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'Trailblazer and icon:' Mural of Pauli Murray to be unveiled at Orange County Sportsplex

Rev. Pauli Murray was the first black woman ordained in the Episcopal Church. She gave her first sermon at the Chapel of the Cross on Sunday, Feb. 13, 1977. DTH File/Allen Jernigan

On Dec. 5, a portrait mural of the late activist, lawyer and priest Pauli Murray will be unveiled at the Orange County Sportsplex in Hillsborough.

The event will feature speeches by County Manager Bonnie Hammersley, a representative from the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice in Durham and Orange County Board of County Commissioners Chair Jamezetta Bedford.

Murray was a Black, queer, gender non-conforming activist who worked throughout the 20th centuryThe Pauli Murray Center uses he/him, she/her and they/them pronouns interchangeably to refer to Murray.

My Name is Pauli Murray,” an autobiographical documentary, will be shown at Tuesday's event, said Shameka Fairbanks, the chief equity and human rights officer for Orange County.

Scott Nurkin is a local artist who owns The Mural Shop and has created works across the state that commemorate Black musicians. He completed the mural of Murray.

He said the mural began as a portrait of Murray depicted in their former office — but, in collaboration with Fairbanks, Nurkin decided to transform the work into a dedication to Murray's relation to North Carolina, featuring a silhouette of the state.

The work also features a scale to represent their legal work, finger nail polish to represent feminism and quotes from their publications to represent Murray's role as a writer, Nurkin said.

“I’m really hopeful that this mural will help folks to understand Pauli's rich contributions to American history,” Angela Thorpe, the executive director of the Pauli Murray Center, said. “I'm also really grateful that Pauli is being represented through art — they were a creative in their own right, and really believed in the power of art to change and shift communities.”

The Pauli Murray Center is located in Durham at Murray’s childhood home, which was built by their grandparents in 1898. Murray's grandmother was enslaved in Orange County and attended church at the Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill.

Murray lived in Durham for part of their life and passed away in 1985.

“They did so much work to create opportunity for marginalized people in their lifetime, and in terms of their impact on the Triangle region,” Thorpe said. ”That that's where they have very, very deep ancestral ties."

Murray was born in 1910 in Baltimore and moved to Durham to live with their aunt and grandparents following their mother’s death in 1914. After graduating from Hillside High School in Durham, Murray attended Hunter College and graduated in 1933.

Thorpe said Murray was the first Black person perceived to be a women ordained in the Episcopal Church and used faith as a community-building tool.

“I think it makes sense to have her portrait on a place, on a space, that is used by the community because she was very much a believer in bringing people of all strata together: color, race, creed, gender,” Nurkin said. “That's really, truly the only definition of a community — is when you are inclusive of everyone, and that was what she stood for.”

Fairbanks said, though many people outside of North Carolina may not know about Murray, they were a trailblazer for civil rights.

“I'm hoping that this mural will catapult people's interest and curiosity, to really be able to learn more about her and begin to speak her name and give her the honor and the respect that her legacy deserves,” Fairbanks said.

Murray compiled States’ Laws on Race and Color — which is commonly cited as the foundation for the arguments in the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, according to the National Museum of African American History & Culture. During Murray's career, they also authored or co-authored six books, including an autobiography and a poetry book. 

“She is just an overall trailblazer and icon,” Fairbanks said.

@DTHCityState |

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