Pauli Murray’s name is not commonly mentioned alongside many historical figures that have been immortalized in their fight for equality and civil rights for minorities and women alike. However, Murray had a profound impact by introducing ideas and legal concepts which were used to establish the basics of equal treatment for these groups in society. Despite being behind the scenes in the Civil Rights Movement, her progressive and daring thinking led to the development of legal defense for the applicability of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause to women and minorities, thus making discrimination illegal under the U.S. Constitution (Schulz).
From her formative years, Murray showed through her actions that she would not adhere to the roles established by society for her as a minority woman. She strived to show the best result she could academically and participate in positions or activities that were not expected of her status. Early on, Murray realized the oppressive concept of segregation and chose to challenge it. As a child, she would avoid places where she would have to face it. Once she was older and realizing the value of education, she sought to challenge the extremely segregated and discriminative educational institutions by seeking out opportunities to apply and attend the best universities. Despite socio-economic difficulties, Murray finished her undergraduate studies. Afterwards, when faced with constant rejection for further education based on the concept of race or sex, she did not simply accept the reality but sought to challenge it publicly and legally through any means available to her. She was able to receive a law degree from Berkley and become the first African American to receive a doctorate of jurisprudence from Yale.
This shows that Murray lived her life according to the principles that she advocated. Her achievements are extraordinary in a time of segregation and pressure on African-Americans, especially women. By making these personal achievements, she was able to pave the way and set an example for many of her colleagues in education, law, and even religion (she was the first African American female Episcopal priest). The concept of “breaking the glass ceiling” was exponentially more difficult in comparison to modern times since society was entrenched in preserving racist and discriminatory ideals. It is critical to consider that in the midst of historical victories of the Civil Rights Movement, personal lives are overlooked. However, it is through tremendous personal struggles and sacrifices that figures such as Paulie Murray were able to achieve the knowledge and skills that were necessary to fight for the ideals of equality.
However, the most well-known of Murray’s achievements come in serving public organizations with the attempt to initiate change. Employed for a desegregation project by the Methodist Church, Murray published a large book outlining the legal atrocities of segregation in all of American States. This information was used for both propaganda and legal purposes by the A.C.L.U. and the N.A.A.C.P., considered to be critical for the Brown vs. Board of Education case. She served in the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women and helped launch the National Organization for Women. In her life, Murray experienced not only racial discrimination but many challenges as a woman also. She experienced a troubled adult life, expressing untraditional gender and sexual identities for the time. However, using firsthand experiences and collaboration with various leaders of the Civil Rights and female equality movements, she played a critical role in the structure and operations of these major organizations. As a result, the movements took bold steps of public resistance and legal challenges to help establish gender and racial equality.
Schulz, Kathryn. “The Many Lives of Pauli Murray.” The New Yorker. 2017, Web.