Pauli Murray: The North Carolina Hero Too Few Know About

Pauli Murray: The North Carolina Hero Too Few Know About

One of North Carolina's most influential figures, Pauli Murray still doesn't get her due for her part in combatting racial injustice, homophobia, and sexism. A new Amazon Prime Video doc about Murray, who grew up in Durham, premiers this weekend in the Bull City. (Image via Pauli Murray Center)

By Max Millington

September 17, 2021

Documentary about civil rights trailblazer Pauli Murray will premier this weekend in Durham before being released to a national audience. 

One of Durham’s own, Pauli Murray, is considered one of the most influential figures of the 20th century for her instrumental role in the nation’s civil rights and women’s equality movements. 

The late civil rights activist, attorney, poet, and Episcopal priest grew up Black in the Bull City during the Jim Crow era and became a trailblazer by fighting for the rights of women, Black people, and the LGBTQ community. 

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But few know her full story, something that will change with the release of the documentary this weekend. “My Name Is Pauli Murray” will premiere exclusively at Carolina Theatre today in Durham with showings through Sept. 26. This will give local viewers the opportunity to celebrate the civil rights icon who grew up in the area. 

The documentary will be released for streaming on Amazon Prime Video Oct. 1. 

Directed by Betsy West and Julie Cohen, the documentary “My Name Is Pauli Murray” is mostly told in Murray’s own words. The film explores the activist’s personal experiences growing up in the segregated south and how that sparked Murray’s to make critical contributions to the Civil Rights movement and gender equality. As seen in the trailer, the documentary also explores Murray’s plight with her own gender identity, decades before terms like “non-binary” entered the common lexicon in America. 

Barbara Lau, executive director of the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice, a National Historic Landmark site in Durham will introduce the 7 pm screening on Sept. 17 as well as host a post-film Q&A with the audience.  

Trailblazer’s Start in North Carolina

Anna Pauline Murray was born in Baltimore, Maryland on Nov. 20, 1910 to Agnes Fitzgerald and William Murray. Tragically, neither Agnes or William would live to watch Anna Pauline grow up. After the unexpected and sudden death of her mother, the 3-year-old Murray was sent to Durham to live with her grandparents and maternal aunt and namesake, Pauline Fitzgerald Dame.  

As she grew older, Murray began to recognize (and combat) the oppression she faced as both a Black person and a woman. Throughout her life, Murray questioned her own gender identity and at the age of 15 she chose the name “Pauli” for herself.

Murray’s childhood home is the site of the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice, and is focused on history, education, the arts, and social mobilization. Information about visiting the home and related events can be found here


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