“I’m on both sides of this fight”: Pauli Murray and the University of North Carolina

April 1, 2024

Pauli Murray writing
A new digital exhibition from the University Libraries explores the complex and lifelong relationships that Pauli Murray—a pioneering legal scholar, civil rights activist and Episcopal priest—had with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“This exhibit draws from records in Wilson Library to trace the many ways Pauli Murray’s life intersected with UNC-Chapel Hill, including her family connections to the University, her efforts to enroll as a student in the 1930s and her refusal of an honorary degree in the 1970s,” says University Archivist Nicholas Graham. “Through this exhibit, visitors will have the opportunity to read original letters from Murray and will see examples of her lifelong advocacy for racial and gender equality.”

The exhibition’s title comes from a letter Murray wrote while struggling with the decision of whether to accept the honorary degree. She wrote:

“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.”

The team behind the exhibition writes that in positioning herself on “both sides” of the fight, Murray may have been referencing not just her family connections to the university, but also her desire to push the institution toward a more equitable approach to higher education.

While this exhibition serves as an introduction to Murray’s history with UNC-Chapel Hill, the Libraries hopes it will also serve as an inspiration to read her writings and learn more about her work.

View the Exhibit

This exhibit uses she/her pronouns to Pauli Murray, which is how Murray referred to herself in her public writings. However, these pronouns do not reflect the complexity of Murray’s gender identity. The Pauli Murray Center provides important additional context regarding Murray’s pronouns and gender.