Durham News

Durham’s Pauli Murray home named ‘National Treasure’

Volunteers clear brush from the one-time home of Pauli Murray on Carroll Street in Durham's West End community. The Pauli Murray Project is working to repair the house and open a museum about Murray, an African-American activist, scholar, feminist, poet, lawyer and Episcopal priest and to address inequities and injustice,
Volunteers clear brush from the one-time home of Pauli Murray on Carroll Street in Durham's West End community. The Pauli Murray Project is working to repair the house and open a museum about Murray, an African-American activist, scholar, feminist, poet, lawyer and Episcopal priest and to address inequities and injustice, mschultz@newsobserver.com

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has named the childhood home of attorney, priest and civil-rights activist Pauli Murray a National Treasure.

With the designation, the National Trust is taking an active role in restoring the 1898 house on Carroll Street in Durham’s West End neighborhood, said Jessica Pumphrey, a spokeswoman for the organization.

“It’s ... our call to action,” she said. “We take more of a hands-on approach to preservation.”

The recognition “helps us make a national case for the refurbishing of the property, bringing it online for visitors,” said Barbara Lau, director of the Pauli Murray Project at the Duke Human Rights Center.

Self-Help Ventures Fund, with Duke University and the Southwest Durham Quality of Life Project, bought the house in 2011, but it remains “in dire need of restoration” to make up for years of neglected maintenance, according to Pumphrey.

“Our best estimate now is about $150,000 just to stabilize the house,” Lau said. To get it visitor-ready, “we’re talking about closer to $300,000.”

No cash comes with the designation, she said, but it means National Trust staff are committed to assist in marketing, fundraising and historic preservation.

“It’s an amazing honor,” said Preservation Durham director Wendy Hillis. The Trust has recognized the home as representing “so many different streams of lesser-known history,” she said.

“Pauli Murray was an unheralded pioneer whose work challenged societal norms and laid a foundation for some of the greatest human rights movements in our nation’s history,” National Trust President Stephanie Meeks said, in a prepared statement.

Murray (1910-85) was raised in Durham by her maternal grandparents, Robert and Cornelia Fitzgerald. Her 1956 memoir, “Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family,” vividly described life in the West End neighborhood of the 1910s.

She went on to graduate first in her class from Howard University’s law school, organized civil-rights demonstrations in the 1940s and was a co-founder of the National Organization of Women.

In 1976, Murray became one of the first women ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church, and celebrated her first communion at Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill, where her grandmother had been baptized as a slave.

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