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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Pauli Murray, February 13, 1976. Interview G-0044. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Refusal to attend segregated university

Murray explains her decision to turn down a full scholarship to attend Wilberforce University in Ohio after she graduated from high school at the age of fifteen. Although all of her favorite teachers had attended that university, Murray states that she had already determined by that time to resist segregation in her education.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Pauli Murray, February 13, 1976. Interview G-0044. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

So, we had a large contingent of Wilberforce graduates there. When I graduated from high school with honors, the Wilberforce Club got together and bestowed a scholarship upon me to go to Wilberforce and I turned it down.
GENNA RAE MCNEIL:
I see.
PAULI MURRAY:
No more segregation for me. I was fifteen, but that I knew.
GENNA RAE MCNEIL:
Turning it down, did it have anything to do with persons in your family or other persons in that school that influenced you during your youth? I recall the remark that you made about the family and that was that there was pride on both sides of the Fitzgerald family, "but my greatest inheritance perhaps was a dogged persistence and a granite quality of endurance in the face of calamity." Now, these kinds of strengths that you felt from the Fitzgerald part of your family, I mean, were there particular persons that had such enormous influence on you within the family that they would make you feel some inner compulsion to move towards something that was not segregated also, or were they more the teachers who had been in separate institutions?
PAULI MURRAY:
I suspect that it must have been kind of a painful decision for me to make, to turn down a scholarship to Wilberforce, because so many of the teachers of the Wilberforce Club, who were my teachers, were my favorite teachers. I loved these people and they had been ' tremendous role models for me. They were the first young teachers, you know, young and bright and full of life and really opened up new worlds for me. So, the fact that I didn't want to go to Wilberforce, for no other reason than that Wilberforce was going to be a segregated school, since the people that I liked best were from Wilberforce, says something about this deep internal thing about segregation. Now, remember that my great-grandparents, Thomas Fitzgerald and Sarah Anne Burton Fitzgerald, were an interracial marriage and so, segregation was something that tended to split what to me was my roots. You will also recall in Proud Shoes that I talked about families being split, some families disappearing into the white race. So, this whole business of separation was something that was deeply personal to me because it split my own family. You asked me about color differences. Color differences operated not only between an individual and the local community, but they also operated within a family. I recall, for example, that I told you there were six of us, six little Murrays. On the one visit that I made back to Baltimore, when I was about nine, it was very clear that at least four of us could go downtown to the movies on Saturdays, the white movie houses.
GENNA RAE MCNEIL:
And sit wherever you wanted to.
PAULI MURRAY:
Yes, and two of us couldn't. I happened to be one of the two and that says something to you about why I would become a crusader for civil rights. I don't think that I thought that in those days, but I'm sure that these experiences coming to me out from the intimacy of the family made an even greater impact than they would had they been from the society per se.