Celebrating Black History Month! – Pauli Murray
In honor of National Black History Month, The Elder Law Center of Kirson & Fuller is proud to feature African Americans that have impacted the nation through jurisprudence.
Born in Baltimore, Maryland on November 20th in 1910, Anne Pauline Murray was raised by her aunt and grandparents after her parents’ untimely death. Moving to New York after graduating high school with a certificate of distinction, Murray attended Hunter College where she financed her education working various jobs, earning her degree in English Literature in 1933. While in New York, Murray befriended intellects like with Langston Hughes and W.E.B. DuBois and began writing poetry, being published in various magazines. While in New York, Murray changed her name to Pauli and began working as a teacher at the Remedial Reading Project and for the Works Progress Administration where she fostered a friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt.
Jumping head first into the civil rights movement, Murray enrolled in Howard University Law school with sights to become a civil rights attorney. Graduating at the top of her class with a J.D., Dr. Murray earned the Rosenwald Followship – which should have admitted her to Harvard University, but due to her sex and race she was denied. She moved on to UC-Berkley School of Law and vowed to fight the “Jane Crow” laws that dictated her environment. During her studies at Howard, Dr. Murray wrote an argument challenging Plessy v. Ferguson “separate but equal” ruling violated the 13th and 14th Amendments. This essay later became the basis for Brown v. Board of Education. Dr. Murray went on to publish a multitude of essays and books, including State’s Law on Race and Color, exposing the extent and absurdity of segregation which became, as Thurgood Marshall said, “the Bible” of Brown v. Board of Education.
After traveling to Ghana to work at Ghana School of Law, Dr. Murray returned home, passionate to make a difference and began working closely with major Civil Rights Movement leaders. In 1965 Murray became the first African American to receive a JSD from Yale Law School. Frustrated at the way women were being sidelined in the movement, Murray was one of 12 founders of the National Organization for Woman (NOW). Once NOW began sidelining women of color, Dr. Murray left to joined the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In 1977, Murray became the first African American woman in the United States to become an Episcopal priest, celebrating the first Holy Eucharist at the Chapel of the Cross on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Dr. Pauli Murray passed away from cancer in 1985, leaving a strong legacy as one of the most important social justice advocates of the twentieth century. The Episcopal Church sainted Murray in 2012, Yale University named a residential college after her, and Murray’s childhood home in Durham, NC was designated a National Historic Landmark in her memory.