Who is she?
Pauli Murray was an American civil rights and women’s rights activist, who was the first black woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest. She was arrested for sitting in the whites-only section of a bus, which prompted her to aspire to be a civil rights lawyer. Despite graduating top of her class in law school, she was denied entry to study a Masters at Harvard because of her gender. She went onto study at Berkeley and was the first African-American to receive a JSD from Yale Law School.
Pauli went on to co-found the influential National Organisation for Women and was noted for her work in equal opportunity law. US President John F. Kennedy appointed Murray to the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women in 1961.
She went on to be ordained as a priest in 1977.
Why should we thank her?
A pioneer in the church and in the field of law, Pauli also recognised that African-American women faced not only “Jim Crow”, but “Jane Crow”, as she put it – the double discrimination of being black, and a woman. In a letter to civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph, she pointed out that in the 1963 March on Washington no women were invited to make one of the major speeches or to be part of its delegation of leaders who went to the White House.
“It is indefensible to call a national march on Washington and send out a call which contains the name of not a single woman leader.”