Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Honoring Saint Pauli Murray

Its days like this that make me wish I had become an Episcopal priest.  I would struggle with the liturgy of the church, but my progressive ways seem to be more at home with the Episcopal Church versus Baptist folks.
My preaching style may terrify those more comfortable with a monotone delivery.  Yes, I tend to get excited when I talk about social justice and the need for God’s folks to embrace a love that refuses to let them remain glued to pain. All of that pomp and circumstance would get in the way of my desire to avoid all things that hinder the work of transformation.
With that being said, I love the Episcopal Church for getting things right.  They named Pauli Murray a saint of the Church. Murray, who grew up on Carroll Street in West Durham, was a feminist, civil rights activist, attorney, author and the first black female Episcopal priest. Murray’s name will be included in the church’s book of saints, called Holy Women, Holy Men. July 1 will be set on the liturgical calendar to remember Murray’s life and work.
There’s so much to remember when it comes to the work of Pauli Murray.  I honestly can’t think of anyone who jumped in to fight as many causes as Murray.  Making her a saint was an easy task.  Thanking her enough for all she sacrificed is impossible. She wrestled with all forms of hatred and discrimination.  She did it all for the right reason.  Murray paved a way for others to find a way.
That’s what trailblazers do.  They go places where no one had the guts to go before the road was cleared to travel.
When I look at pictures of her frail body, I wonder where she found the strength to fight.  How did she find the courage to keep trying after being told she didn’t fit? There were places black people couldn’t go.  There were others were women couldn’t travel.  Then there were those places that frustrated her courage because of her gender orientation.  How did she keep fighting when everyone told her she was not good enough to remain in the room?
I moved to Durham for three reasons: Pauli Murray, John Hope Franklin and C. Eric Lincoln. I decided to attend Duke instead of Yale, Harvard and Princeton after reading Proud Shoes.  I wanted to walk in the streets that stirred the faith of Pauli Murray.  Each word pouring from her text read like holy words from the work of one of the prophets.  I loved her then.  I love her more today. 
She is my shero.
I cried when I received word that she was named a saint.  The emotions overwhelmed me with joy.  I wept because of all she sacrificed to become a saint.  It hurt knowing that her walk of faith meant giving up what others take for granted.  She was much greater than her net worth.  She deserved more than she gained while alive.  She deserved to be a bishop, or dean or Senator, a member of the President’s cabinet, Vice-President or the Head of State.  No one I know accomplished more.  No one I know sacrificed more. 
It hurts knowing that pain comes with being a saint.  Few make it on the road everyone travels.  Saints are always ahead of their time.  We rarely understand them until years after the dirt hits their face.  Saints suffer with not being understood.  They are saints because they never give up when people fail to understand.
So, Durham needs to honor Saint Pauli Murray.  It’s time to name a street after her in Durham.  It should have been done before now, but now it must be done.
I will be making that request before the Durham City Council within the next few weeks.  I hope others will join me in celebrating Saint Pauli. 
Thank you for your sacrifice Pauli Murray.  I pray for the courage to walk in those “Proud Shoes”.  God, grant me the strength to not get weary.  Grant me the courage to stand when I’m too weak to walk.  Grant me the peace to resist the temptation to walk away from the work that must be done.
Just like Saint Pauli.  Lead me; guide me, along the way.


  1. Beautiful article. You have truly captured the spirit of this wonderful woman who had the courage to "speak truth to power" and whose life is an example to all of us as we lead our own lives.

  2. Carl, thank you for this passionate tribute to Pauli Murray. There needs to be a ceremony, a celebration, some sort of event honoring her in Durham. If such a thing is upcoming, please let me know about it. - Rah Bickley