Women’s Heritage

Saving the Childhood Home of Pauli Murray, Activist & Civil Rights Leader

Posted on: September 24th, 2010 by Guest Writer

 

Written by April Johnson

The Pauli Murray House c. 1910.

The Pauli Murray House c. 1910.

Dr. Anna Pauline (Pauli) Murray, an orphan, was born in1910 and raised by grandparents Robert and Cornelia Fitzgerald in Durham, NC. Pauli’s grandfather and great uncle established economic stability as landowners, educators and business leaders in the community and stood for everything the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow laws fought to prevent.

Pauli became an activist in her twenties, later emerging as a leader in the civil rights and women’s rights movements. Pauli was also a writer, poet, teacher, feminist and a first of a few things. She was the first African American woman to receive a J.D.S. from Yale University and the first African American woman to become an Episcopal priest. During her career, Pauli worked with Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Thurgood Marshall and Philip Randolph.

Today, the one-and-a-half story I-house where Pauli grew up sits far back from the road up against a cemetery. It stands tall and distinct from the other houses around it, but is vacant, rancid, trashed and constantly broken into by vagrants. For years now the community organized meetings to figure out how the house can be saved. Finally, thanks to the Pauli Murray Project, the talking is turning into action. Baby steps, but action!

There is a core group of organizations thinking and strategizing about what to do to celebrate Pauli Murray’s childhood home. I volunteered for this project like a schoolgirl raising her hand in the classroom shaking her arm uncontrollably nearly falling out of her seat. Once I read only a few chapters of Pauli Murray’s autobiography Proud Shoes, I knew I was in.

The Pauli Murray House in 2010.

The Pauli Murray House in 2010.

A problem facing the groups is that the house has been altered a bit, so at least two applications to the State Historic Preservation Office were not approved for the study list. I was discouraged and didn’t think much else of it until I took my survey advisor with me to help me decide on historic district boundaries for the neighborhood where the house is located. She too turned into that schoolgirl and urged me to send in the application again. What?!

So now I’m excited about working with the Pauli Murray Project, the Durham Quality of Life Council and self-help, yes I said it…self-help. Our priority is getting the funds for the work and yes we take checks, credit cards and cash. I will work on documentation and submitting a nomination for the National Register of Historic Places. Our mission is to save this house and make it a place to remember Pauli Murray’s activism and create a sense of community pride. Maybe later we’ll decide on what we’d like to do with the house once it rehabilitated.

April Johnson is the Documentation of African American Historic Sites Coordinator for Preservation Durham in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation Partners in the Field program.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

Protecting Abandoned Cemeteries in Virginia

Posted on: June 23rd, 2010 by Guest Writer 1 Comment

 

Written by Sonja Ingram

A rural cemetery in southern Virginia. (Jen Hurst, Statewide Educational Coordinator, Preservation Virginia)

A rural cemetery in southern Virginia. (Jen Hurst, Statewide Educational Coordinator, Preservation Virginia)

There is a cemetery in the woods behind my house. I have walked to it many times and thought about the people buried there. There are no angels or crosses, only trees that have grown up over time. At least fifty graves exist, all but one are either unmarked or have only small fieldstone markers. The one inscribed marker reads the following:

"Martha Flipping

Died Dec. 25, 1925.

Age 40 Yrs.

May The Resurrec

tion Find Thee

On The Bosom Of

Thy God."

I have also visited many grand cemeteries; Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond is one of my favorites. Hollywood Cemetery is a beautiful and historic place, with many famous and infamous people resting there including Presidents James Monroe and John Tyler, and Confederates Jefferson Davis and J.E.B. Stuart.

Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. (Jen Hurst, Statewide Educational Coordinator, Preservation Virginia)

Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. (Jen Hurst, Statewide Educational Coordinator, Preservation Virginia)

Many Victorian cemeteries such as Hollywood Cemetery were created in the garden style with the use of ornamental trees and shrubs and numerous striking statues of angels, urns and broken columns — all of which portrayed the elaborate funerary symbolism popular during the Victorian era. Many crypts and mausoleums are considered architectural masterpieces that confirmed the individuality, greatness, and often the wealth of the people buried within.

On the other hand, many cemeteries of the same era, for the disadvantaged and rural populations in Virginia, consisted of plots carved from fields and woods with little decoration — except perhaps periwinkle and yucca — and simple (if any) grave markers.

On the 1920 Census, Martha Flipping was (perhaps wrongly) listed as being age 39. An unmarried black woman, she was considered the head of the household and had living with her, her daughter, Mary, who was 22 and also single, and two granddaughters, Dolly, age seven and Victoria, age two. Martha was listed as having no occupation and could neither read nor write; however, Mary could read and write and she and Dolly were both listed as "washerwomen" for a private residence.

The 1920 census provides many tantalizing clues about Martha Flipping, her life, her family, her community and it also brings up many questions. Would these clues and questions about an important ingredient of history that is often ignored — rural African American women during Jim Crow and before the Civil Rights era — be "brought to life" if this cemetery had been somehow destroyed?

Many cemeteries can provide an abundance of information through the study of cemetery landscapes, gravestone designs and religious and mortuary practices, but rural cemeteries can provide more fundamental information about the lives of the disenfranchised or poor — information that may not be available elsewhere. Martha Flipping was illiterate, and likely didn't leave behind any diaries or letters.

Unfortunately, in many cases, Virginia cemetery laws are not being upheld and many rural, abandoned family cemeteries are being impacted and destroyed by incorrect development, logging and farming practices.

For all of these reasons, and to help raise awareness about these threats, historic family cemeteries were listed on Preservation Virginia’s 2010 Endangered List. The Virginia’s Department of Historic Resources hosted a cemetery protection workshop recently in Richmond, and will now hold the workshops at other venues across the state. Cemeteries and cemetery protection measures are also featured on the department's Virginia Archaeology Month (October) 2010 poster.

Hopefully these efforts will provide some of the education needed to save what remains of Virginia's abandoned cemeteries.

Sonja Ingram is a field representative for Preservation Virginia and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

This Treasure Matters: The Sewall-Belmont House

Posted on: April 14th, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Washington, DC is a city full of imposing governmental buildings, gorgeous embassies and magisterial monuments, and as such, it can be easy to forget that not every building has an edifice as striking as the history contained in its walls. The Sewall-Belmont House is just such a place. A reasonably modest red brick mansion bordered on one side by a neighborhood filled with red brick row houses, and on the other by the Capitol and Senate office buildings, it could easily have vanished from the national consciousness.

This would have been a shame, as it has stood in witness to some very significant history, indeed. From being the only residence in the city to offer armed resistance during the British invasion in 1814 to its early-twentieth century role as the headquarters of the historic National Woman’s Party (NWP) , the Sewall-Belmont house has been on the front lines as America grew and changed.

In recognition of this importance, the Sewall-Belmont House was one of only four initial projects named by Congress in the legislation that established the “Save America’s Treasures” program, along with the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Star Spangled Banner.

This initial challenge grant, made in the amount of $500,000 in 1999, along with an additional $5 million in private contributions was leveraged over the next five years to complete the massive restoration. Today, The Sewall-Belmont House is one of the premier women’s history sites in the nation, the only major suffrage site that remains intact with an unparalleled collection of original furnishings, documents, photographs, art and artifacts.

Save America's Treasures, Preserve America, and the other programs cut or underfunded by the proposed federal budget do more than preserve our country's rich heritage – they put Americans to work. Learn more about the National Trust's campaign to restore this critical funding.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

 

Thanks to Save America's Treasures, the Homestead is where visitors today can go inside Emily Dickinson's world.

It is easy to think of poets as simply professional people-watchers – incredibly articulate talents who can capture a moment – a feeling – out of thin air and immortalize it on paper in such a way that it can be relived by complete strangers.

However, for one of America’s greatest and most prolific in the craft, understanding and explaining the profound complexity of human emotion did not come from being a tortured lover or an all-around astute observer; it came from a life lived in loneliness and isolation.

Poems without titles; unconventional style and punctuation; recurring themes of death and immortality – this is Emily Dickinson.

Dickinson was born in 1830 at a home in Amherst, Massachusetts known as the Homestead. Introverted and reclusive even in her early years, it is here where she would spend the majority of her life – and where her creativity would flourish. Many of those who study her believe that her quarantine gave her an opportunity to step back and understand the human experience like none before her had. She passed away in 1886, leaving behind 1,800 poems that continue to push the poetic envelope today.

Quite simply, Emily’s story could not be told without her home. Save America’s Treasures realized this, granting $200,000 in 2004 towards the creation of a master plan that would link and preserve the Homestead and the Evergreens (a neighboring home where members of the Dickson family also lived). The federal grant was matched by more than $500,000 in private funds, which ultimately addressed critical exterior restorations and mechanical systems upgrades.

In 2009, some 13,000 tourists and Dickinson enthusiasts visited the homes, known collectively as the Emily Dickinson Museum. According to the site’s executive director, the rising visitation numbers have had a multiplying effect on the local economy of Amherst, drawing thousands of curious visitors into the town where Emily was once known only as an eccentric woman of mystery.

Save America's Treasures, Preserve America, and the other programs cut or underfunded by the proposed federal budget do more than preserve our country's rich heritage – they put Americans to work. Learn more about the National Trust's campaign to restore this critical funding.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Jason Clement

Jason Clement

Jason Lloyd Clement is the director of community outreach at the National Trust, which is really just a fancy way of saying he’s a professional place lover. For him, any day that involves a bike, a camera, and a gritty historic neighborhood is basically the best day ever.

This Treasure Matters: Taking a Walk With “Little Women”

Posted on: March 10th, 2010 by Jason Clement

 

Summer at Orchard House.

You’d be hard pressed to find a young girl who does not know Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy.

Don’t worry; we’re not talking about some new pop phenomenon or even Dancing with the Stars; we’re talking about four sisters – four little women – that seem to have a permanent place in the lives of American adolescents.

It’s true – whether on screen or on paper, Little Women lives on today. And, thanks to Save America’s Treasures, so does Orchard House – the historic home in Concord, MA where Louisa May Alcott, the author of the beloved series, lived and wrote this story that transcends generations.

In 2000, Alcott’s Orchard House received a $400,000 federal Save America’s Treasures challenge grant, which was met with an additional $150,000 in private contributions. This much-needed funding addressed a variety of structural damages and abnormalities that had come to plague the iconic home where Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy came to life. And the restoration didn’t just save a place that our country simply couldn’t stand to lose – it created 31 local and regional jobs for individuals within 14 different trades and professions.

Today, the proof is in the eyes of the thousands of visitors who come to walk through the home where Little Women came to be – this treasure matters, and this program works.

Save America's Treasures, Preserve America, and the other programs cut or underfunded by the proposed federal budget do more than preserve our country's rich heritage – they put Americans to work. Learn more about the National Trust's campaign to restore this critical funding.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Jason Clement

Jason Clement

Jason Lloyd Clement is the director of community outreach at the National Trust, which is really just a fancy way of saying he’s a professional place lover. For him, any day that involves a bike, a camera, and a gritty historic neighborhood is basically the best day ever.