Discipline: Literature – nonfiction, Literature – poetry

Pauli Murray

Discipline: Literature – nonfiction, Literature – poetry
Region: Pittsburgh, PA
MacDowell Fellowships: 1954, 1955, 1956, 1959

Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray (1910-1985) was an American civil rights activist, women's rights activist, lawyer, Episcopal priest, and author. They were raised mostly by her maternal grandparents in Durham, North Carolina. At the age of 16, Murray moved to New York to enroll in an all-white high school so they could satisfy academic and residency requirements to attend Hunter College for free, and graduated with a B.A. in English in 1933. In 1940, Murray sat in the whites-only section of a Virginia bus with a friend, and they were arrested for violating state segregation laws. This incident, and Murray's subsequent involvement with the socialist Workers' Defense League, led them to pursue their career goal of working as a civil rights lawyer. Murray enrolled in the law school at Howard University, where they also became aware of sexism, calling it "Jane Crow," alluding to the Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation in the South. Murray graduated first in their class, but was denied the chance to do post-graduate work at Harvard University because of their assigned gender of female.

As a lawyer, Murray argued for civil rights and women's rights. NAACP Chief Counsel Thurgood Marshall called Murray's 1950 book, States' Laws on Race and Color, the "bible" of the civil rights movement. At MacDowell in the early 1950s, with luminaries like James Baldwin and Milton Avery, Murray worked on their book about their family history, Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family., That book was the basis of an exhibition at The National Museum of African American History and Culture, titled Pauli Murray’s Proud Shoes: A Classic in African American Genealogy, and guided the 2022 Peabody Award-winning documentary My Name is Pauli Murray.

Murray earned a master's degree in law at University of California, Berkeley, and in 1965 became the first African American to receive a Doctor of Juridical Science degree from Yale Law School. Murray served on the 1961–1963 Presidential Commission on the Status of Women, appointed by President John F. Kennedy. In 1966 they were a co-founder of the National Organization for Women. Ruth Bader Ginsburg named Murray a coauthor of a brief on the 1971 case Reed v. Reed in recognition of their pioneering work on gender discrimination, which articulated the "failure of the courts to recognize sex discrimination for what it is and its common features with other types of arbitrary discrimination."

Murray held faculty or administrative positions at the Ghana School of Law, Benedict College, and Brandeis University, but left academia in 1973 and in 1977 became the first black person perceived as a woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest.

Portrait by Florence Goldman of Peterborough


Irving Fine

Pauli Murray worked in the Irving Fine studio.

Youngstown Studio was given to MacDowell by friends of Miss Myra McKeown in Youngstown, OH, where she promoted both art and music. It was renamed Irving Fine Studio in 1972 in honor of Irving Fine, a distinguished composer, conductor, and teacher who was a MacDowell Fellow during the 1940s and 1950s. The simple interior of the studio…

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