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Pauli Murray Named to Episcopal Sainthood

Durham-reared activist honored for her work in church and civil rights

The Episcopal Church has raised Durham-reared Pauli Murray to its pantheon of "Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints." Murray was sainted by the church sainthood for her advocacy of the universal cause of freedom and as the first African American female priest ordained by the Episcopal Church.

To celebrate the occasion, St. Titus' Episcopal and Duke University's Pauli Murray Project are hosting the annual, public celebration of Murray's life and legacy on Wednesday, July 18, at 6:30 p.m. at 400 Moline Street, Durham. Bishop Michael Curry will serve as the celebrant and Rev. Roxane Gwyn will offer the sermon.

Pauli Murray

Saints in the Episcopal Church serve a different purpose than in the Catholic Church, where they are intercessors on behalf of praying Catholics.  In the Episcopal Church, the selected individuals are seen as exemplary members of the church's "communion of saints," of which all members are part.. Church members call them to mind as a source of ongoing inspiration.

"Pauli Murray had an agenda for the human good that was constant and unswerving." Bishop Curry said. "As a descendent of slaves and slaveholders, people who were members of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, she is a symbol for the importance of bringing different worlds together, even in midst of great pain."

The Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray (1910 – 1985) was a nationally and internationally known advocate for human rights and social justice who grew up with her grandparents Robert and Cornelia Fitzgerald on Carroll Street in Durham. In 1977 at age 66, she was the first African American woman to be ordained an Episcopal priest, offering communion for the first time at Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill where her grandmother had been baptized as a slave.

Prior to answering this calling, Murray worked to address injustice and promote reconciliation between races, sexes, and economic classes through her work as an attorney, writer, feminist, poet, and educator.

 In the 1930s and 40s, she fought against racial segregation in education and public transit. In the 1950s and 1960s, she challenged the Civil Rights Movement to recognize the leadership of women and the double discrimination that minority women face.

As a lawyer, policy analyst and legal scholar she defied convention by stubbornly carving out her place in a male-dominated profession. She advised First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt on civil rights and co-founded the National Organization for Women. As a same-gender-loving woman she struggled to live her life fully in a world not ready for her inclusive vision of freedom.

"Durham can embrace Pauli Murray as an inspiration for our community’s commitment to the struggle for equality, dignity and justice," said Barbara Lau, director of the Pauli Murray Project. "With this recognition as an Episcopal Saint, even more people will learn about her legacy of activism and the relevance of her ideas to today's issues."