Pauli Murray

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Pauli Murray
Date of birth November 20, 1910
Place of birth Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Date of death July 1, 1985
Nationality American

Pauli Murray was a Black American civil rights activist, writer, and priest.

Early life and education[edit | edit source]

Pauli was the fourth of six children born to Agnes Fitzgerald and William Murray. Agnes passed away from a cerebral hemorrhage when Pauli was three, and Pauli was sent to live with their aunt and grandparents in Durham, North Carolina. When Pauli was aged six, William was committed to a psychiatric institution, and in 1922 William was beaten to death by one of the institution's white guards.[1]

Murray was "a fantastic and energetic student" and graduated high school at age 15. They refused to consider attending the North Carolina College for Negroes because they did not like being segregated. They wanted to attend Columbia University, but the school did not admit people assigned female at birth. So instead, Murray went to Hunter College in New York City, which was an AFAB-only school at the time.[1]

While attending Hunter College, Murray changed from using their birthname to the gender-neutral name Pauli, and began questioning their sexuality and gender.[2]

Murray later attempted to attend the University of North Carolina, but they were rejected for being Black. Consequently, they studied law at Howard University, graduating at the top of their class. However, Murray was denied entry to Harvard's Masters Degree program due to being assigned female at birth. Nevertheless, Murray eventually received a post-graduate degree at the University of California/Berkley with a concentration on equal rights for women.[2]

Murray's writings regarding the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment were published in 1951 as States' Laws on Race and Color, a book that Thurgood Marshall called "The Bible for Civil Rights Lawyers".[2]

Later life[edit | edit source]

In 1977, Murray left their legal career and was ordained as an Episcopalian priest, being the first Black person assigned female at birth to achieve this.[2]

Pauli Murray died of pancreatic cancer on July 1, 1985, being aged 74.[2]

Gender and orientation[edit | edit source]

In addition to stopping use of their feminine birth name, Pauli wrote to their family and referred to themself as a "he/she personality". In personal journals, Pauli seems to have identified as different genders throughout their life. Pauli did attempt multiple times to access gender transition care, including hormone therapy, but they were denied by gatekeepers.[3]

During the 1930s and 1940s, Murray was interested in the idea that they might have a "male gland" in their body which was the cause of them falling in love with women. Murray also expressed that this inner maleness would explain why Murray was interested in traditionally-male fields of study like law, theology, and medicine.[4]

Some scholars have labeled Murray a a lesbian or transgender/transmasculine, but Murray did not use these terms.[5][4] If Pauli was alive today, they might identify as lesbian, nonbinary, genderqueer, butch, transgender, gender variant, or use other terms. It is important to remember that during Murray's lifetime, it was illegal and dangerous to openly express a non-hetero or non-cis identity, and this danger would be compounded for Black people like Murray.[3]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Rothberg, Emma. "Pauli Murray". National Women's History Museum. Retrieved 27 February 2022.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 "Rev. Pauli Murray - Inductee". Legacy Project Chicago. Retrieved 27 February 2022.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Pronouns & Pauli Murray". Pauli Murray Center. Retrieved 27 February 2022.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Drury, Doreen M. (Spring 2013). "Boy-Girl, Imp, Priest: Pauli Murray and the Limits of Identity". Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. doi:10.2979/jfemistudreli.29.1.142.
  5. Simmons-Thorne, Naomi (30 May 2019). "Pauli Murray and the Pronominal Problem: a De-essentialist Trans Historiography". The Activist History Review. Retrieved 27 February 2022.