Let the Month of Murray Begin

Pauli Murray in the World, 117 S. Buchanan Boulevard, Durham, NC (photo: paulimurrayproject.org)

A couple years ago some colorful and inspiring murals started popping up in Durham, NC, where I live. On Foster Street, down by the YMCA and the Farmers’ Market. On Chapel Hill Street, on the side of the Durham Food Co-op building. Three more within a stone’s throw of each other on Chapel Hill Road, along the exterior walls of the Azteca Grill, the Institute for Southern Studies, and the Chameleon building. And more.

Many of the murals depict images of Pauli Murray, who was raised in southwest central Durham by her aunt and grandparents. Other images depict an Aztec calendar, the Virgen de Guadalupe, the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion. Every time I walk or drive by one of the murals, my mind leaps back to Bob McGrath singing “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” on Sesame Street. “The people that I meet when I’m walkin’ down the street” are African American, Asian, Latino, Anglo. And they all helped create these images that reflect themselves and each other.

The community-based project to create these murals describes its approach this way:

Face Up: Telling Stories of Community Life, a collaborative public art project in Durham, North Carolina, engaged more than 1,500 people in a series of events that fostered new connections and dialogue, expanded awareness of local history, and resulted in the creation of fourteen permanent public murals. Now installed on the exterior walls of businesses, schools, and other publicly accessible places downtown and in Southwest Central Durham, these murals reflect the creative involvement of toddlers, elementary school children, middle and high school students, college students, professors, neighborhood residents, and elders—wealthy and working class; African American, Latino, Anglo, and Asian. The project opened artistic and documentary processes to many groups and individuals whose paths had never crossed.
[…] To honor both the history of Durham and contemporary life and culture, several of the murals depict Pauli Murray—selected as the central figure for this project because of her Durham roots and her journey as a champion for civil and human rights. A historian, attorney, poet, activist, teacher, and Episcopal priest, she worked to address injustice, inspire community action, and promote reconciliation among cultures and economic classes. Her eloquent words express her vision for true community just as the statements that accompany the Durham Community Portraits reflect the views of the residents they depict.

November 20, 2010, will mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Pauli Murray. But we’re starting the celebration early. And the Pauli Murray Project is helping Durham celebrate this hometown hero every day of the year, now and for the future, through art and education.

There are a few Murray-related events this week I wanted to share, and more than a handful of UNC Press authors will be on hand to participate.

Wednesday, 11/3, noon, John Hope Franklin Center, Duke University
Lest It Never Be Told: A Conversation about Durham Histories
Panel discussion featuring Leslie Brown (author of Upbuilding Black Durham), David Cecelski (author of The Waterman’s Song), Charmaine McKissick-Melton, and André Vann. Moderated by Pauli Murray Project director Barbara Lau.

Pauli Murray, A Youthful Spirit, 2520 Vesson Avenue, Durham, NC (photo: paulimurrayproject.org)

Wednesday, 11/3, 5:15pm, Wilson Library, UNC
Exhibit Opening & Reception

Wednesday, 11/3, 6pm, Wilson Library, UNC
Pauli Murray v. UNC: Wrestling with Change in the Jim Crow South
Panel discussion featuring Glenda Gilmore (author of Gender & Jim Crow), Jim Leloudis (coauthor of To Right These Wrongs), Anne Scott (editor of Pauli Murray and Caroline Ware: Forty Years of Letters in Black and White), Leslie Brown (author of Upbuilding Black Durham), Jerry Gershenhorn

Saturday, 11/6, Pauli Murray home, 906 Carroll Street, Durham
Clean up day at Pauli Murray home
Volunteers needed for both sessions: 10am-1pm, 1pm-4pm (see link above to sign up)

Today is election day. This morning I went to vote at Lakewood Elementary School, and outside the school is another Pauli Murray mural with an inscription that reads, in English and in Spanish: “Pauli Murray (1910-1985), Scholar, Lawyer, Poet, Priest, Civil Rights Activist, Durham Shero.” That last bit is my favorite.