I just wanted to share something that I think is amazing on the first week of Black History Month. We all know the contributions of legends like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King but I love to learn about less known people who have had an impact in the struggle for equality. One person who I read about last year was Dr. Pauli Murray. Her life was an inspiration to me. At many turns in her life she failed but in the end her work ended up inspiring some of the great legal minds of our time and was used to argue and win cases that struck decisive blows to racial, gender, and sexual discrimination.
My favorite quote from her: “In not a single one of these little campaigns was I victorious. In other words, in each case, I personally failed, but I have lived to see the thesis upon which I was operating vindicated. And what I very often say is that I’ve lived to see my lost causes found.”
― Pauli Murray
My favorite quote about her: “Leaders aren’t just the few famous people who dominate the news or find their place in history books. They don’t always represent the majority…..They aren’t always popular…..They don’t always win and they aren’t always remembered. Leaders like Pauli Murray brave and obscure men and women . Who act on their convictions even though they fail time and time again sometimes change the course of history.”
Some Highlights of her career:
Ø Ruth Bader Ginsburg credits Murray’s work as the inspiration for her 1971 brief in Reed v. Reed, which ruled that women could not be excluded as administrators of personal estates based on their gender. The Supreme Court case marked the first time that the Equal Protection Clause was applied to sex discrimination, and has served as precedent for many arguments in the decades since then. Ginsburg found Murray’s prior arguments so important to her own that she elected to put Murray down as an honorary co-author on the milestone brief.
Ø She was arrested in 1940 for refusing to move to the back of a bus, protesting a Virginia law requiring segregation on public transportation — 15 years before Rosa Parks’ similar protest sparked a bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala.
Ø In 1944, Murray graduated at the top of her class from the Howard University School of Law, where she encountered gender discrimination from faculty and fellow students. It was there that she coined the term “Jane Crow” to refer to sex discrimination — the sister of Jim Crow.
Ø Mademoiselle magazine named her “Woman of the Year” in 1947.
Ø The NAACP, then led by Thurgood Marshall, used arguments from a law school seminar paper by Murray as part of the organization’s legal strategy in Brown v. Board of Education. He later called her book States’ Laws on Race and Color “the Bible for civil rights lawyers.”
Ø She was appointed to President John F. Kennedy’s Commission on the Status of Women.
Ø She co-founded the National Organization for Women in 1966.
Ø She was the first African-American woman to be ordained a priest in the Protestant Episcopal Church in 1977.
Ø In 2012 she was welcomed into Episcopal sainthood, more than 25 years after her death.
Learn more about Dr. Pauli Murray by checking out Cooper’s article here.