Earlier today, the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice announced that it had received an unprecedented boost, in the form of a three-year, $1.6 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. 

Barbara Lau, executive director at the center, told the INDY that the organization has “never received a grant of this magnitude,” adding, “we deeply appreciate this opportunity from Mellon for the next three years.” 

Pauli Murray, a pioneering activist, poet, priest, lawyer, and scholar, has received increasing, and long overdue, recognition in the past few years. A documentary about her life, My Name is Pauli Murray, swept the festival rounds last year, before releasing on Amazon Prime on September 17. 

Located at 906 Carroll Street in Pauli Murray’s childhood home, which was built by her grandparents in 1898, the center has been open since 2012. The home was named a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2015 and a designated National Historic Landmark in 2016; the grant money will, in part, go toward a renovation of the house, as well as ensuring that it’s fully accessible, and transforming a 1920’s-era duplex on the site into an Education and Welcome Center.

As recently as 2012 the house’s future was in jeopardy. 

It is rare for homes of Black families to be historically recognized: of the 95,000 sites in the National Register of Historic Places, only a shocking 2 percent focus on the experiences of Black Americans. Preserving Pauli Murray’s home has been an important part of the effort to increase those numbers.

“This is a transformational moment for the Pauli Murray Center,” Lau wrote in a press release, “a moment when the world needs to be introduced and inspired by Murray’s vision and the Pauli Murray Center is ideally situated to radiate this powerful narrative from Durham, NC to the world.” 

The site is not the only Triangle-area landmark to receive money from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation: On Tuesday, Raleigh’s North Carolina Freedom Park, which broke ground last October, also received a $1.9 million grant. One of the last projects designed by the late Phil Freelon before his death in 2019, the park was designed to honor the Black experience and struggle for freedom in North Carolina. The one-acre park, situated between the Executive Mansion and the notoriously conservative North Carolina General Assembly, is expected to be completed in 2022. 

The Mellon grant was specifically donated for the completion of park construction, as well as for the Beacon of Freedom, a central component to the park that will serve as North Carolina’s first monument honoring the Black struggle for freedom. 

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