Pauli Murray (1910 - 1985)
Pauli Murray was an author, a poet, a lawyer, and the first female African American ordained as an Episcopal priest. She was also an important activist in the Civil Rights and feminist movements.
In the late 1930s, she doggedly challenged racist policies that excluded her from attending the University of North Carolina. I am “thoroughly prepared to fight this case through to the Supreme Court,” she declared. At that time, Franklin Roosevelt gave a speech at UNC claiming that “other democracies look to us for leadership.” In response, in an open letter to the President she inquired, “Have you raised your voice loud enough” on behalf of American blacks, “the most oppressed, most misunderstood and most neglected section of your population.” Were your words sincere, or, “does it mean that everything you said has no meaning for us as colored?” To a fellow African American she queried, “Can we then, as Americans and members of a minority group, collaborate on any policy which will stop short of equality?” “Our task” is to be “uncompromising . . . on the issue of equality guaranteed in our Constitution.”
She pressed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to take her case. In a conversation whose content is unknown, but which Murray called “galling,” the group's lawyer, future US Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, perhaps explained why she would not be represented. She dressed mannishly. Even “Pauli,” the nickname she substituted for her birth-name, “Anna Pauline,” evidenced gender ambivalence. Furthermore, in the mid-1930s she was found hysterical after a lover's quarrel with a woman and committed to a psychiatric institution. At the institution she described herself as a “pseudo-hermaphrodite,” someone who, today, would be called a transgender person.
In writing about Pauli's self-perception, scholar Sarah Azaransky offered this cautionary note: “In order to respect Murray's understanding of herself,” as she conveyed in letters, photos, and elsewhere, “contemporary readers should not impose definitions from presently available categories.” Writing further, Azaransky points out that “Murray supposed . . . that her own personality,” including her same-sex desire and gender expression—short hair, pants attire, assertive mode of speaking—“meant that she was, in fact, a man.” Indeed, she believed that she was biologically female and male. Regarding her self-image, Pauli admitted in a letter to her aunt that “this little 'boy-girl' personality as you jokingly call it sometimes gets me into trouble” because “the world does not accept my pattern of life.”
Unlike in his earlier conversation with her, Thurgood Marshall, years later, whistled a more soothing tune. He referred to her book States' Laws on Race and Color (about state laws that, according to the book's "Foreword" section, “determined racial patterns and practices throughout the nation”) as “the Bible for civil rights lawyers.” A seminar paper that she wrote in the 1940s as a law student at Howard University played a significant role in the landmark court decision, Brown v. Board of Education, handed down in 1954. A member of the legal team arguing the case (the team included Marshall) told her that “it was helpful to us. We were able to use your paper in the Brown briefs.”
She recalled that her “radical approach,” which “few legal scholars considered viable in 1944,” came to her in “a flash of poetic insight” during a class discussion. Instead of “nibbling away” at the principle of separate-but-equal, upheld by Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, “on a case by case basis,” she believed that “the time had come to make a frontal assault on the constitutionality of segregation per se.” About developing her argument, she explained: “Having no legal precedents to rely on, I cited references to psychological and sociological data supporting my assertion.” It was that “the effect of this doctrine [of separate-but-equal] 'is to place the Negro in an inferior social and legal position' and 'to do violence to the personality of the individual affected, whether he is white or black.'” Marshall and his colleagues borrowed her reasoning and achieved a court victory instrumental in dismantling institutionalized segregation in the United States. 
During the Kennedy years she was appointed to the President's Commission on the Status of Women. When tackling discrimination against women she drew correlations between racism and sexism. Her assault on sexism included an important position paper, which she co-authored in 1965. It was titled “Jane Crow and the Law: Sex Discrimination and Title VII” (of the Civil Rights Act of 1964). “Discriminatory attitudes toward women are strikingly parallel to those regarding Negroes,” it argued. And, furthermore, though “manifestations of racial prejudice have been more brutal than the more subtle manifestations of prejudice by reason of sex,” the fact remains that “the rights of women and the rights of Negroes are only different phases of the fundamental and indivisible issue of human rights.”
That autumn at a woman's conference she criticized the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for inadequately protecting women's rights in the work place. “If it becomes necessary to march on Washington to assure equal job opportunities for all, I hope women will not flinch from the thought,” Murray proclaimed. Her comments moved feminist leader Betty Friedan to contact her. Consequently, with Friedan and others she became a co-founder of the National Organization for Women created in 1966. Moreover, with Friedan she co-authored the organization's original Statement of Purpose whose goals included “tak[ing] action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men.”
Dr. Murray's autobiography provides insight into her commitment to advancing civil and human rights. She recalled the 1930s when she was an instructor with the Works Progress Administration and, according to her, becoming “more involved in workers' education.” She remembered: “The study of economic oppression led me to realize that Negroes were not alone but were part of an unending struggle for human dignity the world over . . . Seeing the relationship between my personal cause and the universal cause of freedom released me from a sense of isolation, helped me to rid myself of vestiges of shame over my racial history, and gave me an unequivocal understanding that equality of treatment was my birthright and not something to be earned.”
1. Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919-1950 (New York: W.W. Norton, 2008), 267.
2. Gilmore, 274.
3. Gilmore, 275.
4. Gilmore, 275.
5. Gilmore, 266.
6. Gilmore, 266.
7. Gilmore, 289.
8. Sarah Azaransky, The Dream Is Freedom: Pauli Murray and American Democratic Faith (New York: Oxford University, 2011), 22.
9. Gilmore, 288.
10. Gilmore, 288.
11. Azaransky, 24.
12. Azaransky, 23.
13. Azaransky, 23.
14. Azaransky, 22.
15. Pauli Murray, comp. and ed., States' Laws on Race and Color and Appendices: Containing International Documents, Federal Laws and Regulations, Local Ordinances and Charts (N.p.: Woman's Division of Christian Service, 1950), iii.
16. “About Pauli Murray,” Pauli Murray Endowed Lecture Campaign, Berkeley Law, Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice, University of California, http://www.law.berkeley.edu/9199.htm.
17. Pauli Murray, Song in a Weary Throat: An American Pilgrimage (New York: Harper and Row, 1987), 255.
18. Clayborne Carson, “The Fateful Turn Toward Brown v. Board of Education,” Washington History 16, no. 2 (Fall/Winter 2004-2005): 7, PDF, http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CDIQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fmlk-kpp01.stanford.edu%2Fimages%2Fuploads%2Ffateful_turn_toward_brown.pdf&ei=4JYKUfWlOs7V0gGnrYG4BQ&usg=AFQjCNH488EJS0ZLXa8ev_4D8vpbR2m4sw&sig2=DuN4uNtP_9_Y9TNVa_5uEQ&bvm=bv.41642243,d.dmQ.
19. Carson, 7.
20. Song, 254.
21. Song, 254.
22. Carson, 7.
23. “Leadership Gallery: the Reverend Pauli Murray, 1910--1985,” The Church Awakens: African-Americans and the Struggle for Justice, Archives of the Episcopal Church DFMS/PECUSA, http://www.episcopalarchives.org/Afro-Anglican_history/exhibit/leadership/murray.php.
24. Pauli Murray and Mary O. Eastwood, Jane Crow and the Law: Sex Discrimination and Title VII (Washington, D.C.: N.p., 1965), 233. Stated on the cover is the following source for this booklet's text: The George Washington Law Review 34, no.2 (December 1965): 232-256.
25. Jane, 235.
26. Stephanie Coontz, A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s (New York: Basic, 2011), 155, http://books.google.com/books?id=rKCHrKHOixYC&pg=PA155&lpg=PA155&dq=pauli+Murray+%22I+hope+women+will+not+flinch+from+the+thought.%22&source=bl&ots=0Qh0kdHz3K&sig=DxPCTqTSFz6PGBhFXbADe01l4f4&hl=en&sa=X&ei=FeyHUeekF4ng0QHOm4DIBQ&ved=0CEEQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=pauli%20Murray%20%22I%20hope%20women%20will%20not%20flinch%20from%20the%20thought.%22&f=false.
27. “Setting the Stage,” The Founding of NOW, National Organization for Women, http://www.now.org/history/the_founding.html.
28. “NOW's 49 founders are,” Honoring NOW's Founders and Pioneers, National Organization for Women, http://www.now.org/history/founders.html.
29. “When and how was NOW founded?,” Frequently Asked Questions, National Organization for Women, http://www.now.org/organization/faq.html.
30. Melinda Chateauvert, Marching Together: Women of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (N.p.: University of Illinois, 1998), 79, http://books.google.com/books?id=g1_NLnQi1osC&pg=PA79&lpg=PA79&dq=Seeing+the+relationship+between+my+personal+cause+and+the+universal+cause+of+freedom+released+me+from+a+sense+of+isolation,+helped+me+to+rid+myself+of+vestiges+of+shame+over+my+racial+history,+and+gave+me+an+unequivocal+understanding+that+equality+of+treatment+was+my+birthright+and+not+something+to+be+earned.&source=bl&ots=8lpRVxsHWE&sig=D0OENV8emJEZAtBn-XuSWTgKOTA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=qISJUcHNCq-N0QGW04HIBw&ved=0CDYQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=Seeing%20the%20relationship%20between%20my%20personal%20cause%20and%20the%20universal%20cause%20of%20freedom%20released%20me%20from%20a%20sense%20of%20isolation%2C%20helped%20me%20to%20rid%20myself%20of%20vestiges%20of%20shame%20over%20my%20racial%20history%2C%20and%20gave%20me%20an%20unequivocal%20understanding%20that%20equality%20of%20treatment%20was%20my%20birthright%20and%20not%20something%20to%2 0be% 20earned.&f=false.
31. Chateauvert, 79.
32. "Defense of Odell Waller," in "Oral History Interview with Pauli Murray, February 13, 1976. Interview G-0044. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)," Oral Histories of the American South, Documenting the American South, http://docsouth.unc.edu/sohp/G-0044/excerpts/excerpt_8640.html.
33. Azaransky, 25.
34. "Oral History," n.p.
35. "Oral History," n.p.