Presentation by Laura Keister on September 10, 2017


November 20, 1910 – July 1, 1985

In the past, I have given presentations on St. Francis of Assisi, Elizabeth Seton, Pearl Buck and Harriet Tubman.  While you may not have known very much about them, you had heard their names a few times.  Now I will tell you about a woman who has had a very important impact on the civil rights movement and the equal rights movement, but you probably have never heard her name.

She was born in Baltimore.  At 3 years old, after the death of her mother and the institutionalization of her father, she was sent to North Carolina to be raised by her mother’s family.  She was born to Episcopalian parents and raised in the Episcopal Church in North Carolina.  Early on in her life she began educating herself and wanting to bring more equality to her friends and family in the segregated, ‘but equal’ world she lived in.

She was small and wiry, wore slacks most of the time and often could pass for a teenage boy but she couldn’t pass the color barrier.  She wanted a real education that she couldn’t receive in North Carolina due to the color barrier and the gender barrier.

She applied to Hunter College, in New York City, because she had family there and was admitted since it was the women’s college of the City University of New York.  In 1933, she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.

In the 1930’s she retreated to Camp Tera to regain her physical and mental well-being.  She met Eleanor Roosevelt there and maintained a correspondence with her throughout Eleanor’s life regarding the human rights issues she was confronting.  Often, she copied the president and/or asked for his intercession in some cases.

She wanted to enter Law School and applied to the University of North Carolina.  She was rejected because of her color.  She applied to Howard University which was created for “colored” students and was in the Washington D.C. area.  Due to the rejection from the University of North Carolina she became a crusader for civil rights.  She took part in many sit-ins and influenced many segregated eateries to become open to her minority.  In 1944 she graduated from Howard University, the only woman in her graduating class and the top student as well. She wanted to do post graduate work in Harvard but was denied admission because Harvard did not accept women students.

She did post-graduate work at the University of California, Berkeley.  Her Master’s Thesis was “ The Right to Equal Opportunity in Employment”.

In 1946, she became the first black American Deputy Attorney General in California.

Later that year she moved back to New York.  In 1948, she was hired by the Women’s Division of Christian Service, a part of the Methodist Church, to get information on the status of “separate but equal” in the South.

Instead, she compiled information on all the legislation on race in the whole United States of America.

She wrote “States’ Laws on Race and Color”.  This provided the key to the legal strategy in winning the Supreme Court decision on segregated education in 1954.  Thurgood Marshall called the book the “BIBLE” to the civil rights movement.  In the book, she provided psychological. sociological and legal evidence to support the discrimination of certain laws.

In 1971, Ruth Bader Ginsburg cited her as co-author to her winning legal battle on women’s rights and gender discrimination.

Do you know her name?

I was so embarrassed that I had never heard her name…

She began to equate the “Jim Crow” laws to “Jane Crow” laws.  She began to equate racism with anti-feminism.

She began to fight for Human Rights and argued they were fundamental and indivisible for all men and all women.  In 1963, John Kennedy named her to the Commission of Women.

In 1965, she met Betty Friedan.  (You’ve certainly heard her name.) and in 1966 they co-founded the National Organization of Women.

In the meantime, rejected by Harvard, she now applied to Yale University and was accepted.  In 1965, she received her doctorate in the science of law degree.

Her Name?  Anna Pauline Murray

She chose to be known as “Pauli” (androgynous) Murray.

In her adult life, she struggled with issues related to her sexual and gender identity.  Her physical and mental health was challenged often.

What is her legacy?

2012 – The Episcopal General Convention honored Murray in “Holy Women, Holy Men,”  These are people whose lives exemplified what it means to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and make a difference in the world.  With a rule: death of 50years, she will not be in the book until…

2015 – National Trust for Historic Preservation named her childhood home in Durham, NC as a National Treasure.

2016 Yale University named a new school Pauli Murray College.

2016 The Pauli Murray Family Home was named a National Historic Landmark.

She wrote:

1956 Proud Shoes, about her family’s complicated racial origins

1970 Dark Testament and Other Poems

1987 Song in a Weary Throat: An American Pilgrimage

          reissued in 1989

          Pauli Murray: The Autobiography of a Black Activist, feminist, Lawyer, Priest and Poet

The most important part of the story…

She left a tenured faculty position at Brandeis University in Massachusetts to be accepted as a candidate for deaconate ordination in the Diocese of Massachusetts.

After this, she entered the General Theological Seminary in New York City.

In 1976, she was ordained at Washington National Cathedral by Bishop Michael Creighton.  She was the first African American woman priest.

She celebrated her first Holy Eucharist at Chapel of the Cross, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

The sum up her life, she said:

“All the strands of my life have come together.  Descendant of slave and of slave owned.  I have already been called poet, lawyer, teacher and friend…

Now I am empowered to minister the sacrament of One, in whom there is no north or south, no black or white, no male or female—only the spirit of love and reconciliation drawing us all toward the goal of human wholeness.”

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