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  • Writer's pictureNia Clark

SE3 E11 Pauli Murray: Durham native and Unsung Heroin of the Civil Rights Movement

Pauli Murray - And Justice For All Durham County Courthouse Art Wall

Not only was Pauli Murray was one of the most important Civil Rights leaders that Black Durham ever produced, she was also one of the most important Civil rights leaders of the 20th century. Murray was a jurist and activist who contributed some of the legal groundwork to the civil rights movement. Pauli gained national attention during her failed attempt to study at the all-white University of North Carolina, which is when Murray developed a life-long friendship with the first lady at the time, Eleanor Roosevelt. Murray was a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and helped form the nonviolence-focused Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Murray went to the University of California Boalt School of Law where s/he received an LLM (Master of Laws) degree. In 1951 Murray published the book, States’ Laws on Race and Color. Thurgood Marshall, head of the legal department at the (NAACP) at the time, described it as the “Bible” for civil rights litigators. Shortly after her book Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family, came out in 1956, Murray took a job in the litigation department at the law firm, Paul, Weiss, Rifkin, Wharton, and Garrison. In 1965, Pauli became the first African-American to receive a JSD degree from Yale Law School. The accolades go on and on. So why isn’t Murray a household name? Murray never sought a public profile. Though experts surmise that her gender non-conformity must have been a factor. Nevertheless, recent efforts to give Murray the recognition she deserves have shined a brighter light on her incredible life.

My favorite quote is one that talks about how, Pauli says it takes me a lifetime to discover the true emancipation is based on accepting the whole past in facing up to the degradation and the dignity of all my answers. Pauli had a keen understanding coming from a family that included slave owners and enslaved people, that included people like uncle Richard, who was very wealthy and grandfather Robert, who was, economically, very disadvantaged, that included people who like aunt Pauline could easily have passed for white and other people who were darker skinned and, you know, had the experience of people who were often discriminated against purely because of the color of their skin, even within the black community. I think that, that the grappling, the idea that we can't let go of any piece of that part of really being free is embracing and understanding and trying to think about the ways those things were connected and those ways those are all, a part of us as individuals when we look back at our own history. ~Barbara Lau
Guests in this episode

Barbara Lau, director of the Pauli Murray Project at the Duke Human Rights Center/Franklin Humanities Institute.

Musical Attribution:

1. Title: African Moon by John Bartmann. License, disclaimer and copyright information: CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication

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2. Title: Window Sparrows by Axletree. Licensed under a Attribution License. License, disclaimer and copyright information: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

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