The Pauli Murray Family Home in Durham, North Carolina, which Pauline Murray LAW ’65 called a testament to her grandfather’s “courage and tenacity,” became a National Historic Landmark on Jan. 11.
Recognizing the legacy and activism of the namesake of one of Yale’s two new residential colleges, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced that the Murray family home would join the ranks of hundreds of other historic locations across the country. The modest two-story home was built in 1898 by Murray’s grandfather Robert Fitzgerald, a Civil War veteran. According to the U.S. Department of the Interior website, landmark status is reserved for locations that help Americans interpret their collective heritage and history.
“I think it’s great that she was chosen as a namesake and is getting more recognition for her accomplishments,” said Paige Swanson ’20, who was recently placed into Murray College and will transfer there next year.
Last year, Murray College became the first residential college to be named after a woman or person of color. The DOI recognized Murray — an accomplished civil rights activist, lawyer, educator, author and Episcopalian priest — for contributing to national efforts to retain the word “sex” in Title VII, which legally protects women from employment discrimination, and for helping found a civil rights association for women, now known as the National Organization for Women.
The designation came about through the work of the Pauli Murray Project, which is sponsored by the Duke Human Rights Center, in collaboration with the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Pauli Murray Project also aims to renovate the house in order to publicly open the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice in 2020.
Through the renovation, the Duke Human Rights Center will focus on how on history, arts, education and activism can further Murray’s legacy of inclusivity. The house is not currently open to the public, but volunteers can help with efforts to restore the house to how it appeared when Murray lived there.
After the group’s initial nomination for historic status was accepted, representatives for the site attended a hearing of the National Park System Advisory Board National Historic Landmarks Committee, which unanimously recommended the house for the designation in October 2016. The National Park System Advisory Board then voted to recommend the site to Jewell, who subsequently approved it.
Though many students and faculty interviewed were not aware of the new designation, most reacted positively to the development. The news was also posted on Jan. 11 to the popular Facebook page Overheard at Yale.
Dean of Murray College Alexander Rosas said the new designation recognizes Murray’s contributions to her community and country. He added that her commitment to inclusivity and justice would help shape the culture of Yale’s residential college.
Head of Murray College Tina Lu was invited by Robin Kirk, a founding member of the Pauli Murray Project, to visit the Duke Human Rights Center in Durham and tour the house in February. Lu said she believes leaders at the organization wanted to discuss Murray’s relevance to the work of the Yale’s Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming and how the college planned to honor Murray.
Lu said she and Rosas have not yet decided how the college will recognize Murray’s accomplishments, but Lu said she has considered starting a reading group to investigate Murray’s work among other ideas. Lu added that although the family house grounded Murray’s childhood in Durham, there is far more to her legacy than the building.
“What stands for her is the body of work she left behind, the books that she wrote and helping to found the National Organization for Women. That’s the legacy that really mattered,” Lu said. “That’s [something] people in New Haven can be a part of just as much as people in Durham. That’s a legacy that’s a really big tent. It’s a very inclusive legacy. It can cover all of us.”
Among the 24 sites granted landmark status last week alongside the Murray home were the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home in Mississippi, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York and the May 4, 1970, Kent State Shootings Site in Ohio.