Title: My Name Is Pauli Murray
Release Date: September 17, 2021
Director: Betsy West and Julie Cohen
Production Company: Participant | Storyville Films | Drexler Films
This documentary makes the convincing argument that Pauli Murray (1910-1985 – a lawyer, civil rights activist, women’s equality activist, Episcopal priest, and author – should be more well known. Murray also privately wrote about gender identity in a way that today would be considered transgender or nonbinary. (Note: the people in the documentary use she/her pronouns for Murray, and I will use them in this review, although they/them pronouns could also be used).
Murray was raised by her grandparents in Durham, NC, as part of a large mixed-race family that supported her breaking with conventional gender norms of the time. Starting in the 1930s, Murray was active in protesting segregation on buses and at lunch counters, and attempted to gain admittance to University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in a widely-publicized case. Instead she attended law school at Howard University where she was the only woman in the class and finished at the top of the class.
Over her career, Murray would work for a prominent law firm and served in organizations such the Workers’ Defense League (WDL), Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and co-founded the National Organization for Women (NOW). She was friends with Eleanor Roosevelt, and her writings and ideas influenced Thurgood Marshall and Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Her concept of “Jane Crow” fostered a women’s equality movement alongside the civil rights movement in the 1960s. She became the first African-American woman ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1977. And she wrote poetry. And all of this is just scratching the surface.
This documentary is a good introduction to a person who should already be famous and whose ideas shaped the world we live in today.