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Pauli Murray

Born: Nov. 20th, 1910
Died: July 1st, 1985
FEast: July 1st
Patron of:  
the LGBTQIA+ community, women’s ordination, the Civil Rights movement



Pauli, born Anna Pauline Murray, in 1910, was the fourth of the six children of her mother, a nurse, and father, a teacher. When their* mother Agnes died in 1914, their father, William, who had been battling typhoid fever, also began suffering from depression. Because of this, he was committed to a hospital and Pauli’s aunts and grandparents, living in Durham, North Carolina, took them in. When Pauli was only 13, their father, who was still a hospital resident, was beaten to death by a white guard.

In 1926, Pauli moved to New York to attend Hunter College. They graduated with a degree in English in 1933. During this time, they worked many jobs, participated in a secret marriage to a man that lasted only a few months, officially changed their legal name to “Pauli”, and began questioning their gender and identity (but was refused gender-affirming medical care). They wrote articles for many magazines, participated in a WPA camp, and began a friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt.

When denied entrance to the University of North Carolina, an all-white school, in 1928, Pauli began a nationally-publicized letter-writing campaign. The NAACP refused to represent them in the end, however, likely due in part to their openness about their sexuality. They were also denied representation when arrested only a short while later when refusing to obey segregation laws on a bus.

Pauli went back to school in 1941 to become a Civil Rights lawyer at Howard University, where they wrote about rampant sexism within the school itself, challenged the US Army’s segregation policy, and organized sit-ins at many establishments before this became a widespread practice in protesting for Civil Rights.

Though the top graduate traditionally received a fellowship to Harvard University, Pauli Murray was denied this honor when they received this position, again because of their gender. They instead entered the University of California to achieve their Masters of Laws.


They were hired as California’s first Black deputy attorney general.

Pauli moved back to New York in the 1950s to support the growing Civil Rights movement, and published books and articles on Racial Justice in law. Their work was even influential in the decision for Brown vs. Board of Education.

They studied law in Ghana in 1960 and attended Yale Law School when they returned, becoming the first Black person to receive a JSD degree.

In 1961 they were appointed by President Kennedy to the Committee on Civil and Political Rights underneath the branch of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. They criticized sexism even within the Civil Rights Movement, and co-founded the National organization for Women in 1966.

Pauli Murray became vice president of Benedict College, then a professor at Brandeis University. At Brandeis, they introduced new classes on African-American and Women’s Studies. After their longtime partner Irene Barlow passed away in 1973, they decided to enter General Theological Seminary.

They became the first Episcopal - ordained Black person perceived as a woman in 1977. Pauli died of cancer in 1985.

* Note: “Currently, the Pauli Murray Center chooses to use he/him and they/them pronouns when discussing Pauli Murray’s early life and she/her/hers when discussing Dr. Murray’s later years. When discussing Pauli Murray in general, we interchangeably use she/her/hers, he/him/his, and they/them/theirs pronouns, or we refer to Pauli Murray by their name and title(s). We hope this strategy will encourage readers to embrace the individual and fluid nature of gender.” - The Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice



You show us the sacredness, holiness, and extraordinary contributions that everyone innately has and is capable of when they are able to believe that they are doing the right thing and are truly loved and supported. Let us be that love and support to all so that we may have a better, more just world, religion, and humanity. Help us be who we are. Amen.

Art Reflection


These glasses are the same as the ones Pauli really wore, but the other elements of clothing featured are translated into a more contemporary style. They also hold a book on law, and the color scheme comes from the personality/ energy I perceived from their story.


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