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NORTH CAROLINA L I T E R A R Y RE V I E W

Pauli Murray is unfamiliar to many Americans, although, to be sure, the late civil rights activist, feminist, attorney, writer, professor, and Episcopal priest has lately been garnering some much deserved attention. She was sainted by the Episcopal church in 2012. Her childhood home in Durham, NC, was named a National Historical Landmark by the National Park Service in 2016, and Yale University announced that same year that it would name one of its two new colleges after the 1965 Doctor of Juridical Science alumna. Both UNC Chapel Hill and Duke University are considering Murray’s likeness as a potential option for replacing prominent Confederate statues on their campuses.1 On the print front, Patricia Bell-Scott’s The Firebrand and the First Lady, her engaging account of Murray’s friendship with First Lady, activist, and diplomat Eleanor Roosevelt was published in 2016 to appreciative reviews in a range of publications and was longlisted for the National Book Award. In 2017, an extended piece in the The New Yorker by Kathryn Schulz titled “The Many Lives of Pauli Murray” questioned “why haven’t you heard of her?” and proceeded to introduce the readership of that magazine to the highlights of her career.2 And at last, also in 2017, historian

A PORTRAIT OF PAULI a review by Christina G. Bucher Rosalind Rosenberg, Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

CHRISTINA G. BUCHER is an Associate Professor of English, Rhetoric, and Writing at Berry College in Rome, GA. She has published articles on Kate Chopin’s “Fedora” in Mississippi Quarterly, Gloria Naylor and Charles W. Chesnutt’s approaches to the conjure tradition in Studies in the Literary Imagination, and the poetry of Pauli Murray in NCLR 2004. NCLR also published her interview with Anna Jean Mayhew in 2013.

Rosalind Rosenberg’s extensive and much anticipated biography of Murray, Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray was published. Jane Crow is a welcome addition to Murray studies and simply to readers who are interested in the life of this most fascinating American figure. Taking her title from the term Murray coined when she was a student at Howard Law School in the early 1940s to describe the dual discrimination she experienced as a woman and a Black American, Rosenberg, Professor of History Emerita at Barnard College of Columbia University, offers what will be to many readers an introduction to the arc of Murray’s life, stunning in its diverse and significant contributions to social justice and to American society. Rosenberg particularly should be praised for bringing the details of Murray’s full life to the fore, including her struggles with gender identity and sexuality, which Murray spoke not even a whisper of in her autobiography, Song in a Weary Throat (published posthumously in 1987 and currently out of print).3 Some will justifiably quibble with how Rosenberg interprets those details and makes it the driving force of the autobiography. Some general readers may also find the biography a little too “scholarly” in its prose style and its eighty-one pages

1

The photographs of the Pauli Murray murals in Durham, NC, are featured courtesy of the Pauli Murray Project, Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute. For more on the Pauli Murray Project, visit their website.

OPPOSITE RIGHT Pauli Murray in the World, mural at 117 S. Buchanan Blvd.

Ray Gronberg, “Duke Taking Ideas on Replacement for Lee Statue, and a Durham Icon’s in the Mix,” Herald Sun 29 Sept. 2017: web ; Andrew Reynolds, “Here’s the Perfect Candidate to Replace North Carolina’s Racist Silent Sam Statue,” Huffpost 15 Aug. 2017: web.

2

Patricia Bell-Scott, The Firebrand and the First Lady; Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice (New York: Knopf, 2016); Kathryn Schulz, “The Many Lives of Pauli Murray,” New Yorker 17 Apr. 2017: web.

3

Song in a Weary Throat: An American Pilgrimage was published postumously by Harper and Row in 1987 by the estate of Pauli Murray. It was republished in 1989 by the University of Tennessee Press with the somewhat clumsy title Pauli Murray: The Autobiography of a Black Activist Feminist Lawyer, Priest, and Poet. Both are now out of print. (This review quotes from the first edition.)

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2018  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2018  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

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