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Pauli Murray exhibit highlights her legacy in Durham

<p>Visitors to the Pauli Murray exhibit analyze the works on display at the Scrap Exchange. </p>

Visitors to the Pauli Murray exhibit analyze the works on display at the Scrap Exchange. 

Local arts organization the Scrap Exchange has teamed up with the Pauli Murray Project—a community-based initiative of the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute—to celebrate the life and legacy of Pauli Murray.

Murray—a Durham native and writer, poet, educator, lawyer, feminist and priest—was a passionate human rights activist until her death in 1985, as well as the first African American female priest to be ordained by the Protestant Episcopal Church.

The exhibition, titled “Pauli Murray: Imp, Crusader, Dude, Priest,” brings to light the fluidity and multiplicity of Pauli Murray’s identities. A multimedia exhibit with videos of Murray speaking, photos of her four defined identities, and a timeline chronicling the events of her life reflects the diversity of identities Murray herself embodied.

As a person of color, and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Murray personally and professionally embodied struggle and vitality in her racial, sexual and gender identities. 

“Pauli Murray led a life that was characterized by a tremendous amount of resilience," said Barbara Lau, director of the Pauli Murray Project. "So many times the doors were closed in her face, and she somehow found the strength to be resilient in those moments."

The exhibit explores these multi-faceted identities and embraces the powerful nature of her non-conformity. Moving through the exhibit, visitors are immersed in a sea of purple—highlighting both Murray’s Episcopalian religion and her LGBTQ+ identification—as they learn about her life and work.

The location of the exhibition within the Cameron Gallery of the Scrap Exchange only further enhances the fearlessness and creative self-expression that characterized Murray’s work as an advocate. Parallel to the manner in which Murray expressed her different identities through self-portraiture, the Scrap Exchange aims to encourage community members to creatively express themselves in a similar way, said Chellie LaPointe, coordinator of the Cameron Gallery and outreach and education manager for the Scrap Exchange.

“The main skill we teach through our education programs is creative problem-solving, and Pauli Murray’s life was all about perseverance, persistence, creative problem-solving,” LaPointe said. “The message that we communicate through our work is that all people should be proud of and have confidence in themselves—whoever they are, however they see themselves, however they see their identity.”

Pauli Murray’s childhood home, merely blocks away from East Campus on 906 Carroll St., is immersed in a neighborhood devoted to celebrating the history and traditions surrounding it. The Scrap Exchange is located six blocks down from Murray’s historic home, making it the perfect place to tell the story of Murray’s life not only due to its creative vision but also its location.

“Pauli Murray: Imp, Crusader, Dude, Priest” was originally exhibited at the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte, S.C.

“It was really important for us to bring it home,” Lau said.

It is the goal of the Pauli Murray Project to lift up the life and legacy of Pauli Murray, continue her vision of justice and freedom and engage the surrounding community in a dialogue of her story.

“She’s just such a prophetic voice. She really had a vision for the future that I could relate to and wanted to support,” Lau said.

The Scrap Exchange will be unveiling a newly painted portrait of Pauli Murray Sept. 18 from 6 to 9 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

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