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Opening Closed Doors: The Story of Josie C. Murray

Opening Closed Doors: The Story of Josie C. Murray

By Linda H SittigPublisher: Brandylane PublishersISBN: 978-1-958754-41-2Genre: Children's women's biographyPrice: $14.95
Available from: Amazon

Not so long ago, public libraries in Virginia weren't so public after all. It took the courageous actions of African-American seamstress, Josie C. Murray to challenge the segregation policy in her small town and force the issue of equality for all.

Linda Sittig was born in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, raised in New Jersey, and put down her adult roots in Virginia and North Carolina. A best-selling author of multiple books, her newest title tells the story of the woman who forced the desegregation of public libraries in Virginia back in the 1950s.

You can find her on Facebook (Linda Harris Sittig), Instagram, and on her website.


Today, all public libraries in the United States are open to everyone. But that wasn’t always the case, as readers discover in this compelling story about Josie Murray and how she took on Jim Crow Laws, racial discrimination, and segregation and opened doors for not only herself but also for countless others in the process. Read more.

Kristine L., Reedsy

Sittig presented the story on which her children’s book is based: How the courage of the African American seamstress Josie Murray of Purcellville forced the desegregation of Loudoun County’s library system. Prior to Murray’s challenge, taken in 1956-57, there were very few libraries in the state which were open to both white and black patrons; most African Americans couldn’t access a library at all.

During her lively presentation, Sittig frequently referenced her motivation for writing this story: her determination that children throughout Virginia (and elsewhere) become aware of the fight waged to open libraries to all, and that they use that awareness to make ever more advances toward equity and justice for all people. Read more.

Nancy Spannaus, Lovettsville Historical Society

The seldom-told journey of Josie Murray inspired Chatham County author Linda Sittig to share the empowering story in her new creative nonfiction book “Opening Closed Doors: The Story of Josie Murray,” which hit bookshelves on May 10. 

Before moving to Chatham earlier this year, Sittig lived in Purcellville for 50 years and taught in Fairfax County Schools in Virginia. Her home was just two blocks from the “color line” in the town, which was drawn during the Jim Crow era to keep the Loudoun County neighborhood segregated.

On a walk one day, Sittig noticed dozens of flowers placed on the sidewalk outside a demolished home in town. When she asked a passerby about the scene, they told her the home belonged to Murray. 

“She was the best seamstress in town,” the man told her. “Perhaps the best that ever lived.”

When Sittig approached another neighbor to inquire about the beloved seamstress, she got a cockeyed look. Sure, Murray was a talented seamstress, but she was also much more than that. 

It sent Sittig on a research rabbit hole to uncover who Murray was and uncover how she shaped local history, and the broader Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Based on the belief that family literacy leads to lifelong readers, Sittig wrote, for 15 years, a weekly newspaper column, “Kinderbooks,” reviewing the best in children’s literature. The column ran in multiple newspapers in Washington, D.C. Combining her passion for history and strong women, Sittig also created a blog, Strong Women in History, where she highlights the stories of women who should have become famous. Sittig has several other historical works including “Cut From Strong Cloth,” “Last Curtain Call,” and “B-52 Down! The Night the Bombs Fell From the Sky.” 

Sittig spoke with the News + Record about her writing process, the mission of “Opening Closed Doors” and how the book’s audience makes the book especially impactful. Read more.

Ben Rappaport, Chatham News + Record