1910 - 1985

Anna Pauline Murray was born in Baltimore on November, 20, 1910. Orphaned at a young age, she went to live with relatives in Durham, NC. After high school she moved to New York City where she taught for the WPA Worker’s Education Program. Eventually she applied to the University of North Carolina for a law degree, but was rejected due to race. This injustice prompted her to pursue a Law degree at Howard University and to become involved in the civil rights movement. During the Great Depression, Murray lived at the women-only government sponsored Camp Tera while recuperating from an illness and that is where she met First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Shortly thereafter, they formed a life-long friendship over their shared interest in social activism and this included exchanging countless letters with each other over the years. In 1940 Murray was imprisoned for attempting to end segregation on public transportation by refusing to sit at the back of a Virginia bus. In 1942 she cofounded the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), an organization focused on civil disobedience as a means to obtain civil rights for Blacks in the U.S. After graduating from Howard, Murray wished to continue her studies as Harvard, but was rejected – this time because of her gender. She went on to receive her degree at the University of California where she focused on equal rights for women, eventually becoming the first female African American Deputy Attorney General of California. In 1951 she published States’ Laws on Race and Color, which was described by Thurgood Marshall as the Bible for civil rights lawyers. In 1956 Murray published Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family, a biography of her grandparents. In the 1960’s, President John Kennedy appointed her to the Committee on Civil and Political Rights. Despite the example of her own activism, she openly criticized the marginalized role black women played in civil rights movement. Because of the era’s association of homosexuality with mental illness, Murray never identified as a lesbian. Instead she described herself as having an "inverted sex instinct" which caused her to behave like a man attracted to women. In 1977 she became the first African American woman to be ordained an Episcopal priest and served in several churches before her retirement in 1984. She died of pancreatic cancer on July 1, 1985 at age 74. Her autobiography, Song in a Weary Throat: An American Pilgrimage, was published posthumously in 1987.


Gender Female

Sexual Orientation Queer

Gender Identity Genderqueer/Non-Binary

Ethnicity African American Black Caucasian/White Native/Indigenous

Faith Construct Protestant

Nations Affiliated United States

Era/Epoch Civil Rights Movement (1954-1968) Second-wave Feminism (1960-1990)

Field(s) of Contribution


Social Justice




Commemorations & Honors

Holy Women, Holy Men Episcopal Church General Convention Honor (2012)

Pauli Murray Childhood Home in Durham, North Carolina Named National Trust for Historic Preservation National Treasure (2015)

Pauli Murray College Designated at Yale University (2016)

Pauli Murray Family Home Designated a National Historic Landmark by US Department of the Interior (2016)

National Women's History Honoree (2018)

Episcopal Church Calendar of Saints Member (2018)


Original Biography Author
Owen Keehnen
Biography Edited By
Victor Salvo
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell