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Professor Robin Kirk, co-director of the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute and Professor of the Practice in Cultural Anthropology, is leading a research and writing course this semester, Human Rights in Durham. Kirk says that in the class, “[students] will be researching the relationship between the historically segregated Maplewood Cemetery and the Fitzgerald home, where Pauli Murray grew up in the care of her grandparents and aunt.” To contextualize their research, Professor Kirk recently brought the 10 students in the class to visit the Fitzgerald House and speak with Pauli Murray Center Executive Director Angela Mason.

Upon reflection, Mason recounted, “Connecting the students to the power of place-based history was impactful for me, and I believe it was for the students, as well. It was a pleasure to help students explore how Rev. Dr. Murray, the West End community, and the physical structure of Pauli Murray's childhood home have had deep, lasting impacts in Durham and beyond.”

Through the class’s research, students have learned that much of the original land for Maplewood Cemetery was bought from Emma Turner Dempsey (1827-1912) and her husband, Dempsey Henderson (1825-1912). The Hendersons were the first documented family enslaved by the Cameron family to leave their enslavers in 1865. Kirk said,“It’s quite astonishing that the Hendersons were able to earn enough money in such a short time to buy land from white people (who often refused to sell to Black families) and then parlay it into a source of wealth.” For decades, the Henderson family was buried in a plot separate from Maplewood because they were Black. However, this plot was recently incorporated into the larger city-maintained Maplewood Cemetery, along with the plot that houses Pauli Murray’s family.

This student-led research will soon be used by the Pauli Murray Center for their official grand opening of the Fitzgerald House this year, upon completion of renovation. The Human Rights in Durham course truly exemplifies how student research can be used to benefit the local Durham community.