UNSUNG SISTERS OF BLACK HISTORY MONTH
Anna Pauline Murray was born on November 20, 1919 in Baltimore, Maryland. Murray lost both of her parents at a very early age and moved to Durham, North Carolina to live with her maternal grandparents. She was only sixteen when she enrolled in Hunter College and relocated to New York. Unable to complete her studies she later enrolled in Howard University, where her late father went to school and graduated in 1944. Coming of age in the pre Civil Rights era, Murray faced both sexism and racism which set the foundation for what would become her lifelong pursuit of equality.
Upon graduating from Howard, Murray was denied admission to the University of North Carolina School of Law because of her race and denied by Harvard Law because of her gender. In 1940 she refused to move from a whites-only section on a Virginia bus and was arrested along with a friend. Murray then transitioned to the University of California Boalt School of Law. Her thesis was The Right to Equal Opportunity in Employment. She continued her education even further and in 1965, she became the first African-American to receive a Doctor of Juridicial Science degree from Yale Law School.
During her professional career as a lawyer, Pauli Murray championed women's and civil rights. Thurgood Marshall even called Murray's 1950 book States' Laws on Race and Color the civil rights bible. In 1961 Pauli Murray was appointed to the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women and in 1966 co-founded the National Organization for Women. Current Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg named Murray a coauthor on Reed v. Reed in recognition of her progressive work on gender. As an educator Pauli Murray was a faculty member of the Ghana School of Law, Benedict College and Brandeis University.
However, in 1973 Pauli Murray began a new chapter when she retired from academia and joined the Episcopal Church. She decided to challenge sexual discrimination when entering the priesthood and became the first African-American woman to become an ordained Episcopal priest in 1977. In 2012 the Episcopal Church honored her by naming her among its Holy Women and Holy Men. Murray published two-well received autobiographies and a volume of poetry. As a preist, Murray served in churches in Washington, D.C. Baltimore, and Pittsburgh until she retired in 1984. Pauli Murray passed on July 1, 1985 due to complications from cancer.
Her autobiography Song in a Weary Throat: An American Pilgrimage was published posthumously in 1987. The book was re-released as Pauli Murray: The Autobiography of a Black Activist, Feminist, Lawyer, Priest and Poet in 1987. Since her death two additional books have been published about her life and work, Anne Firor Scott’s Pauli Murray & Caroline Ware: Forty Years of Letters in Black and White, and Anthony Pinn’s collection, Pauli Murray: Selected Sermons and Writings.