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UNC Building to be Renamed after Pauli Murray

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced late last week that they would rename Hamilton Hall in honor of Durham native Pauli Murray. UNC-Chapel Hill is in the process of renaming several campus buildings with “racially unjust” names.

In 1938, Pauli Murray, an inductee of the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame, applied to the Ph.D program in sociology at UNC-CH but was “denied admission because, as university officials wrote at the time, ‘members of your race are not admitted to the university.’” She also was denied admission to Harvard University because of her gender.

After receiving her law degree at Howard University, she later earned a Master’s degree in law from the University of California at Berkeley and was a tutor in law at Yale, where she received her Doctorate in 1965.

Pauli Murray had a distinguished and varied career as a civil rights lawyer, a professor, a college vice president, and deputy attorney general of California. She was named Woman of the Year by Mademoiselle in 1947. She later interrupted her law practice to spend four years researching and writing Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family, which was published in 1956.

At age sixty-two, Pauli Murray entered seminary and embarked upon a new career. In 1977, she was the first Black woman in the U.S. to become an Episcopal priest. In performing her first Holy Eucharist at the Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill, where her grandmother, a slave, had been baptized, Murray finally believed that “All the strands of my life had come together.”

UNC-Chapel Hill released this statement about renaming the building after Murray:

Pauli Murray represents the immutable spirit of scholarship and public service, as she made major contributions to our society in the face of nearly insurmountable resistance. She also represents a path not taken for UNC at an important point in the history of our disciplines and departments. Naming our building after Pauli Murray will serve as a reminder of what is lost, what could have been, and what can be as we move forward.

Hamilton Hall was named after Joseph Grégoire de Roulhac Hamilton (August 6, 1878 – November 10, 1961), a professor, an author, a traveler, and an archivist. He was a Kenan professor and founded the Southern Historical Collection at the UNC, the world’s largest collection of documents related to Southern history.

However, Hamilton’s written works on Reconstruction portray “a biased view in favor of the American South” and espoused “the supremacy of the white race.” (For more about Hamilton’s controversial views, click here.)

According to INDY Week, “UNC still has more than 30 buildings named after slaveholders and white supremacists. Murray Hall is the sixth building on campus to be named after a Black person.”

Pauli Murray’s childhood home, in Durham, has been named a National Historic Landmark. In 2012, Murray was named an Episcopal Saint. The Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice was scheduled to open this year.

For more about Pauli Murray’s writing, check out her inductee page at the NC Literary Hall of Fame. For more about her life, activism, and legacy, including her writing, head on over to The Pauli Murray Project.