THE VFA PIONEER HISTORIES PROJECT
Rev. Dr. Anna Pauline (Pauli) Murray
3 Roads Communications presents Pauline Murray’s commencement video for receiving an Honorary Doctorate Degree from Howard University. Includes remarks from Pauli’s family.
May 13 2017
“She Saw an Injustice and She Stepped In.” – Ms. Rosita Stevens-Holsey, Pauli Murray’s Niece
Narrator: In a country where being first is the most important, Anna Pauline “Pauli” Murray was without peer. First in her class at Howard Law. First black Deputy Attorney General of California. A co-founder of the National Organization for Women. And a leader in the Congress of Racial Equality, or a crusader for civil and gender rights during the dawn of post-war America. Pauli Murray was born in Baltimore. By the time she was three years old her mother had died, and her father was institutionalized. She was sent to live with her mother’s family in Durham, North Carolina. That home has been named as a National Monument at the National Park Service several months ago.
Ms. Rosita Stevens-Holsey: I believe living in the south, growing up in the Fitzgerald home with other relatives who had persevered and struggled. I think early on that’s where you know that was the foundation of her values and what have you.
Narrator: She moved to New York to finish high school. Denied admission to Columbia University because of her gender and to Barnard College because of her poverty she attended the free Hunter College seeking to finish her undergraduate studies at the University of North Carolina she was denied because of her race.
Ms. Karen Ross: She ran into a lot of obstacles because the schools that she applied to either didn’t want to take a Negro or they didn’t want to take a woman. But she moved around that and pursued it anyway.
Mr. Anthony “Tony” Alexis: Even though she had documented that a great-great-grandfather had created a scholarship for the Murray Family, and she was a member of the Murray Family but because she was African-American then she was not admitted into University of North Carolina.
Narrator: Riding in a bus in Petersburg, Virginia in 1940 she and a companion refused to sit on broken seats in the back of the bus. Inspired by her case and other civil rights cases that she had become involved with she entered Howard University Law School in 1941. The only woman in her class. She referred to the sexism she faced as “Jane Crow”.
Ms. Rosita Stevens-Holsey: After being at the top of her class at Howard Law School when she graduated and getting a Rosenwald fellowship to go on, she was denied entrance into the Harvard Law School not because she was black or African-American but because she was female.
Narrator: She completed graduate studies at the University of California and was admitted to the California Bar. She was hired as the state’s first black Deputy Attorney General. In 1950 she published States Laws on Race and Color which Thurgood Marshall referred to as the Bible of the civil rights movement. Her book influenced Justice Marshall in his arguments in Brown vs. the Board of Education.
Ms. Karen Ross: Her final paper at Law School that took a position that separate but equal was against the 13th and 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. When her professor and Thurgood Marshall were trying to get a case together for Brown vs. Board of Education, they used her paper to solidify the case.
Ms. Rosita Stevens-Holsey: But at the time even her professors were rather dismissive of her. So, she had a lot of foresight and insight and I really think she was very ahead of her time.
Narrator: Pauli Murray became the first African-American to receive a Doctor of the Science of Law from Yale University and was tenured as a full professor at Brandeis University. She co-founded the National Organization of Women and spent much of her time fighting “Jane Crow” laws and attitudes.
Ms. Rosita Stevens-Holsey: She saw an injustice and she stepped in. She was never interested in wealth or fame. She was more interested in the cause and you know how she could help.
Narrator: In her later years Pauli Murray turned from the law to spirituality. In 1977 she became the first African-American woman ordained as an Episcopal priest.
Ms. Karen Ross: She became a priest, an Episcopalian priest. She softened around the edges where it allowed her to be more at peace and less of a rebel.
Narrator: Howard University congratulates Dr. Pauli Murray on her honorary degree in Doctor of Laws – posthumously.