What does it mean for someone to be born ahead of their time? People say that about Pauli Murray. I wonder why?
Maybe because Pauli was born black in a time when black people couldn’t make the choices we can today. It didn’t matter how hard she worked. And Pauli worked hard at everything she did —writing, studying, fighting for civil rights and justice.
Maybe because Pauli was born a woman who struggled even in African American institutions like Howard University. In Pauli’s first year of law school, no one listened to her until the school showed her grades to be at the top of the class.
Maybe because Pauli identified as queer and gender nonconforming in a time when many people did not know what that meant. Many people today refer to Pauli as Pauli instead of she or her.
Maybe because Pauli believed in not choosing what rights to fight for—Pauli fought for the rights of blacks, women, and the poor. She wasn’t afraid to say what she thought and was known for writing letters with her opinions and sending them to people like Eleanor Roosevelt.
Growing up, I knew Pauli Murray was the first black woman Episcopal priest. I met The Reverend Doctor Murray when Pauli came to Cincinnati to visit and come to our church to celebrate the Eucharist. I graduated from high school the year Pauli Murray died.
But, although I knew who Pauli Murray was, I learned nothing about Pauli’s contributions to civil rights until I read Pauli Murray: The Life of a Pioneering Feminist & Civil Rights Activist.
As a writer and poet, I enjoyed the pace of the book, which pairs well with the documentary about her life called My Name is Pauli Murray. Written by one of her nieces, Rosita Stevens Holsey, and Terry Catasus Jennings, children can immerse themselves in the prose poetry that allows a few words to say a lot. I’m a fan of a good timeline, and this book has one as well as excellent notes and bibliography.
I love reading children’s literature to learn more about a topic in a short time. If you have elementary/middle school aged kids, you’ll want to read this with them so you can have a good discussion and be ready to learn more.
Examining even a piece of her incredible story, I witness courage in the face of extreme gender and race discrimination. Spoiler: you’ll find Pauli’s logic behind Brown v. Board of Education. Pauli Murray’s life is another opportunity to engage your kids with the question: who does it serve to not learn about people in school? What is your role as a parent to make sure your child learns about the saints of our
Reading about Pauli’s struggles, triumphs, failures, bravery, frustrations, relentless pursuit of justice, and relationships, I wonder if Pauli was born at the exact right time. God sent Pauli to live in God’s time to be the person we need to remember as a saint today. Pauli was right on time.
On time saint.
What else can you learn about Pauli Murray?
Rosita Stevens-Holsey says
Thank you so much, Ms. McKenney, for the review of our book. You had some very kind words. Pauli was my aunt so this book that Terry & I wrote was deeply personal to me.
Thank you again!
Terry Catasús Jennings says
I am so happy at our reaction to our book. The Reverend Dr. Murray was indeed ahead of her time and she was transformational. I agree with you that this is a great book for elementary and middle school kids. I hope many of them read it and learn from the book. Your review touched me deeply. Thank you.