Josie Murray, Civil Rights Activist by Linda Harris Sittig

You probably have walked into a public library at one point in your life and checked out a book.  But how would you feel if you were denied that privilege due to the color of your skin? One African American woman set about to rectify that situation in a sleepy little southern town in Virginia. The year was 1957.

Josie Murray and her husband Samuel Murray were well known upholsterers in western Loudoun County, Virginia.  Their business was advertised solely by word of mouth and although they lived in what was referred to as ‘the colored side’ of town, customers came from as far away as the District of Columbia.  National and local politicians, as well as painters, cooks, and housewives, adorned their homes with the Murray’s beautiful custom made curtains, draperies, and shades. Josie and Samuel continued however to live in a modest house, next door to their workshop.

Josie had grown up in a family of activists; her grandfather, Joseph Cook, had been a leader in the Loudoun County Emancipation Association, and had built the town’s first school for African American children.  Everyone in Josie’s family worked hard, and became respected members of the community.

During the winter of 1956, Mrs. Mabel Moore, from a neighboring town, asked Josie to fashion some shades modeled on an Austrian pattern.  However, neither Josie nor Samuel had any idea of what the pattern looked like, so they dressed in their best outfits, and walked over to the town library to do the research.  When they asked about checking out a book, they were informed they were not allowed to be in the building or have access to any of the materials.

Josie left, contacted the client, and explained the situation. What no one else perhaps knew was that this particular client was the sister-in-law of then President, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Josie was advised to seek legal counsel, which she and Samuel did; procuring representation from a lawyer in Washington D.C.  Subsequent letters and phone calls were exchanged, and a few months later the library board changed their policy to allow all citizens of Loudoun County open access.

Mrs. Moore got her Austrian shades, and Josie Murray’s actions helped to desegregate public libraries in the state of Virginia. Josie lived until her 90th birthday, sewing and designing curtains, drapes, and shades for customers both near and far. Some of her designs still decorate President Eisenhower’s home, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Josie Murray, a strong independent woman who quietly changed the status quo.


About lhsittig

I am a freelance writer who specializes in historical fiction that showcases strong female protagonists. In non-fiction I focus on literacy tips for parents and teachers to help children become life long readers.
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3 Responses to Josie Murray, Civil Rights Activist by Linda Harris Sittig

  1. Some acts are like a pebble thrown into a pond–the ripples spread outward creating effects far beyond expectations. Isn’t this one of life’s joys? And knowing that the epicenter of this particular pond-shaking act was right here in western Loudoun makes it all the more special. Thank you for telling us the story of Josie Murray.

  2. Steve says:

    Great story Linda. If the walls of that building could talk.

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