“As an American I inherit the magnificent tradition of an endless march toward freedom and toward the dignity of all mankind.” 2 – Pauli Murray
Pauli Murray was a trailblazer who believed that human rights are indivisible. The outfit and label Murray chose for the image “The Crusader” shows her suited up, briefcase in hand, clad in the armor of activists prepared to battle the system as champions for truth, equality, and justice. She was inspired by her family. Her grandfather, Robert Fitzgerald, a soldier in the Union army during the Civil War set off to fight a second war, the “war against ignorance” as a missionary, educator, and democratic activist in North Carolina. Murray’s Aunt Pauline taught her to trust her own intelligence and embrace “full self-expression coupled with work discipline.” Pauli Murray understood her responsibility as an educated African American woman to lift up her race and honor her family through her accomplishments.
Pauli Murray was dedicated to dismantling Jim Crow segregation, fighting for women’s rights and advocating for expanding roles for women in her Episcopalian faith community. She put her education to work as a researcher when she could not maintain a private law practice, writing States Laws on Race and Color which Thurgood Marshall and other civil rights proponents called the “bible” for civil rights lawyers. She was the only female and first African American attorney hired by the prestigious New York firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkin, Wharton, and Garrison. She was the first woman of color to serve as deputy attorney general in the state of California and the first African American to earn the JSD degree in Law at Yale. After the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed, Murray co-authored “Jane Crow and the Law: Sex discrimination and Title VII,” which drew compelling parallels between race-based and sex-based discrimination. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg later recognized this work as pioneering legal thought.
And then at age 62, Murray became the first African American woman to be ordained an Episcopal priest. She is only beginning to be recognized for her contributions to every major social change movement in 20th Century America. Murray was well ahead of her time, pushing boundaries and opening doors for the next generation of African American women activists including Eleanor Holmes Norton, Patricia Roberts Harris, and Marion Wright Edelman whom she mentored and encouraged.
2 Pauli Murray, “An American Credo”, Common Ground Magazine, December 1945, 22