‘How is Pauli Murray not a household name?’ The extraordinary life of the US’s most radical activist

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Gay & Lesbian, History, Law, Media Archive, Social Justice, United States, Women on 2021-09-30 03:38Z by Steven

‘How is Pauli Murray not a household name?’ The extraordinary life of the US’s most radical activist

The Guardian
2021-09-17

Steve Rose


‘I lived to see my lost causes found’ … Pauli Murray. Photograph: Everett Collection Historical/Alamy

She explored her gender and sexuality in the 20s, defied segregation in the 40s and inspired Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Now, a film is bringing her trailblazing achievements to light

It seems inconceivable that someone like Pauli Murray could have slipped through the cracks of US history. A lawyer, activist, scholar, poet and priest, Murray led a trailblazing life that altered the course of history. She was at the forefront of the battles for racial and gender equality, but often so far out in front that her contributions went unrecognised.

In 1940, 15 years before Rosa Parks, Murray was jailed for refusing to move to the back of a bus in the Jim Crow south. In 1943, she campaigned successfully to desegregate her local diner, 17 years before the Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins of 1960. Her work paved the way for the landmark supreme court ruling Brown v Board of Education in 1954 – which de-segregated US schools – to the extent that Thurgood Marshall, a lawyer for the NAACP civil rights group, called Murray’s book States’ Laws on Race and Color “the bible for civil rights lawyers”.

Murray also co-founded the National Organization for Women (NOW), in 1966, alongside Betty Friedan. When Ruth Bader Ginsburg won the Reed v Reed case in 1971, which ruled that discrimination “on the basis of sex” was unconstitutional, her arguments were built on Murray’s work. Ginsburg named Murray as co-author of the brief. “We knew when we wrote that brief that we were standing on her shoulders,” Ginsburg later said.

Murray ought to be celebrated as an American hero, commemorated in stamps, statuary and street names, not to mention biopics, so why is her name relatively unknown?…

Read the entire article here.

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Pauli Murray Should Be a Household Name. A New Film Shows Why.

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, Gay & Lesbian, Law, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Justice, United States, Women on 2021-09-20 16:49Z by Steven

Pauli Murray Should Be a Household Name. A New Film Shows Why.

The New York Times
2021-09-15

Melena Ryzik


A scene from “My Name Is Pauli Murray.” The documentarian Betsy West, who made the film with Julie Cohen, said, “We just thought, why didn’t anybody teach us about this person?” Amazon Studios

The lawyer, activist and minister made prescient arguments on gender, race and equality that influenced Thurgood Marshall and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

When the lawyer, activist, author and educator Pauli Murray died in 1985 at the age of 75, no obituary or commemoration could contain all of her pathbreaking accomplishments. A radical and brilliant legal strategist, Murray was named a deputy attorney general in California — the first Black person in that office — in 1946, just a year after passing the bar there. Murray was an organizer of sit-ins and participated in bus protests as far back as the 1940s, and co-founded the National Organization for Women. Murray was also the first Black woman to be ordained an Episcopal priest. In 2012, she was sainted.

Murray has been saluted in legal, academic and gender-studies circles, and in the L.G.B.T.Q. community. But her overarching impact on American life in the 20th and now 21st centuries has not been broadly acknowledged: the thinking and writing that paved the way for Brown v. Board of Education; the consideration of intersectionality (she helped popularize the term “Jane Crow”); the enviable social circle, as she was a buddy of Langston Hughes and a pen pal of Eleanor Roosevelt, and worked on her first memoir alongside James Baldwin at the MacDowell Colony in the first year it allowed Black artists.

Murray was devoted to feminism and the rights of women even as, it turned out, she privately battled lifelong gender identity issues. She should be a household name on par with Gloria Steinem or Ruth Bader Ginsburg, both of whom cited her work often. Instead Murray is an insider’s civil rights icon.

Now a documentary, “My Name Is Pauli Murray,” aims to introduce Murray to the masses. Made by the same Academy Award-nominated filmmakers behind the surprise hit “RBG,” it uses Murray’s own voice and words as narration, drawn from interviews, oral histories and the prolific writing — books, poems and a collection of argumentative, impassioned and romantic letters — that Murray meticulously filed away with an eye toward her legacy. And the film arrives at a moment when the tenacious activism of people of color, especially women, is being re-contextualized and newly acknowledged, at the same time that many of the battles they fought are still raging…

Read the entire article here.

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Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray

Posted in Books, Gay & Lesbian, Media Archive, Monographs, United States, Women on 2017-09-20 23:40Z by Steven

Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray

Oxford University Press
2017-05-01
512 Pages
31 illustrations
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
Hardcover ISBN: 9780190656454

Rosalind Rosenberg, Professor Emerita of History
Barnard College, Columbia University, New York, New York

  • Definitive biography of a key figure in the civil rights and women’s movements.
  • Sensitive exploration of a black person identified at birth as female who believed she was male, before the term “transgender” existed.
  • Murray’s legal work was influential in key Supreme Court cases.
  • New Yale residential college to be named for Murray in 2017.

Throughout her prodigious life, activist and lawyer Pauli Murray systematically fought against all arbitrary distinctions in society, channeling her outrage at the discrimination she faced to make America a more democratic country. In this definitive biography, Rosalind Rosenberg offers a poignant portrait of a figure who played pivotal roles in both the modern civil rights and women’s movements.

A mixed-race orphan, Murray grew up in segregated North Carolina before escaping to New York, where she attended Hunter College and became a labor activist in the 1930s. When she applied to graduate school at the University of North Carolina, where her white great-great-grandfather had been a trustee, she was rejected because of her race. She went on to graduate first in her class at Howard Law School, only to be rejected for graduate study again at Harvard University this time on account of her sex. Undaunted, Murray forged a singular career in the law. In the 1950s, her legal scholarship helped Thurgood Marshall challenge segregation head-on in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case.

When appointed by Eleanor Roosevelt to the President’s Commission on the Status of Women in 1962, she advanced the idea of Jane Crow, arguing that the same reasons used to condemn race discrimination could be used to battle gender discrimination. In 1965, she became the first African American to earn a JSD from Yale Law School and the following year persuaded Betty Friedan to found an NAACP for women, which became NOW. In the early 1970s, Murray provided Ruth Bader Ginsburg with the argument Ginsburg used to persuade the Supreme Court that the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution protects not only blacks but also women—and potentially other minority groups—from discrimination. By that time, Murray was a tenured history professor at Brandeis, a position she left to become the first black woman ordained a priest by the Episcopal Church in 1976.

Murray accomplished all this while struggling with issues of identity. She believed from childhood she was male and tried unsuccessfully to persuade doctors to give her testosterone. While she would today be identified as transgender, during her lifetime no social movement existed to support this identity. She ultimately used her private feelings of being “in-between” to publicly contend that identities are not fixed, an idea that has powered campaigns for equal rights in the United States for the past half-century.

Table of Contents

  • Abbreviations
  • A Note on Pronouns and Other Word Choices
  • Introduction
  • Part I: Coming of Age, 1910-1937
    • Chapter 1 – A Southern Childhood
    • Chapter 2 – Escape to New York
  • Part II: Confronting Jim Crow, 1938-1941
    • Chapter 3 – “Members of Your Race Are Not Admitted”
    • Chapter 4 – Bus Trouble
    • Chapter 5 – A Death Sentence Leads to Law School
  • Part III: Naming Jane Crow, 1941-1946
    • Chapter 6 – “I Would Gladly Change My Sex”
    • Chapter 7 – California Promise
  • Part IV: Surviving the Cold War, 1946-1961
    • Chapter 8 – “Apostles of Fear”
    • Chapter 9 – A Person In Between
    • Chapter 10 – “What Is Africa to Me?”
  • Part V: A Chance to Lead, 1961-1967
    • Chapter 11 – Making Sex Suspect
    • Chapter 12 – Invisible Woman
    • Chapter 13 – Toward an NAACP for Women
  • Part VI: To Teach, To Preach, 1967-1977
    • Chapter 14 – Professor Murray
    • Chapter 15 – Triumph and Loss
    • Chapter 16 – The Reverend Dr. Murray
  • Epilogue
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
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At Yale, a Right That Doesn’t Outweigh a Wrong

Posted in Campus Life, History, Media Archive, Religion, Slavery, United States, Women on 2016-05-01 00:45Z by Steven

At Yale, a Right That Doesn’t Outweigh a Wrong

The New York Times
2016-04-29

Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, Peter V & C Vann Woodward Professor of History, African American Studies, and American Studies
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

NEW HAVEN — Yale made a grievous mistake this week when it announced that it would keep the name of an avowed white supremacist, John C. Calhoun, on a residential college, despite decades of vigorous alumni and student protests. The decision to name residential colleges for Benjamin Franklin and Anna Pauline Murray, a black civil rights activist, does nothing to redeem this wrong.

It is not a just compromise to split the difference between Calhoun and Murray; there should be no compromise between such stark contrasts in values. The decision to retain the Calhoun name continues the pain inflicted every day on students who live in a dormitory named for a man distinguished by being one of the country’s most egregious racists.

To be sure, there’s something noteworthy about the contrast between these two figures who now sit across campus from each other. Although they lived in different centuries, Calhoun in the 19th, and Murray in the 20th, in many ways, she lived in — and fought against — the world that he built.

Calhoun, a Yale graduate, congressman and the seventh vice president of the United States, owned dozens of slaves in Fort Hill, S.C. Murray grew up in poverty in Durham, N. C., as the granddaughter of an enslaved woman. Calhoun championed slavery as a “positive good”; Murray’s great-grandmother was raped by her slave master. Calhoun profited immensely from the labor of the enslaved people on his plantation; Murray was a radical labor activist in Harlem during the Great Depression

Read the entire article here.

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‘The Firebrand and the First Lady,’ by Patricia Bell-Scott

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2016-04-03 02:40Z by Steven

‘The Firebrand and the First Lady,’ by Patricia Bell-Scott

Sunday Book Review
The New York Times
2016-02-19

Irin Carmon


Pauli Murray, in 1946, and Eleanor Roosevelt, circa 1943. Credit Left, Bettmann/Corbis; right, Stock Montage/Getty Images

Patricia Bell-Scott, The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016)

The February 1953 issue of Ebony included an article entitled “Some of My Best Friends Are Negroes.” The byline was Eleanor Roosevelt’s, though the headline, apparently, was not. “One of my finest young friends is a charming woman lawyer — Pauli Murray, who has been quite a firebrand at times but of whom I am very fond,” Roosevelt wrote. “She is a lovely person who has struggled and come through very well.” Indeed, nothing was ever easy for Murray, a black woman born in 1910, a woman attracted to women and also a poet, memoirist, lawyer, activist and Episcopal priest. But her tender friendship with Roosevelt, sustained over nearly a quarter-century and more than 300 cards and letters, helped. It is the rich earth Patricia Bell-Scott tills for “The Firebrand and the First Lady,” a tremendous book that has been 20 years in the making.

You could say Pauli Murray was born too soon, and saying so captures the essential injustice of her life, but it would also rob her of credit for making her own time the best she could. “I’m really a submerged writer,” Murray once told her friends, “but the exigencies of the period have driven me into social action.” The granddaughter of a woman born into slavery and a mixed-race Union soldier, Murray was arrested for refusing to sit in the colored section of a bus 15 years before the Montgomery bus boycott and for participating in restaurant sit-ins in the early 1940s, long before the 1960 sit-ins at Woolworth’s lunch counter. She led a national campaign on behalf of a black sharecropper on death row…

Read the entire review here.

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The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice

Posted in Biography, Books, History, Letters, Media Archive, Monographs, Social Justice, United States, Women on 2016-02-06 21:17Z by Steven

The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice

Alfred A. Knopf
2016-02-02
480 Pages
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0679446521
eBook ISBN: 978-1101946923

Patricia Bell-Scott, Professor of Child and Family Development and Women’s Studies
University of Georgia

Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice

A groundbreaking book—two decades in the works—that tells the story of how a brilliant writer-turned-activist, granddaughter of a mulatto slave, and the first lady of the United States, whose ancestry gave her membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution, forged an enduring friendship that changed each of their lives and helped to alter the course of race and racism in America.

Pauli Murray first saw Eleanor Roosevelt in 1933, at the height of the Depression, at a government-sponsored, two-hundred-acre camp for unemployed women where Murray was living, something the first lady had pushed her husband to set up in her effort to do what she could for working women and the poor. The first lady appeared one day unannounced, behind the wheel of her car, her secretary and a Secret Service agent her passengers. To Murray, then aged twenty-three, Roosevelt’s self-assurance was a symbol of women’s independence, a symbol that endured throughout Murray’s life.

Five years later, Pauli Murray, a twenty-eight-year-old aspiring writer, wrote a letter to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt protesting racial segregation in the South. The president’s staff forwarded Murray’s letter to the federal Office of Education. The first lady wrote back.

Murray’s letter was prompted by a speech the president had given at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, praising the school for its commitment to social progress. Pauli Murray had been denied admission to the Chapel Hill graduate school because of her race.

She wrote in her letter of 1938:

“Does it mean that Negro students in the South will be allowed to sit down with white students and study a problem which is fundamental and mutual to both groups? Does it mean that the University of North Carolina is ready to open its doors to Negro students . . . ? Or does it mean, that everything you said has no meaning for us as Negroes, that again we are to be set aside and passed over . . . ?”

Eleanor Roosevelt wrote to Murray:

“I have read the copy of the letter you sent me and I understand perfectly, but great changes come slowly . . . The South is changing, but don’t push too fast.”

So began a friendship between Pauli Murray (poet, intellectual rebel, principal strategist in the fight to preserve Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, cofounder of the National Organization for Women, and the first African American female Episcopal priest) and Eleanor Roosevelt (first lady of the United States, later first chair of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and chair of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women) that would last for a quarter of a century.

Drawing on letters, journals, diaries, published and unpublished manuscripts, and interviews, Patricia Bell-Scott gives us the first close-up portrait of this evolving friendship and how it was sustained over time, what each gave to the other, and how their friendship changed the cause of American social justice.

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Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family

Posted in Biography, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery, United States on 2010-10-18 19:22Z by Steven

Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family

Beacon Press
1999-08-01 (originally published in 1956)
304 pages
Size: 5-3/8″ X 8″ Inches
Paperback ISBN: 978-080707209-7

Pauli Murray (Anna Pauline Murray) (1910-1985)

First published in 1956, Proud Shoes is the remarkable true story of slavery, survival, and miscegenation in the South from the pre-Civil War era through the Reconstruction. Written by Pauli Murray the legendary civil rights activist and one of the founders of NOW, Proud Shoes chronicles the lives of Murray’s maternal grandparents. From the birth of her grandmother, Cornelia Smith, daughter of a slave whose beauty incited the master’s sons to near murder to the story of her grandfather Robert Fitzgerald, whose free black father married a white woman in 1840, Proud Shoes offers a revealing glimpse of our nation’s history.

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