Durham's Pauli Murray named an Episcopal saint

CorrespondentJuly 13, 2012 

  • ‘True Emancipation’ “It has taken me almost a lifetime to discover that true emancipation lies in the acceptance of the whole past, in deriving strength from all my roots, in facing up to the degradation as well as the dignity of my ancestors.” – Pauli Murray Source: Pauli Murray Project
  • If You Go St. Titus Episcopal Church and the Pauli Murray Project will host the annual celebration of the life and legacy of Murray at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 18, at the church, 400 Moline St. in Durham.

The late Pauli Murray, who grew up in Durham, now has her name included in the Episcopal Church’s book “Holy Women, Holy Men,” giving her the status of a saint.

The legacy of Murray (1910-1985), includes her work as a feminist, civil rights activist, lawyer, author and the distinction of being the first black female Episcopal priest. She was reared by her grandparents Robert and Cornelia Fitzgerald on Carroll Street.

The vote including her and two others from North Carolina came during the church’s General Convention, recently held in Indianapolis. .

The other two nominees, Virginia Dare and Manteo, a native American, who were the first two people baptized by the Church of England on what is now Roanoke Island, were also included in the church’s liturgical calendar. The Church of England is the parent church of Anglican and Episcopal churches. (Virginia Dare was also the first English child born in the colonies.)

In a video from the convention last week, Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina said, “‘Holy Women, Holy Men’ is one way the church lifts up people whose lives have exemplified what it means to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and make a difference in the world, and Pauli Murray is one of those people.”

“As a descendent of slaves and slaveholders, people who were members of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, she is a symbol for the importance of bringing different worlds together, even in midst of great pain,” Curry said.

In 1977, when Murray was 66, she was ordained as an Episcopal priest, and she offered communion for the first time at Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill, where her grandmother had been baptized as a slave.

In addition to her career in the church, Murray was also a lawyer, holding law degrees from Howard Law School, the University of California and Yale University.

She was turned away from UNC-Chapel Hill’s graduate school in 1938 and faced many other closed doors because of her race and possibly her sexual orientation. People who have read her writings are generally in agreement that she was a lesbian, though Murray never described herself that way.

The Rev. Brooks Graebner, rector of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Hillsborough and a church historian, said Murray used her law degrees to teach at Brandeis University in Massachusetts and to write her first book, a collection of all laws in every state related to race. The best-known piece of her writing is the memoir “Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family,” in which she talks about growing up multiracial in Durham’s West End.

Sarah Woodard, a deacon at St. Titus Episcopal Church in Durham, said that Murray would “turn over in her grave” from all the attention she is getting. “She would not like for us to do this. She felt her duty was to stand up for the rights of everyone.”

Last year, Murray’s childhood home, known as the Murray-Richard Fitzgerald House, was acquired by the Pauli Murray Project based at Duke University. A plan for its use is being developed.

“Durham can embrace Pauli Murray as an inspiration for our community’s commitment to the struggle for equality, dignity and justice,” said Barbara Lau, project director. “With this recognition as an Episcopal saint, even more people will learn about her legacy of activism and the relevance of her ideas to today’s issues.”

Johnston: flo.johnston314@gmail.com

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