Pauli Murray's Proud Shoes

A Classic in African American Genealogy

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Pauli Murray’s Proud Shoes: A Classic in African American Genealogy explores the family history of Pauli Murray, a pioneering lawyer, activist, writer and priest. 

This 1985 interview with Pauli Murray focuses on the historical and religious ties of Murray's family to the Chapel of the Cross in Chapel HIll, NC

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Her book, Proud Shoes: An African American Family, showcases the racial and social dynamics between the union of a free black family from the north and a mixed-race family of the south. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Murray lived with her aunts and maternal grandparents in Durham, North Carolina after her mother died tragically when she was only four years-old. There, she learned about family history from her aunts. 

Murray's great-grandparents, Charles Thomas Fitzgerald and Sarah Burton, were an interracial couple married in 1834 with six children that survived to adulthood. Her grandfather was a civil war solider and teacher, and her grandmother was born into slavery in North Carolina and served as a lifelong member of the Episcopal church. 

If Grandfather had not volunteered for the Union in 1863 and come south three years later as a missionary among the Negro freedmen, our family might not have walked in such proud shoes and felt so assured of its place in history.

PAULI MURRAY "Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family"

About the Exhibition

Richard Fitzgerald and family
01/03

Pauli Murray’s Proud Shoes: A Classic in African American Genealogy is a temporary exhibition of the Robert F. Smith Explore Your Family Center featuring documents and photographs related to Murray’s family and her life.
View Pauli Murray Collection Items
Pauli Murray was reared in this house in Durham, North Carolina by her maternal grandparents.
02/03

Reared in this house in Durham, North Carolina by her aunts and maternal grandparents, Murray was shaped by the struggles and achievements of her ancestors, who influenced her life’s work.
View Pauli Murray Collection Items
03/03

Murray’s book, "Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family," is a seminal work in African American genealogy published twenty years before "Roots," the novel that sparked popular interest in African American history and genealogy. 
View Pauli Murray Collection Items

Journey Through the Life of Pauli Murray
 

Explore the Storylines

01/04

Walking in Proud Shoes: Pauli Murray’s Family Genealogy Story

Explore the family history of Pauli Murray, who published an early but often overlooked work in African American genealogy.
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Pauli Murray sitting at a typewriter by a desk crowded with papers.
02/04

The Pioneering Pauli Murray: Lawyer, Activist and Priest

Pauli Murray was first in her class at Howard University Law school and the only woman. She is the first African American to earn a J.S.D. from Yale Law School and a co-founder of the National Organization for Women. In 1977, Murray became the first African American woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest.
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03/04

Pauli Murray's Literary Achievements

Strongly inspired by the memory of her father, William H. Murray, a teacher and poet, Murray found the time and resources to write and publish her impressive body of works.
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One of five Pauli Murray Murals and Community Monuments in Durham, North Carolina located at 1101 West Chapel Hill Street.
04/04

Pauli Murray as an LGBTQ+ Historical Figure

Pauli Murray's personal writings about her gender identity and sexuality have been a recent topic of study. Researchers have discovered that Murray may have identified as a transgendered man, but did not have the information or acceptance available during her lifetime to describe it.
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A Closer Look

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Pauli Murray Walking Tour

Take a walk into Pauli Murray and her Fitzgerald family history in Durham’s West End Neighborhood to meet some of the people and places that shaped her life. Listen to stories about Murray's multi-racial ancestry and heritage, the significance of Black Civil War soldiers and the Freedmen's Schools movement.
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RBG's Legal Hero

In this never-before-seen interview, Ruth Bader Ginsburg credits Pauli Murray for inspiring an amicus brief she wrote for the historic 1971 Supreme Court case Reed v. Reed, which was the first time the nation’s highest court recognized women as victims of sex discrimination.

Exhibition Profiles

Charles Thomas Fitzgerald
01/06

Charles Thomas Fitzgerald

Pauli Murray’s great-grandfather Charles Thomas Fitzgerald was born in Delaware and enslaved by Samuel Lodge, whose son, George, manumitted Fitzgerald in 1832 at the age of 24.
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Portrait of Sarah Ann Burton Fitzgerald and Her Youngest Child, Agnes Fitzgerald
02/06

Sarah Burton

In 1834 while working on a Delaware farm, Fitzgerald married Sarah Burton, one of the farmer’s daughters. The interracial couple made their first home in New Castle County, raising 12 children, six of whom survived to adulthood. Burton is photographed with her youngest child, Agnes Fitzgerald.
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Robert Fitzgerald
03/06

Robert Fitzgerald

Robert Fitzgerald, Pauli Murray's grandfather, served in the Union Army during the Civil War. When the war ended, Fitzgerald was part of a large body of northern educators who moved south to teach newly freed people.
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James Strudwick Smith
04/06

James Strudwick Smith

In 1834, Dr. James Strudwick Smith, a physician, politician, and plantation owner purchased Pauli Murray’s great-grandmother Harriet Day for $450 as a personal maid for his daughter, Mary Ruffin Smith. Harriet was sexually assaulted by Sidney Smith, a son of Dr. James S. Smith. As a result, Harriet gave birth to Cornelia, Murray’s grandmother.
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Cornelia Smith Fitzgerald
05/06

Cornelia Smith Fitzgerald

Pauli Murray’s grandmother, Cornelia Smith Fitzgerald, was born into slavery in North Carolina and served as a lifelong member of the Episcopal Church.
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Agnes Fitzgerald Murray
06/06

Agnes Fitzgerald Murray

Pauli Murray’s mother, Agnes Fitzgerald Murray, died when she was four years-old of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1914. Murray went to live with her aunt and grandparents in Durham, North Carolina.
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Exhibition Papers

James S. Smith’s bill of sale for Harriet Day, Pauli’s Great-Grandmother, 1834

James S. Smith’s bill of sale for Harriet Day, Pauli’s Great-Grandmother, 1834

Credit: Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Baptismal record for Harriet Day's five children: Julius, Cornelia, Emma, Annette, and Laura, 1854

Baptismal record for Harriet Day's five children: Julius, Cornelia, Emma, Annette, and Laura, 1854

Credit: Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University. All rights with the Estate of Pauli Murray, used herewith by permission of the Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency.
A Freedmen's Bureau commissioner's report records Robert Fitzgerald as a "day teacher," 1868

A Freedmen's Bureau commissioner's report records Robert Fitzgerald as a "day teacher," 1868

Credit: United States, Freedmen's Bureau, Records of the Superintendent of Education and of the Division of Education, 1865-1872.
James S. Smith’s bill of sale for Harriet Day, Pauli’s Great-Grandmother, 1834
Baptismal record for Harriet Day's five children: Julius, Cornelia, Emma, Annette, and Laura, 1854
A Freedmen's Bureau commissioner's report records Robert Fitzgerald as a "day teacher," 1868
Images courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, except where noted.
All rights with the Estate of Pauli Murray, used herewith by permission of the Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency.