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Pauli Murray had a lifelong connection to the University of North Carolina (UNC). This exhibit traces aspects of Murray’s long and complicated relationship with the University. It covers her family connections to University alumni and benefactors, her efforts to enroll in the 1930s only to be refused because of her race, her ordination at the Chapel of the Cross in 1977, and her refusal of an honorary degree from the University in 1978.

The title of this exhibit comes from a letter Murray wrote to her friends June and Lee Kessler in 1978 as she struggled to decide whether to accept an honorary degree from UNC. Murray, describing a conversation with Chancellor Ferebee Taylor, writes: “There’s just no way; I have to live with myself; I have to do what is right so I can sleep at night; we’re in this thing together – I’m on both sides of this fight, split right down the middle.” In describing herself as being “on both sides of this fight” Murray may have been referencing not just her family connections to the University but her desire to push the institution toward a more responsible and equitable approach to public higher education. As with her efforts to enroll in 1938, Murray was advocating for UNC to meet its stated ideals of providing accessible public education for all North Carolinians. In both cases, the University was too reluctant and too slow to change.

This exhibit is published at a time when UNC-Chapel Hill is still engaged in many of the same struggles championed by Murray in a lifetime of activism, scholarship, and teaching. Murray’s life and writing were often cited in protests against the Confederate Monument on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, and her legacy has been acknowledged by the UNC departments advocating for renaming their building in honor of Murray. It is our hope that this exhibit will serve not only as an introduction to Murray’s history with UNC-Chapel Hill, but also as an inspiration to read her writings and learn more about her life and work.

A Note About Pronouns

Throughout this exhibit we use she/her pronouns to refer to Pauli Murray. This is consistent with the ways Murray referred to herself in public writings and follows the practice of many Murray biographers. However, we acknowledge that these pronouns do not reflect the complexity of Murray’s gender identity. We recommend the Pauli Murray Center’s website for a helpful discussion of pronouns and gender with regard to Murray: