Home of activist Pauli Murray named a national historic landmark

The National Park Service recently named the Pauli Murray home at 906 Carroll Street in Durham a national historic landmark.

A civil and women's rights activist, Murray helped found the National Organization for Women in 1966 and was the first African American woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest. In her honor, the Duke Human Right's Center sponsors the Pauli Murray Project, which aims to tackle inequality in Durham. 

Program Director Barbara Lau explained that the nomination of Murray’s family home was a collaborative effort, involving the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

“We work to lift up her life and legacy and try to keep her work going,” Lau said.

The process began in March 2015, when the house was named a national treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Lau added that the Pauli Murray Project received a grant from the National Trust soon afterward to do research on the property by documenting its condition and recommending ways to restore it.

To do so, the project worked with historians Heather Fearnbach, a program coordinator at Salem College, and Sarah Azaransky, a professor at Union Theological Seminary, to nominate the house as a national historic landmark. The endeavor included sharing Murray’s personal story and the background behind her national significance with the National Parks Service.

Their argument focused on Murray’s work as lawyer and how she connected advocacy efforts for both civil rights and women’s rights, Lau said.

Members of the Pauli Murray Project also restored the outside of the house using grant money and donations to show the National Park Service that the house could one day open to the public. This was not an easy task, as water damage required them to build a new foundation.

The National Park Service Landmark Committee reviewed the proposal in October. Members of the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice attended a public hearing for the proposal and presented additional materials to support their position. 

“We had a major push to collect letters of support and signatures on a petition,” Lau said, adding that the petition eventually acquired almost 2,700 signatures. 

Letters from congressional representatives, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church and the president of the National Organization for Women also helped their cause. The property was approved and announced as a national historic landmark Jan. 11.

“It was a long journey but an exciting one,” Lau said. “We were happy to make all those connections along the way. We felt really lucky that in our first try for this we succeeded.”

The Pauli Murray Project additionally received another grant to restore the inside of the house, ensuring that it will be able to open for the public in 2020.

“This seems like a bright spot in what could have been a not so great year,” Lau said.


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