Angela Thorpe-Mason’s Spirit Work at the Pauli Murray Center

Graphic created by Corinna Collins with images courtesy of the Pauli Murray Center and and Schlesinger Library at Harvard University.

By Corinna Collins

Angela Thorpe-Mason brings mindfulness, spirit and expertise to her role as executive director of the Pauli Murray Center, as exhibited in her conversation with the Durham Voice on April 29. 

“For me, cultural heritage work and stewarding the Pauli Murray Center is something I call spirit work,” Thorpe-Mason said. 

The Pauli Murray Center is a National Historic Landmark that preserves, celebrates and extends the legacy of the groundbreaking lawyer, writer, educator and priest. Murray’s legacy is multifaceted, with connections to race, gender, sexuality, education, religion and more. 

A tenacious changemaker, Thorpe-Mason hopes to bring this attitude of cognizant, spiritual enrichment through history back to the Pauli Murray Center as it prepares to open in-person activities to the public.

Thorpe-Mason, in only her first year as executive director, has been entrusted with completing renovations to Pauli Murray’s childhood home and opening it to the city of Durham. 

“I’m really excited that we are finally in a place where we are making good on a decade-long promise,” Thorpe-Mason said. “This fall, the Pauli Murray Center for Social Justice, which is anchored at Pauli Murray’s childhood home, will be open to the public. We have just wrapped up those renovations, which is something I was able to achieve in my first year as the executive director at the Pauli Murray Center.”

In addition to leading renovation efforts, Thorpe-Mason also has the responsibility of guiding the Pauli Murray Center as the city emerges from pandemic restrictions.. During this process, she also aims to maintain a level of comfort and safety for the communities that the center serves.

“As we come out of the pandemic, I think we have a couple of really thoughtful opportunities. On one hand, we have an opportunity to connect more in person and commit more deeply to what building in-person community looks like,” Thorpe-Mason said. “People can really get a sense for what it means for a community like Durham to have a center for history and social justice.”

Under Thorpe-Mason’s leadership, the center will continue to offer virtual programming alongside physical activities in hopes to maintain broad accessibility within the entire community.

“On the other hand, we have learned a lot,” she said. “It is still really important for us to be mindful of folks’ health and safety.” 

Thorpe-Mason has a background in public history, having worked as an oral history researcher, a historic interpreter and a director for the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission. She is thrilled to share Pauli Murray’s history and its connection to contemporary issues.

“It’s critical for me to ground as much as possible in Reverend Dr. Pauli Murrary,” Thorpe-Mason said. “And that really is a gift. For many African American histories and for many queer histories, we don’t have a sound record for them. We have that here, so it is really important to connect people to that record.”

While this integrity and dedication to Pauli Murray’s story is central to Thorpe-Mason’s work, she brings her personal philosophy about learning into her work everyday. For her, history guides social impact.

“My work is to connect everyday people to the power and possibility and expansiveness of history,” she said.

As the first Black woman to lead the Pauli Murray Center, Thorpe-Mason does not take this responsibility lightly. She feels that her personal identity assists her to contextualize work being done to perpetuate the legacy of Pauli Murray.

“We can use our gifts and brilliance to do many, many things,” Thorpe-Mason said. “Black people have contributed so much to this world, women have contributed so much to this world and young people have contributed so much to this world, and I have the great fortune of sitting in all three of those identities. This is an opportunity for me to really demonstrate what creative and equitable leadership can look like in this community and in the field of cultural heritage stewardship.”

A portion of this leadership capacity has been acknowledging potential short-comings and seeking solutions in the center’s programming that incorporate every part of Murray’s identity. 

“For me it is really important to be informed where my gaps are,” Thorpe-Mason said. “I am not a queer person; that is something that is a gap in terms of the connection to Reverend Dr. Murray’s identity. It is important for me to listen to people who are members of the LGBTQIA community as I do my work.” 

Ultimately, the executive director wants to foster a “community-oriented approach” that provides a meaningful sense of belonging and aligns with the numerous facets of Murray’s legacy. A segment of this work centers around the experience of queer people by organizing gender-affirming celebrations and other activities at the center. 

Thorpe-Mason is currently outlining the next several months of activities at the Pauli Murray Center. Durham residents can anticipate this fall’s in-person launch of the Pauli Murray Center located at 906 Carroll St.

Edited by Mary Mungai

Edited by Campbell Atterbury

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>