My Name Is Pauli Murray (2021) Movie Script

Lie down.
Sit down. Lie down.
Lie down.
My name is Pauli Murray,
and my field of concentration
has been human rights.
My whole personal history
has been a struggle
to meet standards of excellence
in a society which has been
dominated by the ideas
that Blacks were inherently
inferior to whites
and women were inherently
inferior to men.
Pauli Murray was a person
way ahead of the times,
saying and doing things
that others were not,
until much later.
Pauli had the nerve
to confront discrimination
at a time when there was
great risk in doing so.
Incident after incident piling up
meant that sooner or later,
I would either go berserk
or I would find a way to protest.
Pauli was the writer,
the lawyer, the priest,
the poet.
Pauli has been so critical
to so many of the rights
and freedoms that we all enjoy.
Pauli Murray was not just
an amazing lawyer or a badass feminist,
but also a queer, nonbinary person.
And most of the time,
my students are like,
"Why don't we know about
Pauli Murray?"
How can one person be so pivotal
and yet their name is just one
that we never learn?
My great-aunt Pauli
called me and said...
she wasn't gonna make it
through the night.
She said, "You've got things here
that you'll need to do for me."
And she died a couple hours later.
I found out I was
the executrix of her estate,
so I had to gather her belongings.
File cabinets lined the rooms,
and then the bookcases sat on top.
Boxes, folders,
letters to the government.
She saved everything.
Pauli's will was very clear
she wanted her papers to be
at Schlesinger Library,
one of the places where
women's historical papers
are housed.
Aunt Pauli did not share
a lot about her life with me.
I knew she was a priest.
I knew she had been a lawyer.
But she never, ever mentioned
any of her accomplishments.
I went and read what I hadn't read,
and then I realized,
"Oh, my God."
"Petersburg, bus incident,
March 1940."
I did not start out to...
Deliberately contest
the Virginia segregation statutes.
As so often happened in those early days,
an incident would arise
where there was just nothing
you could do but fight back.
My friend and I were traveling
from New York
down to Durham to visit
my two aunts for Easter.
My friend's name was Adelene McBean.
Mac, we used to call her.
For my mother, it was
her first introduction to what
was a pretty common situation
in many parts of the South.
When you crossed the Mason-Dixon Line,
you were expected to move to the back.
The bus was the quintessence
of the segregation evil,
the intimacy of the bus interior
permitted the public humiliation
of Black people
to be carried out in the presence of
the privileged white spectators
who witnessed our shame
in silence or indifference.
When they got to Virginia,
the Black people got up
and moved to the back,
and then more white people came on.
The bus driver insisted
that we move, and the next seat
had this broken seat,
and we refused to sit on that.
McBEAN: The bus driver said
he wasn't gonna drive anymore
until she moved back.
And the police came in and arrested us.
Mac and I were hungry and cold
but were afraid to go to sleep
because the mattresses
were alive with bedbugs.
When I protested,
the surly night jailor shouted,
"If you don't shut up, I'll
shut your ass in the dungeon.
"Time them rats get through with you,
you'll wish you'd kept
your damn mouth shut."
The reality set in.
The reality set in, and, uh,
I think it was very scary.
Pauli reached out
to the NAACP, hoping that
they could get a ruling
that declared, um,
segregated seating unconstitutional.
Mac and I did a report,
a summary, of the case, the facts.
After we were released on bond,
we were invited to meet
with NAACP lawyers.
Thurgood Marshall,
Judge William H. Hastie
and Dr. Leon A. Ransom.
It was my first exposure
to a team of able
civil rights lawyers in action,
and I sat enthralled for several hours.
What they were fighting for was
the right of Black people
to easily assimilate into
the whole of American life.
But the judge knows that
this is becoming a big deal,
and so, ultimately,
they get outmaneuvered.
The judge drops the segregation
statute here that's at play
and just says, "Y'all were
disturbing the peace."
So they are not able
to reframe legal precedent.
They serve a small sentence,
uh, and they're let go.
At the time, I felt only
the bitter disappointment
of a personal defeat.
But I began to sense
that we were a small part
of a teamwork effort
which envisioned the ultimate overthrow
of all segregation law.
The thought was stupefying.
So, today,
we have this really cool opportunity
to learn about
Dr. Anna Pauline Murray.
Pauli Murray is just
so spectacular that I literally
cannot cover all her firsts
and all her dopeness.
Think about if you're a Black
person in the 20th century
and you're trying to make the argument
that your humanity should be respected.
And you live in a world where
people already don't like you
because you're Black.
I want to give you a little sense of-of
what informed Murray's life.
This is chapter one,
page one...
of an autobiography in manuscript.
In a study published in 1910,
the year of my birth,
Dr. Howard W. Odum,
a sociologist then working
at Columbia University,
asserted that "the races have
different abilities"
and potentialities."
Close quote.
And that those who wish to help
the Negro should, quote,
"not expect too much of him."
"He has little conception
of the meaning of virtue,
"truth, honor, manhood, integrity.
"The best education for the Negro child
"would lead him toward
the unquestioning acceptance
"of the fact that he is a different race
"from the white,
and properly so." Close quote.
I can remember this today,
and I-I can see that old school building.
It was a rickety old wooden building.
No swings.
You know, nothing to play with
when you went out.
And of course, the white kids' school...
sitting in a lawn,
surrounded by a fence,
it was the contrast between
the treatment we got
and the treatment the white kids got.
And you sense those things.
You feel them.
I come from a very proud people.
They were stubborn.
They swam against the stream.
This is the house.
This is Pauli Murray's homeplace.
When she came to this house,
she was three years old,
and she came as a result of a tragedy.
Her mother died of a cerebral hemorrhage,
and eventually her father was committed
to a mental hospital.
Even though she was born in Baltimore,
this was really her home.
When I came to Durham,
the household included
Aunt Pauline and Aunt Sallie
and my Fitzgerald grandparents.
The Fitzgeralds are
very well known in Durham
and pretty prestigious
with the Black community.
The family going back
was mixed with Cherokee, Irish,
African American.
It was a family where
there were some members
who looked so white that they passed,
and Pauli was somewhere in between.
There was prejudice based on complexion
from the white community
and from the Black community.
And so they were
an entity all to themselves.
Pauli was the joy of the house.
Aunt Pauline didn't have any
children, so she doted on her.
Aunt Pauline taught
in the local public schools,
and when I was around four,
she decided to bring me
with her every day.
I was permitted to sit
with the older children
and to look on while they recited.
Toward the end of the school year,
Aunt Pauline was surprised
when she heard me say,
"I can read, Aunt Pauline."
I seized the book of the child next to me
and began to read out loud.
All the time I had been in her class,
I was learning whatever
she taught the others.
From then on, the classroom
was my second home.
She was allowed to ask
anything she wanted to ask.
She was allowed to have an opinion.
But Pauli did not want to wear dresses...
...and Aunt Pauline used to make
her go to church every Sunday,
so they made a deal.
She said, "You can wear pants
all week long",
"but when it comes time
to go into church,
you got to put on a dress."
I had a certain kind of protected life.
The point at which life became...
was in the contact with the white world.
People addressing, uh, adult Negroes
as auntie and uncle, boy.
You get maybe 50, 60 people
a year being lynched.
I don't remember lynchings
being prominently portrayed
in the newspapers,
but we would hear about them
by word of mouth.
It was, "Somebody got lynched over in...
in so-and-so county last night."
The awareness of the Ku Klux Klan
was always in the background.
This awareness
to a child of my generation,
uh, grows with you just like...
...almost a part of your body
and your being.
"We shall endure.
"To steal your senses.
"In that lonely twilight.
Of your winter's grief."
What is Pauli's awareness
of her place in history?
Pauli's in this scope
to sort of fix these issues
that have been created
from the institution of slavery.
I just think that's so powerful.
And Pauli's claiming that and being like,
"Well, this is my, like, space
and this is my time
to, like, do this work."
So she takes up the typewriter
and writes to express herself fully.
It's left there permanently
so that maybe future generations
like us can better understand it.
Well, I suppose back of all writing
is a desire to communicate.
In other words, you want
to share with other people
some of the insights
or some of your feelings
or some of your emotions.
My story is much more difficult to write
then writing about somebody else.
Chapter six, manuscript page 120.
After my school,
I did not want to attend
any more segregated schools.
This I was determined not to do.
So Aunt Pauline took me to New York.
I was astounded
by almost everything I saw:
the skyscrapers, Coney Island,
the Statue of Liberty,
the Broadway Theater District.
The Automat, where one could
put nickels in a slot
and get out dishes of hot food.
Most of all, I was impressed
because one could sit anywhere one wanted
in the subway trains,
buses and streetcars.
At Hunter College,
I was one of four Negroes
in a group of 247 women.
I took all of the courses
that dealt with literature:
creative writing, short stories.
Now, remember,
I'm a little Southern child
with atrocious grammar
and constantly feeling the gap
between my educational level
and that of these bright kids
at Hunter College.
And so, way back in the back
of my mind was always,
"Have I got it?"
I graduated from Hunter College
in the class of 1933.
The Great Depression.
Long lines of waiting men,
waiting for a free bowl of soup,
waiting for jobs.
It was the worst possible
time to begin one's career.
In the mornings,
I went through the ritual
of a futile search of help wanted ads.
Despite those hardships,
being without a job permitted
a freedom of movement
to travel about in ways
that were not otherwise
socially acceptable.
I was about to join
an estimated 300,000 homeless,
unwanted boys, and a scattering of girls,
who rode freights or hitchhiked
from town to town in search of work.
I wore my hitchhiking garb...
Scout pants and a leather jacket...
And carried a small knapsack
with minimum camping equipment.
I also had a boyish bob
and had a slight figure,
flat in the obvious places,
which at first sight
made me appear to be a small teenage boy.
Pauli revels in
being masculine presenting.
There are these great pictures of her
in these different kind
of very male-centered poses,
and she gives herself different names.
And so she calls herself Pete.
She calls herself The Dude.
Now, when she writes about this,
she essentially says that she does it
to protect herself, because she can't be
a single Black woman
riding the rails, uh, illegally
without fear of being harassed
or sexually assaulted.
I pledge myself to a New Deal
for the American people.
I became one of
the hundreds of jobless women
who participate in Camp Tera,
one of the 28 women's camps
established by the New Deal.
I immediately hit it off with Peg Holmes,
who was a hiking counselor
and had an intellectual curiosity
which struck sparks from my own.
Peggy Holmes was the daughter
of a conservative banker,
radicalized by the Great Depression.
Peg seemed utterly
without racial prejudice.
She read some of my poetry
and then said to me,
"How can you write with such compassion?
I would be bitter
if I were a Negro."
That spring, Peg and I took
a five weeks' hitchhiking trip
to Nebraska and back.
A new person who thinks as you do
and will lunch on an empty beach at dusk.
These are the small,
everyday joys of life.
Peg and I became interested in
industrial and labor problems,
and I was introduced
to my first picket line.
One encountered in the labor movement
an almost religious fervor.
We threw ourselves into
the Automobile Workers'
general strike in early 1937.
I was catapulted into a radical stance...
...and I am now beginning
to relate this,
this whole concept
of freedom and dignity,
to being a Negro in America.
I don't think I'll try to record
the next chapter
until another sitting.
You-you can imagine this is
an emotional, uh, uh, drain.
But in any event,
I hope the reader is intrigued.
Pauli Murray had a sense
of being a historical figure.
The Schlesinger Library
has a 135 boxes of Pauli Murray's papers.
Some of it had not been included
in any of Murray's published work.
I came across a folder
that was marked "sexuality."
Murray told doctors
that she appeared to be a woman
but was really a man.
Pauli hoped that
a relationship with Peggy
would be a normal relationship,
by which Pauli meant
that Pauli would be the man
and Peggy would be the wife.
And Peggy could not bring herself
to see Pauli as a man.
And eventually their relationship ended.
The time that Peggy Holmes
disappeared from Murray's life
led to an emotional meltdown that ended
with Pauli being hospitalized
at Bellevue Hospital.
Pauli's notes
while, uh, under observation
in psychiatric hospitals
were very detailed.
Pauli is depressed, asking doctors,
"Why am I dealing
with these attractions?"
These experiences have always existed.
Pauli's historical records
allow us to consider
the humanity of someone who was Black
and gender nonconforming in
the time that Pauli was living.
Sitting in front of Murray's
medical records and notes,
as a trans, gender
nonconforming, queer person
of mixed race myself,
I thought, mm...
"This is a feeling I know well."
We've been taught to believe
that people like us don't exist.
So when I came to know
and learn about Pauli Murray,
I was so amazed and wanted to, like,
hold it so tightly, and also I was angry.
I was so angry
that I felt, in some ways,
that I had been robbed of
a part of my history.
I identify
with the turmoil of someone
who was trying to live life
as a complete being
with an integrated body, mind and spirit.
If Pauli Murray were sitting here today
and I said, "You know, Pauli, what...
what pronouns do you use?"
I don't know what Pauli Murray
would... would say.
Being Black and queer myself,
I refer to Pauli
as "they" or simply "Pauli"
to acknowledge their
expansive gender experience.
Scholars who have written about Pauli
largely still use feminine pronouns,
use she/her pronouns.
Friends and family refer
to Pauli with feminine pronouns,
but I think that we likely
will see more of people
referring to Pauli Murray
with gender-neutral pronouns
as opposed to feminine pronouns.
Murray never wrote about
her gender struggles
in her published work,
and she rarely talked about it
even with friends.
She found herself in this place
that was, uh, completely foreign
to everyone she...
she cared about, except Aunt Pauline.
Aunt Pauline called Pauli my "boygirl"
and always was supportive of Pauli.
Aunt Pauline allowed Aunt Pauli
to be exactly who she needed to be.
We don't often get
that kind of unconditional love.
But when she tried
to find that in other places,
it was really hard.
She was always on overdrive.
She would drink coffee all night long.
She could be impatient.
Most of her life was, "You will see me.
You will hear me."
At that point,
the University of North Carolina
was developing courses in race relations.
So I thought,
well, maybe they are now ready
to accept a Negro.
They send me an application blank
and they have written in
"Race" and "Religion."
I think I answered it but may have said,
"But what difference
does it make?"
I got back a letter from the president
of the University
of North Carolina saying...
The President of the United States,
on his way home to the nation's capital,
pauses at the University of
North Carolina in Chapel Hill
to receive the honorary degree
of doctor of laws
from the university.
I am happy and proud to become an alumnus
of the University of North Carolina,
typifying as it does
American liberal thought
through American action.
Pauli heard this speech on the radio
and decided to write
Franklin Roosevelt a letter.
It was a typical hot protest
letter from Pauli Murray.
He had been praising UNC at the same time
as they're not allowing Pauli
to come to school there.
And so you have
a Black person writing brashly
to the president in the 1930s,
demanding that he not be a hypocrite.
I was increasingly dismayed
over his silence on civil rights
and his refusal
even to speak out publicly
for a federal anti-lynching bill.
Pauli decided to send a copy
to Eleanor Roosevelt.
Mrs. Roosevelt answers
fairly quickly,
and the letter comes
with her personal signature.
"I've read the copy
of the letter you sent me,
"and I understand perfectly,
"but great changes come slowly.
The South is changing,
but don't push too fast."
This confrontational
posture that Pauli had
with UNC was indicative of this thing
that she would come to call
"confrontation by typewriter."
Pauli wrote letters
which were published,
uh, in the Black press,
so there was a lot of attention there.
And it suddenly burst out over the radio,
"An unidentified Negress
makes application to the
University of North Carolina."
It became sort of national news.
This was met with consternation
by my family,
primarily because they were
afraid they would be lynched.
The University of North Carolina,
that was one defeat.
And the arrest on the bus,
plus a whole lifetime
of seeing the indignities
handed out not only to me
but to poor, rural Negroes...
All of this culminated in my recognition
that if I were going to fight
this battle of segregation,
I needed a weapon, I needed a skill.
And it was then I decided
to go to law school.
Pauli arrives at Howard
in the fall of 1941,
and many of the civil rights
cases of that day
are being theorized
in the halls of Howard.
You know, Thurgood Marshall and, uh,
you know, William Hastie and Leon Ransom,
they're just rolling
through the halls there.
For my first two years,
I was the only woman in the law school.
They didn't even let me talk in class.
And I would raise my hand.
Nobody would pay any attention to me.
My professor said,
now, he don't know why women
come to law school, anyway.
And I was so stunned.
They're talking about
what they're calling Jim Crow,
which we all know is a system
of racial segregation,
and she says, what I'm
experiencing is Jane Crow.
To be a Black woman
is not just to have to deal
with the question
of racial segregation but also
to have to deal with the
question of sex discrimination.
I had not grown up in a family
where limitations were placed upon women.
And at the end of the year,
they ranked the students
and publicized their marks.
Murray, Murray, Murray, Murray,
Murray, top of the list.
Second year, they let me talk.
Murray becomes the advisor
to the student chapter of the NAACP.
Any time you went to Downtown Washington,
there were places that you could not go.
I remember Garfinckel's Department Store,
you couldn't go into.
Um, restaurants downtown,
you couldn't go into.
The... The National Theatre,
you couldn't go into.
I began to experiment more
with nonviolent direct action.
We started at Fourteenth and U,
a restaurant called
Little Palace Cafeteria.
Now, this was right in the middle
of the Negro neighborhood,
but it served only white.
And we walked in there
one Saturday afternoon,
they refused to serve us.
We took our empty trays
and sat at the tables,
opened our books and began our lesson.
We filled up that little place.
And it worked.
What's amazing is that they succeed.
They actually succeed
in desegregating U Street.
The time had come
to make a frontal assault
upon the constitutionality
of segregation.
I chose for my senior paper,
"Should Plessy v. Ferguson
Be Overruled?"
Plessy v. Ferguson
is a Supreme Court case in 1896
that said that it was okay
to separate Black people
in public accommodations,
like transportation or school,
as long as the accommodations
were separate but equal.
Essentially Thurgood Marshall
and the NAACP had said,
"Okay, if Plessy says separate but equal,
"our problem with the law
is that Black institutions
"aren't being treated equally,
"they're not being given
the same amount of money,
and so we'll be separate,
but we want equal resources."
Pauli Murray says
the whole logic of that is wrong.
Discrimination is inherently immoral
and what it does is
it reduces Black people's sense
of their own dignity
and their own character.
The entire thing should be overturned.
Y'all need a bigger, bolder,
broader strategy.
My classmates laughed at me.
Spottswood Robinson,
the young faculty member
who inspired awe among students,
not only pooh-poohed my idea
but good-naturedly accepted
my wager of ten dollars
when I said, "Plessy would be
overturned within 25 years."
Exactly ten years later,
in 1954, this is precisely
the strategy that Marshall
and his legal team pursue
in the Brown v.
Board of Education decision.
The Supreme Court
has rendered a momentous
and historic decision.
There shall be equality
in educational facilities for all people.
I returned to Howard to visit,
and Spotts Robinson said very casually,
"You know, Pauli,
you remember that
civil rights paper you wrote?"
I said, "Sure."
And he said, "You know, in 1953",
"I took out this paper,
and it was very helpful to us
in our preparation."
He tells me that, in anonymous form,
my little argument went
to the Supreme Court.
Look around the room.
Turn your head and look around the room.
Y'all see all of the different
folks that are in this room?
That is made possible by this decision.
And yet, when we tell that story,
with that iconic picture
of Thurgood Marshall
standing on the steps
of the Supreme Court,
Pauli is nowhere in view.
It had been tradition
that the top graduate
in the Howard Law class would
get an automatic opportunity
to go to Harvard to do
additional graduate work in law.
Pauli Murray graduates
at the top of the class.
The chairman of the graduate committee
wrote back and said, "Dear Miss Murray",
"The salutation on your
transcript and your picture
"indicate that you are not of the sex
entitled to be admitted
into Harvard."
Every part of her identity
is keeping her out of the institutions
that she wants to be a part of
and, more to the point,
that she's earned the right
to be a part of.
Pauli goes on to Berkeley,
gets a master of law,
and that's essentially the
beginning of her legal career.
Despite being one of the most
highly trained lawyers,
Pauli can't get in the door
in a New York law firm.
Pauli was being discriminated against
on the basis of both race and gender.
She finally set up her own firm,
and one of the most painful experiences
was her going into court
to represent a client
and having a witness identify Pauli
as the prostitute.
Because of course she couldn't
possibly be the lawyer.
Pauli was barely making ends meet.
Pauli had also been
in and out of the hospital,
dealing with depression.
Murray suffered emotional breakdowns
pretty much on a yearly basis.
The turmoil and the-the suffering.
This is a person who kind of just needed
doctors to help in some capacity.
Pauli went to doctor
after doctor after doctor
seeking testosterone.
Pauli is imploring doctors,
"Do I have
undescended testicles?"
That would take
an immense amount of bravery
to speak on an experience
that you can't even quite put in words.
Doctors examined Pauli.
They did X-rays.
Once, Pauli was thrilled to, uh,
be able to undergo exploratory surgery
because Pauli was sure that the surgeon
was going to be able
to find undescended testis.
And the surgeon found
an inflamed appendix,
which he removed,
but nothing else out of the ordinary.
"What does it mean to make
a person's turmoil irrelevant?"
"What does it mean to claim
"so many of a person's accomplishments
"and to write books about so many aspects
"of a person's existence in this world,
"only omitting the one aspect
that we don't understand
or that makes us uncomfortable?"
I hesitated
about including Murray's gender struggles
in my biography of her.
Other scholars said, well, you know,
that was her private life,
but I came to, uh, believe
that you couldn't really understand
why Murray was so far ahead of her time
without understanding that
her sense of in-betweenness
made her increasingly critical
of boundaries.
And that allowed her to make
one of the most important ideas
of the 20th century:
that the categories of race
and gender are essentially arbitrary
and not a legal basis for discrimination.
When Pauli wrote these hot letters
to the White House,
Eleanor wanted to understand
what was driving this young woman.
I had been corresponding
with Mrs. Roosevelt,
peppering her,
since the University
of North Carolina incident.
The fact that she was
the First Lady of the land
did not awe me to the extent
that I pulled my punches.
This is what made our friendship
such a great one.
Pauli takes her friends
and relatives to lunch
at Eleanor's New York apartment.
Eleanor becomes a mother surrogate.
Pauli and Eleanor had
this tremendous difference
in social background, in status,
but they have a lot in common.
They were orphaned as children,
reared by elderly kin.
They were both veracious readers.
They loved to write.
Dogs gave them tremendous joy.
This is not a romantic relationship.
It becomes truly a friendship
with discussions about, um,
things beyond just politics.
I think we were kind of kindred souls,
if I dare say this now.
But I had no difficulty relating to her.
She could be deeply compassionate...
...but she couldn't
possibly feel
the intolerable burden of racism
that would make us scream.
Few Negroes were surprised
when the Detroit riot broke out,
since the racial tensions
which produced it
had been building steadily
throughout the war.
President Roosevelt was strangely silent.
His comment came more than a month later.
Close quote.
It seemed so mealymouthed
that I sat down immediately
and wrote an angry poem.
What'd you get, black boy.
When they knocked you down in the gutter.
And they kicked your teeth out.
And they broke your skull with clubs.
And they bashed your stomach in?
What'd you get when
you cried out to the Top Man?
What'd the Top Man say, black boy?
"Mr. Roosevelt regrets..."
After years of scrabbling
to earn a living,
Lloyd K. Garrison,
who I met at Howard,
called with the startling news
that his firm, Paul, Weiss,
Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison,
needed extra help
in their litigation department.
This was a-a job that provided Murray
with more income than
she'd ever earned in her life.
This amazing good fortune
filled me with anxiety.
I was now a middle-aged woman
a highly competitive profession,
one of three women at the firm
and the only Negro
among the 65 attorneys.
My most persistent problem
during those years
was handling the loneliness
of the woman professional.
Fortunately, Irene Barlow,
the office manager-personnel director,
shared my token status in a male domain.
Renee carried herself with
an air of quite self-assurance.
Her strong, attractive face
and blue-green eyes
radiated generosity and kindness.
Renee invited me to lunch
as a courteous gesture to a new employee.
Our conversation
was tentative and formal.
But our discovery that we were
both worshiping Episcopalians
was the beginning of a spiritual bond,
using lunch hours to attend
the Wednesday services
at Saint Bartholomew's Church
on Park Avenue.
Renee just took Pauli under her wing
to help her to say, now, don't wear that
and do do this,
and they became the closest of friends.
Although Renee and I
were very different in our personalities,
the chemistry of our friendship
produced sparks of sheer joy,
and we gravitated toward
one another for mutual support.
On the afternoon of May 4th,
Mack Charles Parker's body
was found floating
in the Pearl River near Poplarville.
Parker had been dragged
from his jail cell
by a band of masked men.
He had been awaiting trial on
charges of raping a white woman.
For a man to be lynched as late as 1959
seemed to symbolize
the barbarity of the American system.
This was following all
of the violence of Little Rock,
the integration of Central High School.
There had just been nothing but violence
and violence and violence in the South,
and then Mack Parker just seemed to...
just to cap the climax.
This was written on the occasion
of the lynching
of Mack C. Parker.
I am an Episcopalian, and I use
this prayer deliberately.
Lighten our darkness,
we beseech thee, O Lord;
Teach us no longer to dread
hounds yelping in the distance,
the footfall at the door,
the rifle butt on the window pane.
Defend us from all perils
and dangers of this night.
Everybody has his breaking point.
My breaking point came with Mack Parker.
I had had it,
and I felt I needed to get
away from the United States.
Pauli gave up
this very prestigious position
at Paul, Weiss
and applied for, and was
accepted, to be a law professor
at the newly created law school
in Ghana in Africa.
I stayed in Africa 18 months,
studied it just the way I
studied law in my graduate work.
Pauli's there
in the midst of these
independence movements,
and this is exciting
but also problematic.
It soon became clear to me
that the president of Ghana
had dictatorial instincts.
Suppressing freedom of speech.
I was a person committed to human rights
whether I was in North Carolina
or whether I was in Accra, Ghana.
The government is concerned
about what Pauli is teaching the students
about the American Constitution.
Independence, democracy.
My time in Africa
only confirmed in me
that I was a product of the New World.
I feel as fully an American
as anyone else.
Black Americans go back
to the very beginnings.
Our blood and our sweat
and our tears and our memories
are built into the country.
We were very intrigued by Pauli Murray.
Here was this older woman.
I think she probably
could have been our mother.
Most of the Black students were involved
with the civil rights movement.
I don't think I knew at the
time she came to Yale Law School
that Pauli had been involved in protests
and-and sit-ins in D.C.
As far as we were concerned,
we began the protests
with the sit-in movement in the 1960s.
We didn't know anything about
the very brave African Americans
whose work is lost often with history.
Pauli Murray was so ahead of her time
that she was about the daily
work of uncovering new issues.
This is a matter
of great national concern.
When Murray was at Yale,
John F. Kennedy established
the Commission on the Status of Women.
The head of the overall commission
was Eleanor Roosevelt.
I want to see women used
to the very best, uh, of their ability.
Eleanor made sure that Pauli
was appointed to the study group
that looked at women's
civil and political rights.
If you rip away everything,
the business of oppression
is the business of not
respecting one's personhood.
All women understand what it means
to have a diminished sense
of personal dignity and worth
because of one's sex.
What exactly was your part in the origin
of, uh, the National
Organization for Women?
I was one of the founders.
Pauli met with Betty Friedan.
Betty and Pauli
and about 30 or so other women
determined that it was important
to have a new organization.
At a luncheon,
Betty took out a paper napkin
and began to write
that we are forming NOW
to bring women into the mainstream
of American life now.
28 women signed.
And that's how the
National Organization for Women,
or NOW, was born.
Pauli was trying to come up with
a new strategy that would move
the efforts for women's rights forward.
And she did.
The 14th Amendment had led the way
for fighting discrimination
on the basis of race.
And so Pauli Murray's making an argument
that the 14th Amendment
could actually be used
to defend women's rights as well.
That was a radical idea.
For those of us who were from the era
of the civil rights movement,
that seemed a bit curious,
and please understand the background.
First and foremost on the minds
of African Americans
was discrimination against
people of color.
I have to ask myself,
"Eleanor, why weren't you
a feminist then?"
But nobody was a feminist then
except Pauli Murray.
In the mid-1960s,
Pauli was on the board of the ACLU.
The American Civil Liberties
Union brought suit today
to force a Saint Louis suburb to accept
an integrated, low-income
apartment housing project.
The ACLU was already doing
quite a bit of work
around civil rights cases,
but on women, they were like
any other institution
in our society at the time.
Women were not
well represented on the board.
Pauli was pushing, pushing them to move.
She wrote a letter arguing
that Ruth Bader Ginsburg
should be a member of the board.
Pauli was a feisty woman.
Pauli had definite ideas, sometimes...
ideas other people disagreed with.
Pauli prodded the ACLU
into taking on differentials
based on gender.
It's always the people
who are experiencing
the most forms of discrimination
who have the most insight into
how to build the solutions,
and Pauli was that person.
In one of the ACLU cases in the South,
Blacks were being excluded from the jury.
Murray's argument was, well,
at the same time we're arguing.
Black men should not be excluded,
women should not be excluded.
This is a violation of their rights
under the equal protection,
a violation of the 14th Amendment.
The court came right down the line
actually using our language.
After so many losses and
so many failures in a lifetime,
this was my sweetest victory.
What she did became very important.
So important that when, uh,
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, um,
was called on to work
on a later Supreme Court case,
Reed v. Reed,
she used Pauli's work
and then credited her.
Justice Ginsburg relied on the analysis
that Pauli had developed.
We were not inventing something new.
We were saying the same things
that Pauli had said
years earlier at a time
when society was not prepared to listen.
What I say very often is
that I've lived to see
my lost causes found.
Pro-life, that's a lie.
They don't care if women die.
I think we're in a time
of very... radical change.
I have not had
the additional responsibilities
of husband, household, children.
Uh, for me, it has been
very important to have privacy.
You have to understand
that Pauli was kind of
a circumspect person,
kind of a private person.
Did you know anything about.
Pauli's personal life at that time?
I had absolutely no clue.
Pauli and Renee were very close.
They never lived together,
but Renee Barlow was the love
of Pauli Murray's life.
They would meet each other in hotels
and then worry about the money
that they had wasted.
But they were as close
as a married couple
in the way that
they supported each other.
Renee, for years, was Murray's rock,
and allowed her to accomplish
more than she'd ever been able
to accomplish before.
This is WGBH-FM public radio in Boston.
Our guest tonight
is Dr. Pauli Murray,
a lawyer, a leader
in civil rights movement,
and now she has turned poet.
Well, I want to reverse what you said.
I'm a poet turned lawyer
rather than lawyer turned poet.
Now, I think this would be
a good time for you to read.
"Dark Testament."
I was a Negro slave
following the North Star,
I was an immigrant
huddled in ship's belly,
Always the dream was the same...
Always the dream was freedom.
Martin Luther King
stood for the possibility
of reconciliation between people.
Dr. King has been a buffer
the last few years
between the Black community
and the white community.
My feeling is that
if this country is to survive...
We want Black Power!
We want Black Power!
...we must
live together in harmony.
We must continue to push
for all of our demands.
Black students had started
to take over campuses around the country,
demanding Black studies programs.
So Brandeis invites Pauli Murray
to become a professor
as a symbolic act to say,
"See, we're being inclusive."
I was walking around campus...
...and I saw
this little brown woman,
and I asked somebody who she was.
They said, "Oh, that's Professor Murray,"
and I knew I wanted to be
in this woman's class.
We came to Brandeis
as a part of
the Transitional Year Program,
and we were also very poor.
We came from families
that didn't have books
hanging on the wall.
I developed a legal studies class
at the undergraduate level.
The 14th and 15th Amendments
have often tended
to meet the claims of Negroes.
This historical development
has had certain
unanticipated consequences.
She was dynamic, you know.
Um, and then the word "Negro"
keeps coming up.
It seemed to me, Negroes...
And you-you hear the...
the muffling through
the small Black section.
She's talking about, you know,
social change in the law
and the history of it.
You know, "We're definitely gonna deal
with the Negro section."
Pauli went to Brandeis
intellectually sharp, but
fixed in her ways in certain things.
She thought that we should
always be referred to as Negroes.
That's Negro
with a capital "N."
In the South, it was always printed
with the ignominious small "N."
I was immediately attracted
to the capitalized version,
which seemed to give dignity
to my identification.
It remains my preference
for describing people of color,
and I am uncomfortable
with the lowercase "black."
And you can imagine in the days
of civil rights movement,
Black Power movement,
and here's this petite lady
teaching at Brandeis,
talking about Negroes.
I had fought for opening up dormitories
and opening up restaurants in the '40s.
The new breed who came along in the '60s,
they come and they want
separate dormitories.
Almost as if they're gobbling up
the generation behind them.
Now, that's hard to take.
Last January, Black students
at Brandeis University
occupied a building
and demanded a Black studies program.
The Black students
took over one of the buildings,
and my office was in that building.
Pauli thought
the students were out of step,
uh, with reality and with history.
They, of course, thought
she was out of step.
They distanced themselves from her.
Did Pauli ever say anything about that?
Well, I think she was hurt.
You could see it.
Pauli just couldn't get it.
For all of her own youthful defiance,
she really struggled to understand
the spirit of young people, who...
if she were mad 30 years ago
and they're still dealing
with the same challenges,
of course they're even angrier
30 years later.
The Black students, who wanted to be
like Black Panthers,
thought she was a Tom,
just by the way that, you know,
she didn't like the takeover,
she didn't like
the word "Black," um...
but if that's all they knew,
they were missing the point.
For any Black kid on that campus
and any woman on that campus,
she was walking history.
We even went to her house,
and she opened the door...
...and every wall
of her house was books.
From top to bottom:
books, books, books.
To me, it was paradise.
And I think the first thing I asked was,
"Have you...
have you read all of these?"
She said, "Yes.
The ones I haven't read,
I haven't put on the shelf yet."
We got to trust her
because we came from
educational situations
where people used to demean you
because you didn't know something.
She always respected
who you were as a human being.
I remember feeling...
a little special.
She would have that Camel cigarette
sitting on the end of her lip.
Do you remember that?
-She would take that cigarette and...
And it's almost like,
"You need to learn something,
Murray was 60 and was very concerned
that she would not have
enough money in her old age.
So she demanded that
she be brought up for tenure.
"Lacks brilliance."
"Is not up to standard."
Pauli is denied.
It was completely absurd, um,
and so the battle was on.
Pauli said, "My
contributions have been in law."
"Many of the ideas
that you now take for granted
were radical
when I first proposed them."
Pauli conceptualized so much of what
the legal architecture has been
for challenging
systems of discrimination.
We can't comprehend
legal movements for justice
without understanding
Pauli's role in them.
And in the end,
the president of the university
granted Pauli tenure.
I'm gonna try to finish the book
in one more chapter.
And this is my most difficult chapter
because it deals with
one of my best friends.
Renee took care of the house.
Renee catalogued all the books.
She took care of the dog.
She kept Pauli Murray's agendas.
You know, if she couldn't find something,
"Oh, Renee,
you know where this is?"
You know, that kind of thing.
Most people did not know
that Pauli was gay.
And we all kept it under the radar.
How did you know?
Did Pauli talk to you about it?
No. I mean, I don't know
how to describe it,
but if you're around someone
-long enough...
-Long enough. get a hint.
I mean, you just know.
Did Pauli talk about Renee?
She talked about... Renee was her friend.
-That's the way she spoke...
-Mm-hmm. us about it.
-Always friend.
Renee gets sick.
She has a recurrence of breast cancer.
She undergoes treatments
that are unsuccessful,
and she dies in 1973.
Most people who go through
the death and dying of cancer,
I say we're the walking wounded.
It seemed to me,
as I looked back over my life,
that all of these problems
of human rights
in which I had been involved
were moral and spiritual problems.
And I saw that the profession
to which I had devoted my life... law...
Could not give us the answers.
And I asked myself,
"What do you want to do
with the time you have left?"
I was being pointed in the direction
of the priesthood or...
service to the church.
All of a sudden, she tells me
she's gonna be an Episcopal priest.
I was stunned.
Pauli was deeply religious.
I must say that I did not understand
that part of her, but she was.
Well, nobody could really
figure out what she was doing.
"You're gonna leave your job
and go where for four years?
Seminary school? Are you crazy?"
Today at the old Chapel of the Cross,
at the very altar where her grandmother
was baptized as a slave,
the Holy Eucharist is to be celebrated
for the first time by
the Reverend Dr. Pauli Murray.
By the time Pauli graduates
from theological school,
on the basis of Pauli's efforts
and the efforts of many other women,
the Episcopal Church
decides to grant women
the right to be ordained.
And Pauli Murray is
the very first Black woman
to be ordained in the Episcopal Church.
The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ
according to Luke.
Glory to you, Lord Christ.
The peace of the Lord be with you.
And also with you.
What I was trying to communicate
as I administered the bread
was a lovingness for each individual.
I think reconciliation is taking place
between individuals, groping out,
reaching toward one another.
It was not I as an individual,
it was that historic moment in time
when I represented a symbol of the past,
of the suffering, of the conflict,
reaching out my hand symbolically
and all of those behind me,
and they were responding.
She wasn't a listener
when I was growing up.
She was a talker.
And after seminary school, um,
she became a listener.
As intense as she had been in fighting
and struggling and changing the world,
she was just as compassionate
as that when she was mentoring to people
through the church.
She had written short stories.
She had written.
Proud Shoes, a family history.
She and James Baldwin
were the first African American writers
to be colonists at the
prestigious MacDowell Colony.
By the early 1980s,
she had just about finished,
in her words,
"that dreaded autobiography."
Also, there were signs
that she had pancreatic cancer.
What do you fear most?
Just as a general question.
What do I fear most?
Probably dying without finishing
what I'm...
what I want to finish.
It was important for her
to tell her story
the way she wanted it told.
I knew she was working
on-on another book,
a-a memoir,
and I knew she was kind of
racing the-the clock.
It was,
"Let's get this book done."
She could be impatient.
What I tried to do
was to give a picture of Negro life
that reflects the fact
that we have lived
so much like other Americans
and that in spite
of all of the difficulties
and adversities, there are these flashes
of-of, uh, joy and humor.
I'm very close to the end of, uh,
of this, uh, manuscript, page 504.
If there were moments of deep despair,
there was the sustaining knowledge
that in the quest for human dignity,
one is part of a continuous movement
through time and history,
linked to a higher
moral force in the universe.
Pauli left a legacy,
so why would we leave it on the table?
We literally live in
an architecture of the world
that Pauli Murray built.
There are some scholars who now argue
that you cannot teach American history
without teaching about Pauli Murray.
When we were presenting our case
before the Supreme Court
to ensure that LGBTQ people
are protected under federal laws
prohibiting sex discrimination,
it was impossible to conceptualize
that work without Pauli.
Pauli may not have realized
that they would be a beacon of solace
for so many queer and transgender
and gender nonconforming folks.
Generations down the road,
that's what they've become.
Today we're sitting
in Pauli Murray College.
Back then, Pauli Murray would not have
even dreamed of anything like this.
If Pauli had been able to really
fully inhabit themselves,
I think that it only would've...
would've improved the
contributions that Pauli made
to the law or to religion,
writing or to poetry.
What kind of magic would've happened?
If you study the past,
you have to let go of the idea
that the people who become
well-respected and celebrated
correlate with the people
who deserve to be celebrated
and well-respected.
Pauli is somebody
whose time had not come.
Um, it might not yet come fully.
We have to work for a world
in which it does come.
Give me a song of hope.
And a world where I can sing it.
Give me a song of kindliness.
And a country where I can live it.
Give me a song of hope and love.
And a brown girl's heart to hear it.
Pauli Murray.