Events, Exhibits, Southern Historical Collection, Special Collections, UNC History

Pauli Murray, Civil Rights Advocate, Will Be Recalled in Nov. 3 Event

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Pauli Murray v. UNC: Wrestling with Change in the Jim Crow South
A participating event in the Pauli Murray Centennial Celebration, Pauli Murray Project, Duke Human Rights Center
Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010
5:15 p.m. reception | 6 p.m. program
Wilson Special Collections Library, Pleasants Family Assembly Room
Free and open to the public
Information: Center for the Study of the American South, (919) 962-5665

Pauli Murray (1910-1985) was a nationally known African American civil rights advocate whose vision and determination continue to inspire. As a historian, attorney, poet, activist, teacher, and Episcopal priest, she worked to address injustice, as well as to educate and promote reconciliation between races and economic classes. Raised in Durham, she was the great-great-granddaughter of James Strudwick Smith, an Orange County physician, politician, and plantation owner as well as a trustee of the University of North Carolina. Her grandmother Cornelia Smith was baptized as the slave (though she was also the niece) of Mary Ruffin Smith at Chapel of the Cross.

The Pauli Murray Project, an initiative of the Duke Human Rights Center focused on the Durham neighborhood where Murray grew up, will celebrate the 100th anniversary of her birth this November. UNC-Chapel Hill’s contribution to this landmark occasion is this panel discussion highlighting Murray’s unsuccessful attempts in 1938-39 to gain admittance into the university’s applied social work program within the sociology department chaired by Howard Odum. This is an involved and painful episode in the history of desegregation in North Carolina. The aims of the panel are to teach the university community about this history and to encourage reflection on the story of Murray’s activism: what kind of example does she offer in our own time?

The panel discussion will be moderated by Genna Rae McNeil, professor of history at UNC-Chapel Hill, who conducted an interview with Murray in 1976 for the Southern Oral History Program.

The panel includes:

  • Glenda Gilmore, Peter V. and C. Vann Woodward Professor of History at Yale, who has written extensively about Murray’s experience with UNC in Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919-1950 (Norton, 2008), selected as one of the American Library Association’s Notable Books of 2008 as well as the Washington Post’s Best Books of 2008. She is the author most recently of “’Am I a Screwball, or Am I a Pioneer?’: Pauli Murray’s Civil Rights Movement,” in Walter Isaacson, ed., Profiles in Leadership:  Historians on the Elusive Quality of Greatness (Norton, 2010).
  • Leslie Brown, assistant professor of history at Williams College, author of Upbuilding Black Durham: Gender, Class, and Black Community Development in the Urban South (UNC Press, 2008), winner of the 2009 Frederick Jackson Turner Prize from the Organization of American Historians for the best book in U. S. history written by a first-time author. Brown’s work includes significant attention to Pauli Murray and her family.
  • Jerry Gershenhorn, associate professor of history, North Carolina Central University, author of Melville J. Herskovits and the Racial Politics of Knowledge (University of Nebraska Press, 2004), who is at work on a biography of Louis Austin. As editor of the Carolina Times, an African American newspaper in Durham, Austin challenged the UNC administration’s position on the admission of Murray and other blacks into graduate and professional training.
  • James Leloudis, professor of history and director of the James M. Johnston Center for Undergraduate Excellence at UNC-Chapel Hill, whose most recent book (with Robert Korstad) is To Right These Wrongs: The North Carolina Fund and the Battle to End Poverty and Inequality in 1960s America (UNC Press, 2010). A historian of the modern South, Leloudis will provide context at the state and local level.
  • Anne Firor Scott, W.K. Boyd Professor of History Emerita at Duke University. Among Scott’s many works on American women is an edited collection of the letters of Pauli Murray and the scholar-activist Caroline Ware, Pauli Murray and Caroline Ware: Forty Years of Letters in Black and White (UNC Press, 2006).

The event will also feature a small exhibit of archival materials from the Southern Historical Collection in UNC’s Wilson Special Collections Library highlighting this historical moment. Items on view will include Daily Tar Heel articles and editorials, the correspondence of Howard Odum, Frank Porter Graham, Pauli Murray, and other documents or source material.

The issues that the panelists will address will be centered on Murray’s story but will expand into an exploration of the broader implications that it raises for issues such as student activism in general, the history of UNC as regards the admittance of blacks and women, and the role of historically black colleges and universities within the larger history of desegregation in North Carolina.

Sponsored by UNC’s Center for the Study of the American South, the Southern Historical Collection, The Pauli Murray Project/Duke Human Rights Center, the Carolina Women’s Center, the UNC School of Information and Library Science (grad student assistance), and the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History at UNC (organizational and in-kind assistance).

Information courtesy of the Center for the Study of the American South.

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