Durham volunteers building future on social justice legacy

tgrubb@newsobserver.comNovember 17, 2013 

— Volunteers celebrated the legacy and the 103rd birthday this weekend of social and racial justice advocate the Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray by working to save her childhood home.

The Pauli Murray Project is raising $55,000 to repair more than a century of water damage to the 1313 Halley St. home’s foundation, roof and chimneys.

“It’s making people feel good about themselves, about their neighborhood and about their community,” volunteer Carolyn Robinson said. “That’s something our kids need to know about; why this person is important and what she stood for. When they can see (they) can make a difference, they’ll make the difference, too.”

The celebration continued Sunday with cake at the Community Family Life and Recreation Center at Lyon Park.

Robinson is a member of the Top Ladies of Distinction service group, which also sponsors a Top Teens of America service group. Both were among neighbors, Pauli Murray Project officials and Durham leaders Saturday at the annual Pauli Murray House Fall Spruce Up. A similar event is held in the spring.

The work this year focused on cutting back overgrown bushes and planting spring bulbs in a large, new brick planter built by volunteers from TROSA – Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abuse. A $500 grant from Keep Durham Beautiful helped buy plants and soil, with the help of groups and local businesses, Robinson said.

The Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice will be years in the making, said Barbara Lau, director of the Pauli Murray Project. They’ve worked with N.C. State University students to design it in concept, she said.

“The idea is that we want to continue to do more research about the house and the neighborhood because once we can fix it, we want it to become a historic site and have exhibits about the history,” Lau said.

The project was not without hitches. After adding plants and three truckloads of dirt to the planter, the group realized it wasn’t enough and was forced to dig up the plants and start over, Lau said.

But volunteers with the Absolute Care Foundation, who were giving the nearby Carroll Street Park a makeover, brought extra hands, tools and a giant Dumpster.

It was a “wonderful coincidence,” Lau said.

Neighbor Pat Simpson, 73, said the park’s makeover already made a big difference. She can see the basketball court from her house next door and enjoys the scenery, she said.

“You know, I think it is phenomenal. I do keep an eye on them (the kids). I’m not one of those retirees that do crossword puzzles,” she said.

Murray was born in Baltimore in 1910 but moved to Durham at age 3, after her parents died, becoming a civil rights champion, attorney, advocate and poet. In 1977, at age 66, she was ordained the Episcopal Church’s first black female priest. She was made a saint last year.

The work to save Murray’s house will start in earnest next month when the city of Durham installs stormwater controls at Maplewood Cemetery, which sits on a steep hill behind the house. The runoff from the cemetery has contributed to most of the foundation and yard damage, Lau said.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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