Pauli Murray speaking passionately.
Pauli Murray delivering a speech.

Did You Know Lawyer and Activist, Pauli Murray, Was Born on This Day?

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Pauli Murray possessed many talents and used to be an advocate for women and civil rights. Murray challenged the status quo and left behind an inspiring legacy for generations to come.

Anna Pauline Murray was born on November 20, 1910, in Baltimore, Maryland. She spent much of her childhood in North Carolina and New York after the death of her parents. After graduating from Hunter College in 1928, she shortened her name to Pauli to embrace a more androgynous identity. She described herself as “a girl who should have been a boy,” however, she did not like to characterize herself as a lesbian. 

During the Great Depression, Murray held a variety of jobs and worked for the Works Progress Administration, the Workers Defense League and the New York City Remedial Reading project. Murray made the decision to apply to the University of North Carolina for a law degree but was rejected due to her race. She enrolled at Howard University and became involved in the Civil Rights Movement.

In 1940, Murray was arrested for refusing to sit at the back of a Virginia bus, in an effort to end segregation on public transportation. She also helped to establish the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Following her graduation from Howard, Murray was awarded a fellowship to continue her studies but was denied admission to Harvard University because of her gender. She earned a master’s from the University of California and became the first black woman to earn a Ph.D. in juridical science from Yale Law School.

Murray published States’ Laws on Race and Color, which Thurgood Marshall regarded as the “bible” of civil rights work. She is also the author of Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family, Dark Testament and Song in a Weary Throat: An American Pilgrimage, which was published posthumously in 1987. 

After finding success as a writer, lawyer and activist, Murray decided to devote the remainder of her life to her Christian beliefs. In 1977, Murray became the first African American woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest. She provided ministry to the sick until her retirement in 1982. Pauli Murray died of pancreatic cancer just three years later on July 1, 1985.

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