Black History Month #GreystonChallenge
Researching the history of black people in New York, and specifically Yonkers, can be an interesting journey. There is a lot to be learned and re-examined about this state’s history; from the horrifyingly large role New York played in the slave trade, to the recent history of Yonkers’ own bitter battle around desegregation. But the #GreystonChallenge was to find and share the stories of people who have been overlooked by popular history.
This week we are spotlighting Anna Pauline (Pauli) Murray, a civil rights activist and lawyer who went on to become the first African-American woman ordained as an Episcopal priest. Though she was born and raised by her grandparents in Maryland, Pauli studied English at Hunter College in NYC before moving back down south and enrolling in law school at Howard University. It was there she coined the term “Jane Crow”, her name for the intersection of racism and sexism she witnessed, and later experienced first-hand when she was denied the possibility to do post-graduate work at Harvard University on account of her gender, and most likely her race as well. Pauli didn’t let that stop her though; she went to UC Berkeley instead, and then in 1965 became the first African American to receive a Doctorate in Judicial Science from Yale Law School.
Her work as a lawyer was nothing short of impressive. Thurgood Marshall (first African American to serve on the nation’s Supreme Court) called Murray’s book “States’ Laws on Race and Color,” the bible of the civil rights movement. And Ruth Bader Ginsburg listed Murray as an author in the Reed v Reed brief, in recognition for the influence Murray had on Ginsburg’s work. In 1966 Murray’s joint argument with Ruth Kenyon in White V Crook officially opened the doors for women to serve on juries. Murray was a fierce fighter for civil rights and fought hard against racial and gendered discrimination, ever after she left legal academia in pursuit of ministry and faith. Well into her 60s, Murray attended the seminary, becoming an ordained priest in 1977 and a leading voice in the first generation of female priests in the Episcopal church. A groundbreaker in every way, and an example of social justice as a lived practice, we celebrate the story of Pauli Murray.