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Pauli Murray

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Pauli Murray
Born Anna Pauline Murray
(1910-11-20)November 20, 1910
Baltimore, Maryland, United States
Died July 1, 1985(1985-07-01) (aged 74)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
Religion Episcopal Church in the United States of America

The Reverend Dr. Anna Pauline "Pauli" Murray (November 20, 1910 – July 1, 1985) was an American civil rights activist, women's rights activist, lawyer, and author. Dr. Murray was also the first black woman ordained an Episcopal priest.[1]

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Murray was raised mostly by her maternal grandparents. At the age of sixteen, she moved to New York to attend Hunter College, graduating with a B.A. in English in 1933. In 1940, Murray was arrested with a friend for violating Virginia segregation laws after they sat in the whites-only section of a bus. This incident, and her subsequent involvement with the socialist Workers' Defense League, led to a career goal as a civil rights lawyer, and she enrolled at Howard University. While at Howard, she became increasingly aware of sexism, which she called "Jane Crow", comparing it to the Jim Crow racial segregation laws. Murray graduated first in her class, but was denied the chance to do further work at Harvard University because of her gender. In 1965 she became the first African American to receive a J.S.D. from Yale Law School.

As a lawyer, Murray argued for civil rights and women's rights. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Chief Counsel Thurgood Marshall called Murray's 1950 book States' Laws on Race and Color the "bible" of the civil rights movement.[2] Murray served on the 1961 Presidential Commission on the Status of Women and in 1966 was a co-founder of the National Organization for Women. Ruth Bader Ginsburg later named Murray a coauthor on a brief for Reed v. Reed in recognition of her pioneering work on gender discrimination.[3] Murray held faculty or administrative positions at the Ghana School of Law, Benedict College, and Brandeis University.

In 1973, Murray left academia for the Episcopal Church, becoming a priest, and was named an Episcopal saint in 2012. Murray struggled with issues related to her sexual and gender identity, describing herself as having an "inverted sex instinct"; she had a brief, annulled marriage to a man and several relationships with women, and in her younger years, occasionally passed as a teenage boy.[4] In addition to her legal and advocacy work, Murray published two well-reviewed autobiographies and a volume of poetry.

Early life[edit]

Murray was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1910.[5] Murray was of mixed racial origins, with ancestors including Irish people, free blacks, white slave owners, black slaves, and Native Americans; leading to a description the varied complexions of her family as a "United Nations in miniature".[6][7] Murray's parents—schoolteacher William H. Murray and Agnes Fitzgerald Murray—both identified as black.[8][9] In 1914, Agnes died of a cerebral hemorrhage.[10] After her father began to have emotional problems as a result of typhoid fever, Murray was sent to Durham, North Carolina, where an aunt, Pauline Fitzgerald Dame, and maternal grandparents, Robert and Cornelia Fitzgerald, raised her.[10][11] In 1923, her father, who had been confined at Crownsville State Hospital, was beaten to death by a guard.[9]

Murray lived in Durham until the age of sixteen, at which point she moved to New York to finish high school and prepare for college.[12] There she lived with the family of a light-skinned cousin, Maude, who were passing for white in their white neighborhood. Murray's presence discomfited Maude's neighbors, however, as Murray was more visibly biracial.[11] Murray was briefly married during this time, to a man she referred in her autobiography only as "Billy".[13] She had the marriage annulled several months after it began.[7]

Inspired to attend Columbia University by a favorite teacher, Murray was turned away because the university did not admit women; she was also turned away from Barnard College due to lack of funds.[14] Instead she attended Hunter College, a free city university, where she was one of the few black students.[7] Murray was encouraged in her writing by one of her English instructors, who gave her an "A" for an essay about her grandfather that later formed the beginning of her memoir Proud Shoes. Murray's first published works, an article and several poems, appeared in the college paper. She graduated in 1933 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.[14]

Murray then took a job selling subscriptions to Opportunity, the magazine of the National Urban League, a civil rights organization based in New York City. Poor health forced her to resign, however, and her doctor recommended that Murray seek a healthier environment. She then took a position at Camp Tera, a "she-she-she" conservation camp established at the urging of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to parallel the male Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps formed as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal.[15][16] However, Murray clashed with the camp's director over her possession of Communist materials, her refusal to stand at attention for an inspection by the First Lady, and her relationship with a white counselor, Peg Holmes. Murray and Holmes left the camp in February 1935, and began traveling the country by walking, hitchhiking, and hopping freight trains.[17] Murray later worked for the Young Women's Christian Association.[13]

Law school years[edit]

Murray applied to the University of North Carolina in 1938, but was rejected because she was African-American.[14] The case was broadly publicized in both white and black newspapers. Murray also wrote to officials ranging from the university president to President Roosevelt, releasing their responses to the media in an attempt to embarrass them into action. The NAACP was initially interested in the case, but later declined to represent her in court, apparently fearing that her long residence in New York state weakened her case.[18] NAACP leader Roy Wilkins also opposed the case due to Murray's release of her correspondence, which he considered "not diplomatic".[19] Concerns about her sexuality may also have played a role in the decision;[20] Murray often wore pants rather than skirts and was open about her relationships with women.[21]

In early 1940, Murray was walking the streets in Rhode Island, distraught after "the disappearance of a woman friend", and was taken into custody by police.[22][a] She was then transferred to Bellevue Hospital for psychiatric treatment.[22] In March, Murray left the hospital with Adelene McBean, her roommate and girlfriend,[23] and took a bus to Durham to visit her aunts. In Petersburg, Virginia, the two women moved out of the broken seats in the black section of the bus, where segregation laws mandated that they sit, and into the rear of the white section. Inspired by a conversation they had been having about Gandhian civil disobedience, the two women refused to return to the rear even after the police were called, and they were arrested and jailed.[24] Murray and McBean were initially defended by the NAACP, but when the pair were convicted only of disorderly conduct rather than violating segregation laws, the organization ceased to represent them.[25] Her fine was paid by the Workers' Defense League (WDL), a socialist labor rights organization, which a few months later hired Murray for its Administrative Committee.[26]

With the WDL, Murray became active in the case of Odell Waller, a black Virginia sharecropper sentenced to death for killing his white landlord, Oscar Davis, during an argument. The WDL argued that Davis had cheated Waller and that Waller had fired in legitimate fear of his life.[27] Murray toured the country raising funds for Waller's appeal.[28][13] She also wrote to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt on Waller's behalf.[29] Roosevelt in turn wrote to Virginia Governor James Hubert Price asking him to guarantee that the trial was fair, and later persuaded the president to privately request that the death sentence be commuted.[30] Through this correspondence, Murray and Roosevelt began a friendship that would last until the latter's death two decades later.[29][31] Despite the WDL's and Roosevelt's efforts, however, Waller was executed on July 2, 1942.[32]

Howard University[edit]

Murray's trial on charges stemming from the bus incident and experience with the Waller case inspired a career in civil rights law.[33] In 1941, she began attending Howard University law school. Murray was the only woman in her law school class at Howard, and it was there that she first became aware of sexism, which she labeled "Jane Crow"—the twin of Jim Crow, the system of discriminatory state laws targeting African Americans.[34] On her first day of class, one professor, William Robert Ming, remarked that he did not know why women went to law school, infuriating Murray.[7][35]

Howard University School of Law

In 1942, while still in law school, she joined the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and published an article challenging segregation in the US military, "Negro Youth's Dilemma". She also participated in sit-ins challenging several Washington D.C. restaurants with discriminatory seating policies, a forerunner to the more famous civil rights movement sit-ins of the 1950s and '60s.[13]

Murray was elected Chief Justice of the Howard Court of Peers, the highest student position at Howard, and in 1944 she graduated first in her class.[10] However, although men who graduated first in the class had been given the Julius Rosenwald Fellowship for graduate work at Harvard University, Murray was rejected from Harvard because of her gender, despite a letter of support from President Roosevelt.[13] She wrote in response, "I would gladly change my sex to meet your requirements, but since the way to such change has not been revealed to me, I have no recourse but to appeal to you to change your minds. Are you to tell me that one is as difficult as the other?"[36]

She instead attended the Boalt Hall School of Law at University of California, Berkeley.[13] Her master's thesis was The Right to Equal Opportunity in Employment, which argued that "the right to work is an inalienable right". It appeared in the California Law Review.[37]

Later career[edit]

After passing the California bar exam in 1945, Murray was hired as the state's first black deputy attorney general in January of the following year.[2][13] That year, the National Council of Negro Women named her its Woman of the Year; Mademoiselle did the same in 1947.[2]

In 1950, Murray published States' Laws on Race and Color, an examination and critique of segregation laws. In it, Murray drew on psychological and sociological evidence as well as legal, an innovative technique for which she had previously been criticized by Howard professors. This approach was influential in the NAACP's arguments in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the 1954 US Supreme Court decision that held segregated schools to be unconstitutional. She also argued in the book that civil rights lawyers should stop attempting to gradually reduce segregation by proving the inequality of so-called "separate but equal" facilities, but should forthrightly argue that segregation itself was unconstitutional.[13] NAACP Chief Counsel and future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall called Murray's book the "bible" of the movement.[2]

Murray lived in Ghana from 1960–61, serving on the faculty of the Ghana School of Law.[13] She then returned to the US and studied at Yale Law School, becoming the first African-American to receive a J.S.D. from the school in 1965.[2][38] She taught at Brandeis University from 1968 to 1973 where she received tenure as Full Professor in American Studies.[39]

Women's rights[edit]

Ruth Bader Ginsburg named Murray an honorary co-author of her brief in Reed v. Reed (1971).]] US President John F. Kennedy appointed Murray to the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women in 1961. She prepared a memo titled A Proposal to Reexamine the Applicability of the Fourteenth Amendment to State Laws and Practices Which Discriminate on the Basis of Sex Per Se, which argued that the Fourteenth Amendment forbade sex discrimination as well as racial discrimination.[13] In 1963 she became one of the first to criticize the sexism of the civil rights movement, in her speech "The Negro Woman and the Quest for Equality".[40] In a letter to civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph, among other grievances, she criticized the fact in the 1963 March on Washington no women were invited to make one of the major speeches or to be part of its delegation of leaders who went to the White House:

I have been increasingly perturbed over the blatant disparity between the major role which Negro women have played and are playing in the crucial grassroots levels of our struggle and the minor role of leadership they have been assigned in the national policy-making decisions. It is indefensible to call a national march on Washington and send out a call which contains the name of not a single woman leader.[41]

In 1965 Murray published her landmark article (coauthored by Mary Eastwood), "Jane Crow and the Law: Sex Discrimination and Title VII", in the George Washington Law Review. The article discussed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as it applied to women, and drew comparisons between discriminatory laws against women and Jim Crow laws.[42] In 1966 she was a cofounder of the National Organization for Women, which she hoped could act as an NAACP for women's rights.[13] In 1966, Murray and Dorothy Kenyon successfully argued White v. Crook, a case in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that women have an equal right to serve on juries.[3] When lawyer and future Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote her brief for Reed v. Reed—a 1971 Supreme Court case that for the first time extended the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause to women—she added Murray and Kenyon as coauthors in recognition of her debt to their work.[3]

Academia and priesthood[edit]

Murray served as vice president of Benedict College from 1967–68. She left Benedict to become a professor at Brandeis University, where she remained until 1973.[2] In addition to teaching law, Murray introduced classes on African American studies and women's studies, both firsts for the university. Murray later wrote that her time at Brandeis was "the most exciting, tormenting, satisfying, embattled, frustrated, and at times triumphant period of my secular career".[43]

Increasingly inspired by her connections with other women in the Episcopal Church, Murray, now more than sixty years old, left Brandeis to attend the seminary.[13] After three years of study, she became the first African American woman ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1977.[12] For the next seven years, Murray worked in a parish in Washington, D.C., focusing particularly on ministry to the sick.[13]

Death and legacy[edit]

Rev. Pauli Murray died of pancreatic cancer in the house she owned with a lifelong friend, Maida Springer Kemp, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on July 1, 1985.[2][44]

A vote at the 2012 General Convention of the Episcopal Church named her to Holy Women, Holy Men. Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina said such lists "people whose lives have exemplified what it means to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and make a difference in the world."[45][46] This makes her an Episcopal saint,[46] remembered on the anniversary of her death, July 1 along with fellow writer Harriet Beecher Stowe.[47]

In 2015 the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the childhood home of Murray (on Carroll Street in Durham, North Carolina's West End neighborhood) as a National Treasure.[48]

Non-legal writings[edit]

In addition to her legal work, Murray wrote two volumes of autobiography and a collection of poetry. Her first autobiographical book, Proud Shoes (1956), traces her family's complicated racial origins, particularly focusing on her grandparents, Robert and Cornelia Fitzgerald. Cornelia was the daughter of a slave raped by her owner and his brother, while Robert was a free black from Pennsylvania who had come to the South as a teacher in the Reconstruction Era. Newspapers including The New York Times gave the book very positive reviews. The New York Herald Tribune stated that Proud Shoes is "a personal memoir, it is history, it is biography, and it is also a story that, at its best, is dramatic enough to satisfy the demands of fiction. It is written in anger, but without hatred; in affection, but without pathos and tears; and in humor that never becomes extravagant".[49]

Murray published a collection of her poetry, Dark Testament and Other Poems, in 1970. The volume contains what critic Christina G. Bucher calls a number of "conflicted love poems", as well as exploring economic and racial injustice. The collection has received little critical attention, and as of 2007, was out of print.[50]

A follow-up volume to Proud Shoes, Song in a Weary Throat: An American Pilgrimage, was published posthumously in 1987. Song focused on Murray's own life, particularly her struggles with both gender and racial discrimination. It received the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, the Christopher Award, and the Lillian Smith Award.[2][50]

Sexuality and gender identity[edit]

Murray struggled with her sexual and gender identity through much of her life. Her marriage as a teenager ended almost immediately with the realization that "when men try to make love to me, something in me fights".[51] Though acknowledging the term "homosexual" in describing others, Murray preferred to describe herself as having an "inverted sex instinct" that caused her to behave as a man attracted to women; she wanted a "monogamous married life", but one in which she was the man.[52] The majority of her relationships were with women whom she described as "extremely feminine and heterosexual".[4] In her younger years, Murray would often be devastated by the end of these relationships, to the extent that she was twice hospitalized, in 1937 and in 1940.[4]

Murray wore her hair short and preferred pants to skirts; due to her slight build, there was a time in her life when she was often able to pass as a teenage boy.[51] In her twenties, she shortened her name from Pauline to the more androgynous Pauli.[53] Murray pursued hormone treatments in the 1940s to correct what she saw as a personal imbalance,[22] and even requested abdominal surgery to test if she had "submerged" male sex organs.[50]

Further reading[edit]

  • "Pauli Murray." Notable Black American Women. Gale, 1992. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. Oct 15, 2011.
  • "Pauli Murray." Encyclopedia of World Biography. Vol. 23. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. Oct 16, 2011.
  • Mack, Kenneth W. (2012). Representing the Race: The Creation of the Civil Rights Lawyer (2012). ISBN 978-0-674-04687-0.
  • Murray, Pauli (Davison Douglas, ed., 2d ed. 1997). States' Law on Race and Color, University of Georgia Press. ISBN 978-0-8203-1883-7
  • Murray, Pauli (June 1989). The Autobiography of a Black Activist, Feminist, Lawyer, Priest and Poet (Paperback), University of Tennessee Press. ISBN 0-87049-596-8.
  • Murray, Pauli (1987). Song In A Weary Throat: An American Pilgrimage, Harper & Row, New York City. ISBN 0-06-015704-6.
  • Murray, Pauli (1970). Dark Testament and other poems, Silvermine, Norwalk, Connecticut, ISBN 978-0-87321-016-4
  • Murray, Pauli (1956). Proud Shoes: The Story Of An American Family, Harper & Brothers, New York. ISBN 0-8070-7209-5.
  • Rubin, Leslie and Pauli Murray (1961). The Constitution and Government of Ghana, Sweet & Maxwell, London. African Universities Press, 1964


  1. ^ "Dr. Pauli Murray, Episcopalian priest". The New York Times. Retrieved January 14, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Siraj Ahmed (January 1, 2006). "Murray, Pauli". Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History.  – via HighBeam Research (subscription required). Retrieved January 14, 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c Linda K. Kerber (August 1, 1993). "Judge Ginsburg's Gift". The Washington Post.  – via HighBeam Research (subscription required). Retrieved January 14, 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c Mack 2012, pp. 214.
  5. ^ "Murray, Pauli, 1910–1985". Civil Rights Digital Library. Archived from the original on January 12, 2013. Retrieved January 12, 2013. 
  6. ^ Mack 2012, pp. 208–09.
  7. ^ a b c d Hightower-Langston 2002, p. 160.
  8. ^ Mack 2012, p. 208.
  9. ^ a b Brenna Sanchez (2003). "Murray, Pauli 1910–1985". Contemporary Black Biography. Archived from the original on January 12, 2013. Retrieved January 12, 2013. 
  10. ^ a b c "Timeline". Pauli Murray Project. Archived from the original on January 12, 2013. Retrieved January 12, 2013. 
  11. ^ a b Mack 2012, p. 209.
  12. ^ a b Bucher 2007, p. 441.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Mary Welek Atwell (January 1, 2002). "Murray, Pauli (1910–1985)". Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia.  – via HighBeam Research (subscription required). Retrieved January 14, 2013. 
  14. ^ a b c Genna Rae McNeil. "Interview with Pauli Murray, February 13, 1976. Interview G-0044. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)". Documenting the American South. Archived from the original on January 12, 2013. Retrieved January 12, 2013. 
  15. ^ "She-She-She Camps". Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project. Archived from the original on January 12, 2013. Retrieved January 12, 2013. 
  16. ^ Mack 2012, p. 213.
  17. ^ Mack 2012, pp. 213–14.
  18. ^ Mack 2012, pp. 217–19.
  19. ^ Mack 2012, p. 218.
  20. ^ Mack 2012, pp. 218–19.
  21. ^ Mack 2012, pp. 214–16.
  22. ^ a b c Mack 2012, p. 216.
  23. ^ Mack 2012, p. 217.
  24. ^ Mack 2012, pp. 221–22.
  25. ^ Mack 2012, p. 225.
  26. ^ Sherman 1992, p. 38.
  27. ^ Sherman 1992, p. 39.
  28. ^ Sherman 1992, p. 40.
  29. ^ a b Sherman 1992, p. 42.
  30. ^ Goodwin 1994, p. 352.
  31. ^ Goodwin 1994, p. 354.
  32. ^ Sherman 1992, p. 164.
  33. ^ Mack 2012, p. 226.
  34. ^ Guy-Sheftall 1995, p. 185.
  35. ^ Mack 2012, p. 229.
  36. ^ Keller 2001, p. 58.
  37. ^ Azaransky 2011, p. 36.
  38. ^ Azaransky 2011, p. 59.
  39. ^ "American Civil Rights and Women’s Rights Activist Pauli Murray Teaches at Brandeis 1968-1973". Retrieved 4 April 2014. 
  40. ^ Jesus, Jobs, and Justice: African American Women and Religion - Bettye Collier-Thomas. Retrieved December 2, 2012. 
  41. ^ Cole 2009, p. 89.
  42. ^ Anderson 2004, pp. 101–02.
  43. ^ Antler, Joyce (2002). "Pauli Murray: The Brandeis Years". Journal of Women's History 14 (2): 1–5. doi:10.1353/jowh.2002.0034. 
  44. ^ "Dr Anna Pauline "Pauli" Murray (1910 - 1985) - Find A Grave Memorial". Retrieved 2015-05-05. 
  45. ^ Johnston, Flo (July 13, 2012). "Durham's Pauli Murray to be named Episcopal saint". News & Observer. Retrieved July 14, 2012. 
  46. ^ a b "Pauli Murray Named to Episcopal Sainthood". July 14, 2012. Retrieved December 2, 2012. 
  47. ^ "News Coverage – Read about the July Celebration of Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray at St. Titus’ Episcopal Church | Pauli Murray Project". 2013-07-01. Retrieved 2015-05-05. 
  48. ^ "Durham’s Pauli Murray home named ‘National Treasure’ | News & Observer News & Observer". 2015-03-26. Retrieved 2015-05-05. 
  49. ^ Bucher 2007, pp. 441–42.
  50. ^ a b c Bucher 2007, p. 442.
  51. ^ a b Mack 2012, p. 211.
  52. ^ Mack 2012, pp. 214–15.
  53. ^ Mack 2012, p. 212.
  1. ^ Mack states that the woman friend in question is likely to be Peg Holmes.


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