Windy City Media Group Frontpage News

THE VOICE OF CHICAGO'S GAY, LESBIAN, BI, TRANS AND QUEER COMMUNITY SINCE 1985

home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2021-09-01
DOWNLOAD ISSUE
Donate

Sponsor
Sponsor

  WINDY CITY TIMES

LGBTQ History Month: Pauli Murray, architect of history
By Victoria A. Brownworth
2021-10-13

This article shared 464 times since Wednesday
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email


(Note: The pronouns she/her are used in keeping with Murray's own writings, but Murray was a transmasculine and gender-nonconforming lesbian.)

Some say Pauli Murray is the most important U.S. activist many have never heard of. An iconoclastic socialist-leaning, genderfluid feminist and Black civil-rights activist, Murray broke barriers in every aspect of her life. And the barriers Murray broke, the paths Murray created single-handedly and single-mindedly, quite literally changed history.

Pauli Murray is, in many respects, the one-name answer to why LGBTQ History Month is needed. Murray's quest to find herself as someone who variously identified as a woman, a man and as neither, ran parallel to Murray's quest for racial and gender parity in society and the law.

When Murray died at 74, in 1985, she was an ordained Episcopal priest. But she was also an attorney, a much-published poet, essayist and memoirist and a legal scholar who had fundamentally altered civil rights law. Murray had created new feminist theory and lived a lesbian life for decades. Murray's was a life of firsts: First Black woman law school graduate at Howard University, first Black person to earn a JSD (Doctor of the Science of Law) degree from Yale Law School, first Black woman ordained as an Episcopal priest.

Murray's legal writings were the predicate for Thurgood Marshall's segregation-shattering 1954 U.S. Supreme Court case, Brown v. Topeka Board of Education. And her name was also listed as co-author on the brief argued by Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1971 in Reed v. Reed. Years later Ginsburg said, "We knew when we wrote that brief that we were standing on her shoulders."

Murray's States' Laws on Race and Color—a 746-page book written in 1948—was a definitive work used for decades by jurists and civil rights activists. Marshall called Murray's book "the bible for civil rights lawyers."

Ginsburg worked with Murray when they were on the board of the ACLU. She described Murray as "independent, intelligent, poetic, feisty, determined, confident in her counsel."

Murray's associations were disparate as they were intriguing. Murray was a lifelong friend (but not lover) and confidant of Eleanor Roosevelt, who Murray met while working at a conservation camp. Murray was a friend of James Baldwin, with whom she shared space at the MacDowell writer's colony the first year Black writers were admitted. Murray also co-founded the National Organization for Women with Betty Friedan.

Born in 1910 in Baltimore as Anna Pauline Murray, she was orphaned early in life. Her mother died of a cerebral hemorrhage when she was only 3 and her father was soon committed to a local asylum, where he was beaten to death by a white guard when Murray was 12.

"The most significant fact of my childhood was that I was an orphan," Murray said.

Raised in the Deep South by her maternal grandparents and the maternal aunt Pauline for whom she was named, Murray aspired to go to college and set her sights on Columbia. At 16 she moved to New York City where she lived with another aunt and began her battle for equity in a dramatically unequal America.

But that aunt and her family lived in a white neighborhood and were passing as white. Murray's presence as a Black teen in the home was a source of conflict with the neighbors, so soon she was on her own.

Murray's life was, in many respects, defined by who she wasn't. Not white, not male, not wealthy. She was easily pulled into a fight against injustices. In 1940, while traveling with then-girlfriend Adelene McBean, in Petersburg, Virginia, the couple refused to take broken seats at the back of the bus—15 years before Rosa Parks' historic refusal. Murray and McBean were arrested and charged.

Yet Murray was already deeply invested in civil-rights actions. She had applied to Columbia and was told they did not admit women. She tried to fight it, but attended Hunter College instead. After her graduation, Murray applied to the Ph.D. program in sociology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC), but was informed the school did not accept Negro students.

Within this landscape of gender and racial segregation, Murray forged ahead, attempting to fight the segregation at UNC (which, in 2021, denied tenure to Black scholar and MacArthur fellow Nikole Hannah-Jones, who authored the controversial Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project). The NAACP declined to take her case; records suggest that Murray's lesbian sexual orientation posed a conflict for the organization.

It was while attending Howard University law school as the only female student that Murray authored her defining treatise on "Jane Crow." In 1944, she graduated first in her class, but was denied the Julius Rosenwald Fellowships for post-graduate work at Harvard University, despite a letter of support from sitting President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Murray's response was characteristic. "I would gladly change my sex to meet your requirements," she wrote, "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. Are you to tell me that one is as difficult as the other?"

She would later write, "When my brothers try to draw a circle to exclude me, I shall draw a larger circle to include them. Where they speak out for the privileges of a puny group, I shall shout for the rights of all mankind."

Murray went on to earn a master of law degree from Berkeley in 1945, writing her thesis on employment rights.

This conflict over the rules of gender and race was fundamental to her life's work. But concomitant with that was her personal conflict over her lesbianism and her gender identity. Both caused her such emotional turmoil that she was frequently hospitalized for mental breakdowns. (It was while being committed to Bellevue Hospital in New York that she met McBean.) Murray had gone to doctors to attempt to discover whether she had hidden male organs and was devastated to find she did not.

At various times in her early life, Murray identified as a man and dressed in androgynous clothing throughout most of her life. As the Pauli Murray Center details, "Murray actively used the phrase 'he/she personality,' during the early years of their life. Later in journals, essays, letters and autobiographical works, Pauli employed 'she/her/hers' pronouns."

Had she lived in a more accepting and tolerant time, she might have transitioned or she might have accepted her lesbianism. In examining Murray's life, biographers have used different pronouns and made different projections. What is true—and, perhaps, heartbreakingly so—is that Murray never felt comfortable with her gender identity or sexual orientation, even as she wrote continually about how it framed her/their life.

Murray wrote that she was attracted to "extremely feminine and heterosexual women," and her decades-long relationship with Irene "Renee" Barlow, was the most sustaining of her life. Yet that partnership was also a source of conflict for her. She destroyed most of their correspondence and wrote of their relationship in third-person narrative in her memoirs.

In Song in a Weary Throat: Memoir of an American Pilgrimage, Murray wrote, "In January 1973, Murray lost Barlow to cancer. By September, she had resigned from Brandeis University [where she taught] and entered the General Theological Seminary. The year after she earned her Master of Divinity degree, she became the first African-American woman to be ordained an Episcopal priest."

One could write pages on Pauli Murray and still barely scratch the surface of her remarkable life. The complexity of Murray as a scholar, writer and activist is infinitely compelling. The complicated nature of her personal struggles has deep resonance now, highlighting the perils of discrimination against women, people of color and LGBTQ people.

Perhaps this quote of Murray's is in the end the most significant: "If anyone should ask a Negro woman in America what has been her greatest achievement, her honest answer would be, 'I survived!"

Read more about Murray at the Pauli Murray Center archive: https://www.paulimurraycenter.com/.

Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel as well as the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.


This article shared 464 times since Wednesday
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

  ARTICLES YOU MIGHT LIKE

Gay News

LGBT History Month: '40s and '50s instant photography gave LGBT people 'Safe/Haven'
2021-10-15
Two men dressed in drag for a tea party, and two women cuddled up at the beach. Today these might be benign photographs but, in the early 1950s, they were memories shuttered away from public view. ...


Gay News

Kit Kat Lounge hosting Kamayan feast Oct. 24
2021-10-15
Kit Kat Lounge & Supper Club, 3700 N. Halsted St., in honor of Filipino American History Month, will host a special "diva-infused" Kamayan feast featuring Chef Jordan Andino on Sunday, Oct. 24. Andino is the creative ...


Gay News

Activists speak about former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington's LGBTQ legacy
2021-10-14
by Max Lubbers - LGBTQ+ advocates reflected on former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington's legacy at Center on Halsted Oct. 13, discussing his role in the city's Human Rights Ordinance and outreach to the LGBTQ+ community. A display of 1980s Windy ...


Gay News

SPORTS Chicago Red Stars power past Orlando 1-0
2021-10-14
The Chicago Red Stars, behind an early Kealia Watt goal and a clean sheet from Cassie Miller, defeated the Orlando Pride at home (Bridgeview's SeatGeek Stadium) Oct. 13 by a score of 1-0. During the game's ...


Gay News

ART Contemporary yet timeless exhibition 'Young, Gifted and Black' arrives at Gallery 400
2021-10-13
To be a Black art collector is to stand on the shoulders of a proud lineage. Throughout history, Black patrons have supported Black artists when nobody else did. Bernard Lumpkinā€”a New York City-based art patron, educator ...


Gay News

Coming Out for LGBTQ+ History
2021-10-11
October 11th is National Coming Out Day, a day established in 1988 by members of the LGBTQ+ community to encourage people to stop hiding and be open about their identity. Coming out increases visibility of the ...


Gay News

LGBT History Month: Reclaiming 41, journey to heal notorious trauma for LGBT Mexicans
2021-10-11
Until recently, Alberto B. Mendoza hated 41. He cringed if his dinner bill or hotel room number had the number in it, and with the countdown to his 41st birthday, he dreaded the year to come. ...


Gay News

THEATER REVIEW Songs for Nobodies
2021-10-07
Title: Songs for Nobodies. Playwright: Joanna Murray-Smith At: Northlight Theatre at the North Shore Center for the Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd. Tickets: $30-$89. Runs through: Sunday, Oct. 31 You won't find their names in the history ...


Gay News

Pandemic Pivot: Museum launches major digital exhibit for LGBT History Month
2021-10-05
"In Plain Sight' offers website visitors a digital timeline of LGBT achievements including 800 entries across 10 categories Visitors to the Stonewall National Museum and Archives (SNMA) in Fort Lauderdale, one of the largest LGBT lending ...


Gay News

LGBT HISTORY MONTH Pro baseball player Glenn Burke refused to live a lie
2021-10-05
You could say that Glenn Burke, the first Major League Baseball player to come out, is having a good season. In March, best-selling author Andrew Maraniss published a thoughtful biography called Singled Out: The True Story ...


Gay News

Pride Fest sees rainbows over rain
2021-10-05
After last year's COVID-related cancellation, the LGBTQ+-focused outdoor affair Pride Fest returned to Lake View after a delay of a few months, as it usually takes place in June. An additional full day was added to ...


Gay News

Urban Village Church hosting drag worship service, Pride prom Oct. 10
2021-10-04
On Sunday, Oct. 10, Urban Village Church (UVC) will host a drag worship service at its Wicker Park site, 1012 N. Noble St. Worship begins at 10:30 a.m. (CST) with performances from local drag artists, including ...


Gay News

SPORTS Chicago White Sox hold Pride Night
2021-10-04
On Sept. 29, the Chicago White Sox held Pride Night. LGBTQ+ activist Gary Chichester threw the first pitch of the game—which featured the White Sox taking on the Cincinnati Reds—at Guaranteed Rate field. BMO Harris invited ...


Gay News

LGBT History Month: Dutch gay man defied the Nazis and saved thousands
2021-10-03
In the final days before his execution in July 1943 at the hands of the Nazi party, Willem Arondeus asked his lawyer for one last request: to spread a message after he was gone. "Let it be known," he said. "Homosexuals ...


Gay News

LGBTQ History Month: Until legal ruling, Disneyland banned same-sex dancers
2021-10-01
Deemed the "Happiest Place on Earth," Disneyland sadly didn't live up to that billing for same-sex couples during its first three decades. Opened in 1955 by the late Walt Disney, the family-oriented amusement park was built ...


 



Copyright © 2021 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.

 
 

TRENDINGBREAKINGPHOTOS







Sponsor
Sponsor


 

Sponsor


Donate


About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.