Map of NC

Map of NC

February 25, 2019

Pauli Murray

Before Black History Month ends, the North Carolina Literary Map would like to highlight the life and activism of Pauli Murray. Born in 1910, Murray was a civil rights activist whose activism preceded much of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s. She was born in Baltimore, but was raised in Durham, North Carolina. After leaving the state to attend school up at Columbia University, she returned when she attempted to apply to then-segregated University of North Carolina.

She was rejected, and in response wrote letters to President Roosevelt and other officials in protest. A few years later she and a female partner were arrested for sitting in the whites-only section of a bus. Both of these cases were considered by the NAACP, but ultimately the organization pulled out of representing her. Some speculate this was due in part to the fact that Murray had open romantic relationships with women and dressed in masculine clothing, occasionally presenting as a man. Despite resistance, Murray went on to become the first black deputy attorney general in California. Her critique of state segregation and the “separate but equal” facilities later influenced the court case Brown vs Board of Education. In addition to her contributions to black civil rights, she founded the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966.

Murray had been excluded from the discussion of the Civil Rights Movement and Feminist Movement, but there has been a recent resurgence of her interest in her and her work. In addition to her activism, she was an author and poet. You can read about her family history in the book Proud Shoes, which describes the lives of her ancestors who lived and worked in Durham. Fans of poetry can read her poems in Dark Testament and Other Poems. Those interested in learning more about Murray herself are invited to check out Song in a Weary Throat, an autobiography, or the oral history interviews available online via the “Oral Histories of the American South Project.”

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