Murray, Pauli 1910–1985
Pauli Murray 1910–1985
Feminist, civil and political rights activist
During her lifetime, Pauli Murray was a poet, lawyer, writer, teacher, priest, and was a pioneer in all of these fields. She fought in the front lines of the civil rights and feminist movements before they had even become full-blown movements. In the introduction to Murray’s autobiography,Eleanor Holmes Norton put it succinctly: “Pauli never lived in the past. She lived on the edge of history, seeming to pull it along with her. She was a civil rights activist before there was activism, and a feminist when feminists could not be found. She practiced at a major law firm and earned a renowned professorship at a major university before blacks or women did either.” Murray refused to see differences of culture, race, religion, or circumstance as barriers, rather drawing on them as sources of enrichment. She herself came from a hodgepodge of African, European, and Native American stocks. Her grandmother had been a slave and her greatgrandfather was a slave owner. In the preface to her book of poems, Dark Testament, and Other Poems published in 1970, Murray wrote: “I speak for my race and my people—The human race and just people.”
Anna Pauline Murray was born on November 20, 1910, in Baltimore, Maryland, the fourth of six children of William H. (Will) Murray, a public school teacher, and Agnes Fitzgerald Murray. Among the only memories Murray had of her mother, who died of a cerebral hemorrhage when she was three, were of clinging to her legs as she did her cleaning work. Her father had once suffered from typhoid fever, which left him with a debilitating mental illness. He was committed to a mental institution for bouts of depression and violent mood swings, and was brutally beaten to death by an attendant there when she was 12. She later learned about her parents’ lives from the few books and letters they left, and the answers she gleaned from endless questions addressed to her relatives. She was adopted and raised in Durham, North Carolina, by her beloved maternal Aunt Pauline after her mother died. The tragic loss of her parents was Murray’s first lesson in adversity.
At a Glance…
Born on November 20, 1910, in Baltimore, MD, died on July 1, 1985, in Pittsburgh, PA; daughter of Agnes and William Murray. Education: Hunter College, New York, BA, 1933; Howard University, law degree, 1944; Univ of California, master’s degree, 1947; Yale Univ, PhD, 1965.
Career: Worked as a janitor, typist, elevator operator, waitress, and a reporter for the Carolina Times, for the Works Projects Administration (WPA), and as a teacher in the New York City Remedial Reading Project, also published articles and poems in magazines including a novel, Angel of the Desert, serialized in the Carolina Times, 1930s; wrote poem “Dark Testament” and published essay “Negroes are Fed Up” in Common Sense, 1943; dep attorney general of California, 1946; American Jewish Congress, New York City, attorney for commission on law and social action, 1946-47; published book, States’ Laws on Race and Color, 1951; published biography of her grandparents, Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family, 1956; private practice of law; Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, assoc attorney in litigation department, 1956-60; Univ of Ghana, near Accra, senior lecturer, 1960-61; appointed by President John F. Kennedy to his Comm on Civil and Political Rights; Benedict Coll, vice pres, prof of political science, 1967-68; Brande is Univ, prof of American studies (also, Louis Stulberg Professor of Law and Politics, 1972-73), 1968-73; Boston Univ, lecturer at school of law, 1972; ordained an Episcopal priest, 1977; autobiography Song in a Weary Throat: An American Pilgrimage was published posthumously, 1987.
Selected memberships: Fellowship of Reconciliation; ACLU; NOW; fourth assembly of World Council of Churches, in Sweden, consultant, 1968; Commission on Ordained and Licensed Ministries, 1969-70; Beacon Press, dir, 1968-69. Presidential Commission on the Status of Women, 1962-63; EEOC, 1966-67; and MLK Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change, 1970-84.
Selected awards: Recipient of honorary degrees from Dartmouth Coll, 1976; Radcliffe Coll, 1978; Yale, 1979. Named Woman of the Year by National Council of Negro Women, 1946; Eleanor Roosevelt award, Professional Women’s Caucus, 1971; Whitney M. Young Jr. Memorial Award, 1972; Robert F. Kennedy Book Award and Christopher Award, for Song in a Weary Throat: An American Pilgrimage, 1988.
because the university did not admit women. She could not afford, nor was she qualified enough, to attend Barnard College. She was then denied entry to Hunter College for lack of education—despite graduating at the top of her class from Durham high school, her segregated Southern education was deficient in several areas. She returned to high school for a year in New York, and was the only black among the 4,000 graduating students. She earned money for her education by working as a janitor, typist, elevator operator, waitress, and a reporter for the Carolina Times. Once she became a student at Hunter, the Great Depression hit. She once found herself riding the rails from California to New York with a group of teenagers searching for work. She worked for the Works Projects Administration (WPA) and as a teacher in New York City’s Remedial Reading Project. She also had articles and poems published during this time, including her novel, Angel of the Desert (serialized in the Carolina Times). She skipped so many meals to meet her expenses before graduating from Hunter in 1933 that she was treated by a doctor for malnutrition. Physical frailty would plague her for the rest of her life—for, as much as she demanded of her small body, she chronically neglected her health.
Murray met with racist opposition throughout the late 1930s and the 1940s. The University of North Carolina rejected her on racial grounds in 1938, despite the fact that her case was publicized nationally by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). As members of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), she and her friend Adelene Mc-Bean were arrested in 1940 for refusing to sit at the back of a bus in Virginia. These events cemented her determination to become a civil rights lawyer, and she earned her law degree on a fellowship at Howard University in Washington, D.C., in 1944. While a student at Howard, she formed the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), which had its roots in the teachings of Henry David Thoreau and Mahatma Gandhi. She believed their pacifist ideals could be applied to the fight for civil rights in the United States. She published two important essays on civil rights in 1943: “Negroes are Fed Up” for Common Sense, and an article about the Harlem race riot for a socialist newspaper, the New York Call. She also published her most famous poem on race relations, “Dark Testament,” that year. She suffered sexual discrimination at Howard, and claimed to have emerged from the university a feminist as well as a racial activist.
After Harvard’s law school rejected her application for admission on gender grounds (despite the fact that she had been awarded the prestigious Julius Rosenwald Fellowship for graduate work) in 1945, she earned a master’s degree from the University of California’s law school at Berkeley. Her master’s thesis was The Right to Equal Opportunity Employment. She passed the California bar exam after just three weeks of study—after her graduate law advisor had insisted shortcomings in her background would prevent her from passing. In 1965 she became the first African American to earn a Doctor of Juridical Science from Yale University Law School. She was driven, she claimed in her autobiography, by the need to prove herself.
Early in her career, Murray was fully aware of both her work towards civil rights, and the progress that had come before her. “Nobody gave me my freedom,” she wrote in Common Ground in 1945, according to Spartacus Educational. “I inherited it.” She cited her ancestors, who fought in the Civil War and toiled as slaves in the Carolina tobacco fields, as inspirations. She credited those who had risked and lost their lives on the Underground Railroad. She felt it was her charge, to continue the progress of those who came before her. She concluded in Common Ground, “They have left for me and my contemporaries of the 20th century the task of destroying the incidents of slavery, segregation, discrimination, and prejudice.”
After her graduation from Berkeley, Murray expanded her vision of civil rights to include Asian Americans after a year spent working for the district attorney’s office in Los Angeles. She had a successful career as a civil rights lawyer, professor, college vice president, and deputy attorney general of California. She fought and argued in countless cases for the rights of blacks and women. She was named Woman of the Year by Mademoiselle magazine in 1947 and in 1951 she published the book States’ Laws on Race and Color, which Thurgood Marshall of the NAACP called the Bible for civil rights lawyers. She ran unsuccessfully for the New York City council on the Liberal Party ticket, and was a victim of McCarthyism in 1952—she lost a post at Cornell University because her letters of reference had been written by people who were considered too radical: Eleanor Roosevelt, future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and labor leader Philip Randolph. She worked for a time in a New York law firm’s litigation department.
Murray interrupted her law practice for four years to research and write Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family. The biography of her grandparents, which also retraced the history of the Underground Railroad, consumed her. Upon its publication in 1956, a reviewer for the New York Herald Tribune wrote, “Proud Shoes is a book of such variety of incident and such depths and changes of tone as to astonish one who mistakes it simply for a family chronicle. 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….” In 1960 she accepted an appointment as senior lecturer at the Ghana School of Law in Accra, and was appointed by President John F. Kennedy to his Committee on Civil and Political Rights. For her work on the committee, she compiled a long list of laws that discriminated against women in the areas of divorce, child custody, immigration, naturalization, tax, eligibility for credit, choice of domicile, access to unemployment, and jury service, among others. After earning her Ph.D. from Yale in 1965, Murray was appointed to the national board of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), became a founding member of the National Organization for Women, and taught for five years at Brandeis University in Massachusetts.
As the civil rights movement grew in force in the early 1960s, Murray worked closely with Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, and Martin Luther King Jr. She quickly became disenchanted with the lack of a female presence in the leadership among civil rights groups. According to a biography that appears online at the Spartacus Educational web site, she wrote to Randolph in 1963: “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.”
Murray was as accomplished in her personal life as she was in her professional life. She had passionate and loyal relationships with her family and friends, who came from every race and economic standing. She possessed an extraordinary love for her father, and had friends and extended family members who were as close to her as immediate family. She was married briefly, but ended the sad relationship amicably, both she and her husband agreeing they had been too young and hasty. She developed a fascinating friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt that began in 1938, after Murray wrote her a letter, and lasted most of her adult life. Their friendship, borne out in years of letters, was as rooted in the often-prickly debates they had on national issues, especially race, as it was in the deep affection the two women felt for each other, and the many happy social occasions they shared.
At age 62, when many people consider retirement, Murray entered the seminary to begin a new career. On January 8, 1977, she became the first African-American woman in the United States to become a priest in the Episcopalian church. She performed her first Holy Eucharist at the Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where her grandmother, a slave, had been baptized. It was there, she later wrote, that she felt that “All of the strands of my life had come together.”
In the years after her ordination, Murray served her own parish in Baltimore and was in demand as a pastor and preacher at churches in Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh. She continued to write in her later years—she contributed articles to theological publications, and carried on a campaign of “confrontation by typewriter,” as she called it, by writing challenging letters to newspapers and politicians on issues she felt passionately about. In her spare time she worked on her memoir, poring through decades of records and memories and writing and rewriting to put together as truthful and accurate an autobiography as she could. She died before finishing the work, on July 1, 1985, but it earned both the Christopher Award and Robert Kennedy Award when it was published posthumously in 1987. Her story “almost defies brief summation,” wrote Washington Post critic Jonathan Yardley. “It is in every respect a remarkable document, not merely the story of a life that can truly be called extraordinary but also a splendid book in its own right: smoothly written, good-humored, passionate, thoughtful. One comes to its powerfully moving final pages utterly convinced that Murray was one of the greatest Americans of her time. To call her story inspiring is somehow inadequate, but true.”
(Editor) States’ Laws on Race and Color, and Appendices Containing International Documents, Federal Laws and Regulations, Local Ordinances and Charts, Woman’s Division of Christian Service, Board of Missions and Church Extension, Methodist Church (Cincinnati), 1951, supplement (with Verge Lake), 1955.
Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family, (biography), 1956, reprinted, The Reprint (Spartanburg, SC), 1973, new edition, Harper, 1978.
(With Leslie Rubin) The Constitution and Government of Ghana, Sweet & Maxwell (London), 1961.
Human Rights U.S.A., 1948-1966, Service Center, Board of Missions, Methodist Church, 1967.
Dark Testament, and Other Poems (collection), Sil-vermine (Norwalk, CT), 1970.
(Contributor) Voices of the New Feminism, edited by Mary Lou Thompson, Beacon Press, 1970.
Song in a Weary Throat: An American Pilgrimage (autobiography), Harper, 1987.
Pauli Murray: The Autobiography of a Black Activist, Feminist, Lawyer, Priest, and Poet, 1987, University of Tennessee Press (Knoxville), 1989.
Also author of speeches and addresses, including The Negro Woman in the Quest for Equality, 1964. Poetry represented in anthologies, including American Negro Poetry, edited by Arna Bontemps, Hill and Wang (New York City), 1963; The Poetry of Black America, edited by Arnold Adoff, Macmillan (New York City), 1968; The Poetry of the Negro, 1746-1970, edited by Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1970; and A Rock against the Wind: Black Love Poems, edited by Lindsay Patterson, Dodd (New York City), 1973. Contributor to journals and other publications, including Crisis and Color.
Murray, Pauli, Pauli Murray: The Autobiography of a Black Activist, Feminist, Lawyer, Priest, and Poet, Harper & Row, 1989 (originally published as Songs in a Weary Throat: An American Pilgrimage, 1987).
O’Dell, Darlene, Sites of Southern Memory: The Autobiographies of Katharine Du Pre Lumpkin, Lillian Smith, and Pauli Murray, University Press of Virginia, 2001.
Journal of Women’s History, summer, 2002.
Nation, May 23, 1987, p. 689.
Washington Post, April 5, 1987.
Orange County, NC website, http://www.co.orange.nc.us/hrr/pmurray/murraybio.htm (December 28, 2002).
North Carolina Writers’ Network, http://www.ncwriters.org/pmurray.htm (December 28, 2002).
Spartacus Educational, http://www.spartacus.schoolet.co.uk/USAmurrayA.htm (December 28, 2002).
Sunshine for Women homepage, http://www.pinn.net/~sunshine/whm2001/p_murray.html (December 28, 2002).
Pauli Murray (1910-1985), a lifelong civil rights advocate, served as a lawyer, college professor, deputy attorney general, and ordained minister. Often the first African American woman to fill the positions she occupied, Murray worked tirelessly to destroy the legal and political obstacles created by racism and racial discrimination and fought at the same time against the Jane Crow stereotypes that limited the lives of women—especially African American women—in equally vicious ways.
Born November 20, 1910, in Baltimore, Maryland, Anna Pauline Murray was, as she noted in her autobiography Song in a Weary Throat, the result of "several generations of a generous intermixture of African, European, and Native American stocks." The granddaughter of a slave and the great-grandaughter of a slave owner, she was the fourth of six children born to Agnes (Fitzgerald) and William Murray, a nurse and school teacher. The family was a warm and loving one, but Murray grew up deeply conscious of the Jim Crow segregation laws that circumscribed their lives and affected every aspect of their existence. "[R]ace," she recalled, "was the atmosphere one breathed from day to day, the pervasive irritant, the chronic allergy, the vague apprehension which made one uncomfortable and jumpy. We knew the race problem was like a deadly snake coiled and ready to strike, and that one avoided its dangers only by never-ending watchfulness."
Orphaned at a Young Age
Murray's childhood happiness ended abruptly when her mother died of a cerebral hemorrhage in the summer of 1914. Her father, already weakened both mentally and physically from a nearly fatal bout of typhoid fever years before, found himself unable to care for all his children. The family was split, and Murray was sent to North Carolina, where she was raised by her mother's sisters, Pauline and Sarah Fitzgerald, and her grandparents, Robert and Cornelia (Smith) Fitzgerald. Her father's health and sanity continued to deteriorate; three years later he was sent to Crownsville State Hospital, an asylum, where he was confined until his death in 1923.
A bright and conscientious student, Murray graduated from Hillsdale High School at the top of her class in 1926. She was determined to attend college and refused to consider any of the segregated institutions in the South. She chose Hunter College, a public women's school in New York City—she first needed to remedy the second-class schooling she'd received in the South. She moved in with a cousin's family in Queens and attended Richmond Hill High School to prepare for the Regent's Exam that would allow her to enter Hunter. Studying literally around the clock, she graduated with honors a year later. The next hurdle, saving enough money to fund her studies, required Murray to work still another year, but she entered Hunter College in September of 1928.
At Hunter, her studies, particularly in anthropology, first convinced her that race and racial designations were arbitrary classifications that served only to divide people, fueling, as she wrote in her autobiography, "the poisonous notions of superior and inferior races." Her conviction that race was an artificial distinction without a biological basis would become the cornerstone of her legal and civil rights work.
Began Civil Rights Work
Murray graduated from Hunter with honors in 1933, one of four African American students out of 247. She eventually found a job with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and taught remedial reading for a year before transferring to the WPA Workers Education Project, an effort to teach workers everything from basic English and simple math to current events and collective bargaining. The job put her in contact with a much broader group of people than she had encountered before, and the experience was enlightening. She noted in her autobiography: "I had never thought of white people as victims of oppression, but now I heard echoes of the black experience when I listened to white workers tell their personal stories of being evicted, starved out, beaten, and jailed… . 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."
Murray's determination to fight segregation and secure her rights as an American grew, and in 1938 she applied for admission to the University of North Carolina (UNC). As a state university, however, UNC did not admit African American students. Despite the university president's liberal and sympathetic leanings and a recent Supreme Court decision requiring Missouri to admit a African American student to its state law school, UNC steadfastly rejected Murray's application. She refused to accept defeat, writing letters to newspapers, the head of the university, and to both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. She also asked the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for help, and Thurgood Marshall (a future Supreme Court justice) was assigned to review the situation. Unfortunately, the NAACP decided not to take her case, saying that since she had only recently moved back to her North Carolina she could claim neither state residency nor a right to attend UNC. They wanted an open-and-shut case.
Still searching for a job that would allow her to challenge segregation laws, Murray left the WPA and began to look for other work. While traveling through the South in 1940, however, she and a friend were jailed in Petersburg, Virginia, when they refused to move to a broken seat at the back of the bus to make room for white passengers—15 years before Rosa Parks made history in the Montgomery, Alabama. Her experience with the WPA and UNC had taught Murray well, and she again contacted the NAACP, the Workers Defense League (WDL), and Mrs. Roosevelt, all of whom became involved in the case. Murray and her friend were ultimately convicted by the courts, but the publicity surrounding the case had convinced the local authorities to drop the charges of breaking segregation laws, charging the pair instead with creating a disturbance. "Although we lost the legal battle," Murray wrote later in her autobiography, "the episode convinced me that creative nonviolent resistance could be a powerful weapon in the struggle for human dignity."
Following this incident Murray joined the WDL, which had taken up the death-penalty case of Odell Waller, a African American sharecropper convicted of killing his white employer. The prosecutor charged Waller with premeditatated murder; Waller claimed self defense. Although the WDL's efforts were ultimately unsuccessful (Waller was executed in 1942), the work convinced Murray to pursue a career as a civil rights lawyer. She began her legal studies at Howard University, a black university in Washington, D.C, certain that this environment, at least, would be free from prejudice.
Discovered "Jane Crow" Discrimination
Murray discovered to her dismay that while racial bias was not a factor, sexual discrimination against women was rampant. "In my preoccupation with the brutalities of racism, I had failed until now to recognize the subtler, more ambiguous expressions of sexism," she recalled bitterly in her autobiography. "[I]n the intimate environment of a Negro law school dominated by men, … the factor of gender was fully exposed… . I soon learned that women were often the objects of ridicule disguised as a joke." This only steeled her resolve to excel.
Murray did pioneering legal work while at Howard, formulating an attack on the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision mandating "separate but equal" treatment and public facilities for African Americans and whites. Murray's final paper for 1944 proposed a legal challenge to segregation based on the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees equal protection under the law to all Americans. Racial distinctions, she argued, were arbitrary classifications that could not be used to determine legal rights. In addition, segregation was a devastating psychological blow and one that clearly violated the civil rights of African American citizens. In 1951 Murray expanded this thesis into a book, States' Laws on Race and Color. It became the foundation of the NAACP's groundbreaking work in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, which effectively ended segregation in public schools.
Denied Admission to Harvard
Graduating at the head of her class in 1944, Murray was the recipient of a Rosenfeld Fellowship, an honor that was usually a ticket to graduate work at Harvard. At that time, however, Harvard did not admit women—and would not for nearly 20 more years. Murray, unwilling to take "no" for an answer, lodged every possible appeal and even prevailed on her earlier acquaintance with the Roosevelts— FDR sent a letter to Harvard on her behalf—but was ultimately unable to prevail, although her appeals were enough to split the board evenly on the question of whether or not to admit her.
She went instead to the Boalt Hall of Law at the University of California in Berkeley, where she earned a master of laws degree in 1945. She worked as a Los Angeles deputy district attorney before heading back to New York a year later. In 1949, while living in Brooklyn, she made her one and only bid for public office, running for a City Council seat on the Liberal Party ticket. Although unsuccessful, she came in second, prompting her to remark in her autobiography, "Although I had no desire to run for political office again, I thought of that campaign as a harbinger of things to come when, nineteen years later, Shirley Chisholm ran … in the same general area of Brooklyn and was elected as the first Negro woman in Congress."
Murray chronicled her family's history in 1956 with Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family. In the introduction to the 1978 edition, she recalled that writing the book "became for me the resolution of a search for identity and the exorcism of ghosts of the past… . I began to see myself in a new light—the product of a slowly evolving process of biological and cultural integration, a process containing the character of many cultures and many peoples, a New World experiment, fragile yet tenacious a possible hint of a stronger and freer America of the future, no longer stunted in its growth by an insidious ethnocentrism."
She went to Ghana in 1960, driven partly by a desire to learn about her African heritage. She taught constitutional law at the Ghana Law School but soon began to be perceived as a threat to President Kwame Nkrumah's drive for totalitarian power. With the political situation becoming ever more unsettled, she left the country barely more than a year later to pursue further legal studies; she earned a doctor of juridical science degree from Yale University Law School in 1965.
Worked for Women's Rights
Murray was appointed to the President's Commission on the Status of Women Committee (PCSW) in 1961, where, just as she had 1951, she surveyed state laws to compile a catalog of ways in women were kept from true legal equality. She argued that these could be overturned with a Supreme Court ruling based on the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to invalidate these discriminatory laws. Some of the women on the commission wanted to push for the adoption of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the Constitution (first written and proposed in 1923), but Murray firmly believed, as with race, that the Constitution— particularly the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments already guaranteed women the rights and protections they needed. Her refusal to endorse the ERA eventually led her to part company with many feminists.
In 1964 Murray used her considerable influence to campaign for the inclusion of sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Her efforts (combined with those of others) were successful: the bill was passed by both houses of Congress and became law that year. Murray was keenly aware, however, that the statute would require active enforcement if the status of women, especially African American women, was to improve. The following year she published "Jane Crow and the Law: Sex Discrimination and Title VII" in the George Washington Law Review, in which she cited "ways in which the Fifth and Fourteenth amendments and the sex provisions of Title VII would be interpreted to accord women equality of rights… . Published … at a time when few authoritative legal materials on discrimination against women existed, [the] article broke new ground and was widely cited."
Helped Found NOW
A year later she joined the executive board of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), beginning a seven-year collaboration with fellow ACLU board member Dorothy Kenyon, who also sought legal challenges with which to attack sex discrimination. In 1966 Murray became one of the 30 founding members of the National Organization for Women (NOW), an alliance she hoped would ensure government enforcement of Title VII. The NOW feminists were determined to push for ratification of the ERA, but Murray remained convinced that the Constitution already guaranteed women's rights. She eventually resigned from NOW's national leadership when the organization voted to push for ratification of the ERA in 1967.
In 1968 she went to Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachussetts, as a visiting professor in the school's American Civilization program. She expanded the program into a full-fledged American Studies department two years later and in 1971 was honored with the Louis Stulberg Chair in Law and Politics and a full, tenured professorship in American Studies.
Ordained an Episcopal Priest
Yet one more first remained for Pauli Murray. When she was 62, just a few years away from what many would consider retirement age, she entered the master of divinity degree program at General Theological Seminary in New York City. She became the first American black woman to become an Episcopal priest on January 8, 1977, in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. She celebrated her first Eucharist in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in the little church where her grandmother, a slave, had been baptized in 1854. "All the strands of my life had come together," Murray recalled in her autobiography. "Descendent of slave and of slave owner … [n]ow I was 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."
Pauli Murray died in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on July 1, 1985. In 1990 Orange County, North Carolina, established the Pauli Murray Human Relations Award to commemorate Murray's life and work. The annual award is given to a youth, adult, and business that, according to the county's website, "have served the community with distinction in the pursuit of equality, justice, and human rights for all citizens.
Murray, Pauli, Dark Testament and Other Poems, Silvermine, 1970.
—, Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family, Harper &Row, 1978.
—, Song in a Weary Throat: An American Pilgrimage, Harper &Row, 1987.
—, States' Laws on Race and Color, University of Georgia Press, 1997.
George Washington Law Review, December 1965.
Journal of Women's History, Summer 2002.
Nation, May 23, 1987.
Sarasota Herald Tribune, February 17, 1997.
"Pauli Murray," North Carolina Writers' Network,http://www.ncwriters.org/pmurray.htm (February 3, 2003).
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"Pauli Murray," Sunshine for Women, http://www.pinn.net/∼sunshine/whm2001/p-murray.html (February 3, 2003).
"Pauli Murray, 1910-1985," Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Massachusetts,http://www.radcliffe.edu/schles/libcolls/mssarch/findaids/Murray/MurBio.html (February 3, 2003).
"Respect, Contempt, and Individuality," Nancy Huntting,http://www.nancyhuntting.net/PMurray-Sem1.html (February 3, 2003).
"States' Laws on Race and Color," University of Georgia Press,http://www.ugapress.uga.edu/books/shelf/0820318833.html (February 3, 2003).
"Three Legendary Feminists," Moondance: Celebrating Creative Women,http://www.moondance.org/1998/winter98/nonfiction/pauli.html (February 3, 2003).
"A Woman of Foresight, Pauli Murray," African American Registry,http://www.aaregistry.com/african-american-history/630/A-woman-of-foresight-Pauli-Murray (February 3, 2003). □