly break-all-the-rules hairdresser.

I hope we’ll see you there. The exhibit opens at 6 PM, the talks start at 7 PM. If you can’t make it tomorrow night, the exhibit will be open daily for several more weeks.











3 thoughts on “Pauli Murray’s World

  1. Was in the area Saturday morning and stopped by to see the exhibit. Awesome. Loved the scrapbook idea and many other aspects. Tickled to see Elizabeth Koontz on the large graphic, and on the actual address book page displayed along with Coretta Scott King. Connected with me because of Koontz place in my recent research of the Hammocks Beach Corporation and the NC Black Teachers Association. Hundreds more of these kinds of connections can be easily made from this creative presentation on the associates of the inspiring Pauli Murray. Well done!


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