Durham woman named Episcopal saint

Posted July 14, 2012 10:12 p.m. EDT

— A Durham woman who became a civil rights pioneer and the country's first black, female Episcopal priest has been recognized as a saint by the church she served.

The  General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Indianapolis on Wednesday approved a resolution naming Rev. Pauli Murray as a saint. July 1 will be her saint day.

"This is one of the ways that the church lifts up people whose lives have exemplified what it means to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and make a difference in the world," Michael Curry, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, said in a statement.

In 1977, Murray became the first black American woman to be ordained as an Episocal priest. She celebrated her first communion at the Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill in front of the altar where her grandmother was baptized as a slave.

"Murray had an agenda for the human good that was constant and unswerving," Curry said. "As a descendent of slaves and slaveholders, people who were members of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, she is a symbol for the importance of bringing different worlds together, even in the midst of great pain."

Born in Baltimore in 1910, Murray was raised in by her aunt and grandparents in Durham. After graduating from Hillside High School, she was denied admission to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Harvard University because of her race and sex, but earned law degrees from Howard University and the University of California Boalt School of Law.

She was an early pioneer in the civil rights movement, helping to found the nonviolent Congress of Racial Equality in 1942. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshal called a book she published in 1951 "the Bible for civil rights lawyers."

She was also a lifelong friend of Eleanor Roosevelt and an accomplished author and poet.

A service honoring Murray will be held at St. Titus’ Episcopal Church, 400 Moline St. in Durham at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.