Durham News

National Historic Landmark designation recommended for Pauli Murray’s Durham home

A recent photo of Pauli Murray’s childhood home on Carroll Street in Durham.
A recent photo of Pauli Murray’s childhood home on Carroll Street in Durham. Courtesy of Barbara Lau

Durham Pauli Murray’s niece burst into tears Tuesday after a National Park Service committee voted to recommend her aunt’s childhood home in Durham be recognized as a National Historic Landmark.

“I was filled with such pride,” said Rosita Stevens-Holsey, 74, said after the vote at a meeting in Washington, D.C. “ I consider her an unsung hero.”

On Tuesday morning, the National Park Service Landmarks Committee unanimously recommended the federal designation for the house at 906 Carroll St., moving the proposal to the National Park System Advisory Board. The board will consider the nomination Nov. 17-18 in Philadelphia and possibly forward it to the Secretary of the Interior, who will make the final decision, possibly before Jan. 20.

Murray, an attorney, priest, author, human rights activist and a Hillside High School graduate, lived at over 50 addresses, but her childhood home in Durham’s West End is the only one still associated with her, said Barbara Lau, director of the Pauli Murray Project at the Duke Human Rights Center.

The Pauli Murray Project and other partners have been working toward national recognition for Murray’s story since a variety of entities acquired the house in 2011.

The historic landmark designation, Lau said, will elevate to a national stage the story of a black, LGBTQ woman who applied the civil-rights philosophy of equal rights to women and believed that justice for some wasn’t good enough.

The designation could also help open doors to additional grants and funding, Lau said, as the Pauli Murray Project works to restore the home and convert the property into a community, history and social justice center by 2020.

Murray co-founded the National Organization for Women, and was a longtime friend of Eleanor Roosevelt and the first female, African-American Episcopal priest.

Murray had relationships with other women throughout her life, but she wasn’t able to be out as an LGBTQ person, Lau said.

Murray struggled with her gender identity and sought hormone treatment in 1930s, Lau said.

“We don’t know what word she would use to describe herself,” Lau said.

National Historic Landmarks are designated by the Secretary of the Interior because “they possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States,” according to the National Park Service’s website. About 2,500 historic places have been designated, including 38 in North Carolina.

Only 3 percent of the landmarks nationwide are associated with women, people of color, or people from the LGBTQ community, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which named Murray’s home a National Treasure in 2015.

Murray had an “insurmountable amount of determination” but was also very warm and had a “wonderful sense of humor,” said Stevens-Holsey, daughter of Murray’s youngest sister. One of Stevens-Holsey’s most treasured memories was when Murray took her to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s home in Hyde Park, New York, as a graduation present. In some ways, Stevens-Holsey said, Murray had been influential through her friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt.

“That was just a wonderful experience,” she said.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges