Jane Crow : the life of Pauli Murray


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Together, they formed part of a large and close-knit family whose members ranged from Episcopalians to Quakers, impoverished to wealthy, fair-skinned and blue-eyed to dark-skinned and curly-haired. By the time she graduated, at fifteen, she was the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, the president of the literary society, class secretary, a member of the debate club, the top student, and a forward on the basketball team. Around the time of her birth, North Carolina had begun rolling back the gains of Reconstruction and using Jim Crow laws to viciously restrict the lives of African-Americans.

From the moment Murray understood the system, she actively resisted it. Even as a child, she walked everywhere rather than ride in segregated streetcars, and boycotted movie theatres rather than sit in the balconies reserved for African-Americans. Since the age of ten, she had been looking north. When the time came to pick a college, she set her sights on Columbia, and insisted that Pauline take her up to visit. It was in New York that Murray realized her life was constrained by more factors than race.

Dismayed but determined, Murray petitioned her family to let her live with a cousin in Queens, then enrolled in Richmond Hill High School, the only African-American among four thousand students. Then came October 29, Murray, who was supporting herself by waitressing, lost, in quick succession, most of her customers, most of her tips, and her job. She looked for work, but everyone was looking for work.

She took time off from school, took odd jobs, took shared rooms in tenement buildings. She graduated in —possibly the worst year in U. Nationwide, the unemployment rate was twenty-five per cent. In Harlem, it was greater than fifty. For the next five years, Murray drifted in and out of jobs—among them, a stint at the W. She learned about the labor movement, stood in her first picket line, joined a faction of the Communist Party U. In , worried about their health and lacking any job prospects, she decided to apply to the graduate program in sociology at the University of North Carolina—which, like the rest of the university, did not accept African-Americans.

Murray knew that, but she also knew her own history. Two of her slave-owning relatives had attended the school, another had served on its board of trustees, and yet another had created a permanent scholarship for its students. Surely, Murray reasoned, she had a right to be among them. On December 8, , she mailed off her application. Six days later, she got a reply. Thanks to an accident of timing, that letter made Murray briefly famous. Two days earlier, in the first serious blow to segregation, the Supreme Court had ruled that graduate programs at public universities had to admit qualified African-Americans if the state had no equivalent black institution.

Murray hoped to sue, and asked the N. Nor was she ever admitted to U. Soon enough, though, she did get into two other notable American institutions: jail and law school. In March of , Murray boarded a southbound bus in New York, reluctantly. She had brought along a good friend and was looking forward to spending Easter with her family in Durham, but, of all the segregated institutions in the South, she hated the bus the most. Murray and her friend changed buses in Richmond, Virginia.

Meet Pauli Murray, a Gender-Variant Pioneer for Equal Protection Under the Law

Since the available seats in the back were broken, they sat down closer toward the front. Some time earlier, they had discussed Gandhi and nonviolent resistance, and so, without premeditation, when the bus driver asked them to move they politely refused. The driver called the cops, a confrontation ensued, and they were thrown in jail. This time, the N.

Jane Crow: The Little Known Story of Pauli Murray

But the state of Virginia, steering clear of that powder keg, charged Murray and her friend only with disorderly conduct. That vow did not last six months. Waller had been sentenced to death for shooting the white man whose land he farmed: in self-defense, he claimed; in cold blood, according to the all-white jury that convicted him. As Bell-Scott documents, that friendship had begun two years earlier, after Murray wrote an angry letter to F.

Eleanor responded, unperturbed, and later invited her to tea—the first of countless such visits, and the beginning of a productively contentious, mutually joyful decades-long relationship. While there, she gave a speech that reduced the audience to tears—an audience that, by chance, included Thurgood Marshall and the Howard law professor Leon Ransom. Later that day, Murray ran into the two men in town; Ransom, who had admired her speech, suggested that she apply to Howard. Murray replied that she would if she could afford it. Murray applied. Marshall wrote her a recommendation.

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Ransom kept his word. Everyone else was male—all the faculty, all her classmates. Photograph from AP. Her initial efforts were dispiriting. Upon earning her J.

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Gentlemen, I would gladly change my sex to meet your requirements, but since the way to such change has not been revealed to me, I have no recourse but to appeal to you to change your minds on this subject. Are you to tell me that one is as difficult as the other? Apparently so.

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She went to Berkeley instead, then returned to New York to find work. This proved challenging. At the time, only around a hundred African-American women practiced law in the entire United States, and very few firms were inclined to hire them.


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They opposed segregation and wanted to know, for all thirty-one states where the Church had parishes, when they were legally obliged to adhere to it and when it was merely custom. If they paid her for her time, they wondered, would she write up an explanation of segregation laws in America?

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What the Methodist Church had in mind was basically a pamphlet. The A. Thurgood Marshall, who kept stacks of it around the N. It was a storied place, lucrative and relatively progressive, but Murray never felt entirely at home there, partly because, of its sixty-some attorneys, she was the only African-American and one of just three women. Two soon left, although a fourth briefly appeared: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a summer associate with whom Murray crossed paths.

In , frustrated both by her isolation and by corporate litigation, she took an overseas job at the recently opened Ghana School of Law. It was the first time Murray had ever left her country. Now, five thousand miles away, the modern civil-rights movement was beginning.

In , frustrated with how little progress she and others were making, she proposed, during a speech in New York, that women organize a march on Washington. A mixed-race orphan, Murray grew up in segregated North Carolina before escaping to New York, where she attended Hunter College and became a labor activist in the s. When she applied to graduate school at the University of North Carolina, where her white great-great-grandfather had been a trustee, she was rejected because of her race.

She went on to graduate first in her class at Howard Law School, only to be rejected for graduate study again at Harvard University this time on account of her sex.


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Undaunted, Murray forged a singular career in the law. In the s, her legal scholarship helped Thurgood Marshall challenge segregation head-on in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case. When appointed by Eleanor Roosevelt to the President's Commission on the Status of Women in , she advanced the idea of Jane Crow, arguing that the same reasons used to condemn race discrimination could be used to battle gender discrimination. In the early s, Murray provided Ruth Bader Ginsburg with the argument Ginsburg used to persuade the Supreme Court that the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution protects not only blacks but also women - and potentially other minority groups - from discrimination.

By that time, Murray was a tenured history professor at Brandeis, a position she left to become the first black woman ordained a priest by the Episcopal Church in

Jane Crow : the life of Pauli Murray Jane Crow : the life of Pauli Murray
Jane Crow : the life of Pauli Murray Jane Crow : the life of Pauli Murray
Jane Crow : the life of Pauli Murray Jane Crow : the life of Pauli Murray
Jane Crow : the life of Pauli Murray Jane Crow : the life of Pauli Murray
Jane Crow : the life of Pauli Murray Jane Crow : the life of Pauli Murray

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