Feast of Pauli Murray (July 1)   1 comment

Source = Carolina Digital Library and Archives



Attorney, Civil Rights Advocate, and Episcopal Priest

The Episcopal Church greatly expanded and revised its calendar of saints at the 2009 General Convention.  Lesser Feasts and Fasts, revised every three years, went by the wayside as Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints took its place in 2010.  This thick volume contains a one-page appendix containing names of “people worthy of commemoration who do not qualify under the ‘fifty-year rule.'”  Among those names on this list is that of Pauli Murray.

The “fifty-year rule” is not a hard and fast one, for, in the 1990s, the calendar included Martin Luther King, Jr. (d. 1968) and Jonathan Myrick Daniels (d. 1965).  For reasons nobody has explained to me, the church did not add Murray to the calendar in 2009, but I will wait no longer.  I hereby enroll her in my calendar of saints.

Anna Pauline Murray was born in Baltimore, Maryland.  Orphaned at a young age, she grew up in Durham, North Carolina, where three aunts raised her.  Her “three mothers,” as she called them, taught her “above all honor and courage in all things.”  Pauli excelled in her studies, graduating with honors from high school then from Hunter College in New York City and, after that, Howard University Law School (1944).  The University of North Carolina Law School had denied her admission because of her race.  Post-Howard, Harvard University declined to permit her to attend because she was a she.  Murray furthered her education at the University of California at Berkeley, where she earned a Masters of Law degree before joining the California Bar in 1946.

Murray devoted her life to fighting racial and sexual discrimination.  This was a difficult struggle, due to the reactionary nature of much of society in the 1940s and 1950s.  When Murray applied for a position at Cornell University in 1952, her good friends and allies in the struggle for equality recommended her highly.  Certain individuals at Cornell considered these people too radical, so Murray did not get the job.  And who were these allegedly Un-American radicals?  They were none other than former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, labor leader A. Philip Randolph, and N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense Fund attorney Thurgood Marshall.  Marshall, you might or might not recall, went on to argue for the Brown side of Brown v. Board of Education (1954) before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Murray, aside from her work in civil rights law, helped to form the Congress of Racial Equality (C.O.R.E.) and the National Organization for Women (N.O.W.), was arrested and imprisoned once for refusing to sit at the back of a bus, and helped to integrate lunch counters.  Murray’s final act involved entering seminary at age sixty-two and becoming the first African-American female Episcopal priest in 1977.

(Historical note:  The church had opened up the priesthood to women at the 1976 General Convention, after it had nearly done so in 1973.  And, in 1974 and 1975, there were “irregular” ordinations of women to the priesthood.)

So it was that Pauli Murray, granddaughter of a slave, celebrated Holy Eucharist at Chapel of the Cross, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where her slave grandmother had been baptized.





Do you want to know more?  Follow these links:




I have chosen to use the collect and readings for a Prophetic Witness in Society, from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010):

Almighty God, whose prophets taught us righteousness in the care of your poor:

By the guidance of your Holy Spirit,

grant that we may do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in your sight;

through Jesus Christ, our Judge and Redeemer,

who lives and reigns with you and the same Spirit,

one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Isaiah 55:11-56:1

Psalm 2:1-2 10-12

Acts 14:14-17, 21-23

Mark 4:21-29

One response to “Feast of Pauli Murray (July 1)

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  1. Pingback: Feast of Ella J. Baker (December 13) « SUNDRY THOUGHTS OF KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

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