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1910 - 1985

"What is often called exceptional ability is nothing more than persistent endeavor."

- Pauli Murray

Anna Pauline Murray was born in Baltimore on November, 20, 1910. After high school she moved to New York City to attend Hunter College. It was during this period that Murray began to grapple with sexual orientation and gender identity. Transforming from “Anna” to the gender-neutral “Pauli”, Murray embraced neither a male or female identity – what might be described as “non-binary” today. Lacking a social circle of similarly-identified peers – or even a vocabulary with which to articulate their feelings – Murray forged ahead, undaunted. One of their first jobs out of college during the Great Depression was with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) New York City Remedial Reading Program. Rejected by the University of North Carolina for being Black, Murray studied Law at Howard University. In 1942 they co-founded the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), an organization focused on non-violent civil disobedience. Even though Murray graduated Top of the Class at Howard, they were denied entry to Harvard’s Masters Degree program – this time for being female. Refusing again to accept baseless disenfranchisement, Murray went on to receive a post-graduate degree at the University of California/Berkley with a concentration on equal rights for women. Throughout all these discriminatory challenges – which Murray described as “Jane Crow” – they wrote several influential scholarly treatises on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. These were published in 1951 as States’ Laws on Race and Color… a towering work that Thurgood Marshall described as “The Bible for Civil Rights Lawyers”. Ever since, Murray’s writings have become central to the adjudication of Civil Rights cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. From Brown v. Board of Education’s integration of schools in 1954; to Windsor v. United States and Obergefell v. Hodges – both of which made Same-Sex Marriage the Law of the Land in 2015; to Bostock v. Clayton’s successful application of Title IX to cover LGBTQ people in 2020 – and countless cases in between – the most significant Civil Rights rulings of the last 70 years can all be traced back to Pauli Murray. After decades spent quietly reshaping the legal landscape of the United States for women, and racial and sexual minorities, Murray left the practice of law behind in 1977 to become the first Black woman to be ordained an Episcopalian priest. Pauli Murray passed away from pancreatic cancer on July 1, 1985 at age 74... a quiet ending for the person whose work changed everything.

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Lesson Plan


Gender Other

Sexual Orientation Queer

Gender Identity Genderqueer/Non-Binary

Ethnicity African American Black Native/Indigenous

Faith Construct Protestant

Nations Affiliated United States

Era/Epoch Civil Rights Movement (1954-1968) Cold War (1945-1991) First-wave Feminism (1848-1930) Great Depression (1929-1939) Interwar Period (1918-1939) Progressive Era (1890-1920) Second-wave Feminism (1960-1990) Stonewall Era (1969-1974) Vietnam War (1955-1975) World War I (1914-1918) World War II (1939-1945)

Field(s) of Contribution


Civics, Government, Politics, & Law





Social Justice

Social Sciences

US History

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)


Related Videos


Original Biography Author
Owen Keehnen
Biography Edited By
Victor Salvo
Biography Vetted, Edited, and Certified By
Kara Ingelhart, Lambda Legal
Image Rights Usage Granted By
Courtesy of Getty Images
Image Source for Bronze Casting
Unknown Bettman Archives
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell