If there have been any justice on this world, Pauli Murray can be a family identify on par with Martin Luther King or Gloria Steinem or Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was an activist and authorized scholar whose arguments bolstered the work of oldsters corresponding to Ginsburg and Thurgood Marshall, and aided last year’s ACLU Supreme Court victory. She questioned race and gender classes lengthy earlier than these conversations reached mainstream, and even tutorial, discourse. She was queer and nonbinary; she romanced girls, and typically dressed and lived as a person (extra on that in a bit). She is a case examine on how girls of shade, Black girls specifically, are erased from the historical past books.
We wouldn’t be the place we’re social justice-wise if not for Pauli Murray. I wasn’t conscious of that till I noticed “My Name Is Pauli Murray,” Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s new doc concerning the trailblazer. Learning about Murray and her achievements is purpose sufficient to see the movie, however happily it’s additionally attention-grabbing as hell. It’s the type of doc that makes you wish to devour all of its analysis supplies — I added Murray’s “Song in a Weary Throat” and Rosalind Rosenberg’s “Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray” to my studying checklist as quickly because the credit began rolling.
First issues first: Murray positively explored her gender identification and chafed at gender norms. She most popular masculine fashions and hairstyles and, whereas using the rails through the Great Depression as a 20-something, handed as a younger man and glided by Pete or The Dude. She was sexually drawn to girls. She appeared to expertise gender dysphoria; it’s attainable that, had she lived in a distinct period, she would have recognized as a trans man. The basic consensus from students at the moment is that Murray was nonbinary; some use she/her pronouns to explain her, others use they/them. For the needs of this piece, I’ll use she/her when referring to Murray, as many of the interviewees in “My Name Is Pauli Murray” do.
As the promotional supplies for the doc emphasize, Murray was a pioneer — she was on the frontlines of the combat for racial and gender justice earlier than the extra “famous” occasions that make highschool curriculums, corresponding to Rosa Parks refusing to surrender her seat on a segregated bus or Brown v. the Board of Education. A pal of Eleanor Roosevelt, Murray pressed the First Lady and her husband to do extra to assist the Black neighborhood. The latter, whereas not a complete success, was an early instance of a Black activist calling out white liberals’ blind spots.
“My Name Is Pauli Murray” is particularly efficient at spotlighting the double bind of misogyny and white supremacy Murray and plenty of Black girls discovered and discover themselves in, which Murray dubbed “Jane Crow.” She was rejected by a Ph.D. program at Chapel Hill on account of her race and encountered sexism whereas attending legislation faculty at Howard, an HBCU. Her authorized arguments had been utilized in Brown v. the Board of Education, the Supreme Court case that overturned the “separate but equal” coverage in public faculties — however she was not credited for her contributions. Her scholarship additionally aided RBG’s Supreme Court fights in opposition to gender discrimination; Murray was credited however it’s Ginsburg who will perpetually be related to these progressive victories. No matter the place she turned or what she did, Murray felt she was held again due to her race or her gender or each. So she devoted her life to making a extra simply world by means of authorized scholarship and activism — and, in impact, serving to to empower youthful Black generations, girls particularly.
The actual fact that we don’t study Pauli Murray at school is proof of the exclusionary system she labored to dismantle. She made an indelible influence on queer historical past, Black historical past, girls’s historical past, American historical past. She deserves to be acknowledged because the hero she is. With the discharge of “My Name Is Pauli Murray,” I hope she lastly shall be.
“My Name Is Pauli Murray” is now in theaters and shall be obtainable on Amazon Prime Video October 1.