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Pauli Murray; Black, Queer and Gender Nonconforming Representation

On Sunday, Jan. 22 Meredith College held a Documentary Film Festival where they showed the film “My Name is Pauli Murray” and had a panel discussion afterwards. Pauli Murray was a queer, Black and gender nonconforming activist. They spent their life as a writer, lawyer and a priest. Murray built the foundation for the Civil Rights movement and inspired many famous Civil Rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr.


During their life they always leaned for more “boyish” clothes and dressed more masculine presenting. They believed that they were a man trapped in a woman’s body and went to doctors asking for testosterone. Pauli was unhappy in their body and struggled with depression because of it. At the time, being transgender was considered a mental illness and wasn’t taken seriously. It is unknown what pronouns they would have used today so many use gender neutral pronouns.


During the 1930’s being queer, Black and gender nonconforming was not accepted during the time. If their identity had been known, they wouldn’t have been able to be a priest, and be a lawyer. Pauli coined the term the “Jane Crow Law” to describe the mistreatment of women in relation to segregation and racism. During their studies at college where they placed at the top of the class and was the only Black woman–and only woman–at that university, and was ignored by professors and wouldn’t be called on. When they got their LLM in Law School and was looking for jobs, they weren’t hired just because of their sex and race. They not only faced discrimination for being Black, but for being a woman. Black women were facing discrimination because of race, but they also faced discrimination due to sexism and misogynistic beliefs.


Pauli Murray loved to read and write so when they passed away, more than a 100 boxes of journals and diaries were placed in the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University. Pauli’s house in Durham is being turned into a historic center thanks to a project that raised money to keep the house from being turned into a parking lot. It’s important to preserve that history not only for those who live in that neighborhood in Durham, but for all the lives they have touched and will continue to touch with their legacy. Their contributions, work, and fame, remains underrepresented and under-acknowledged to this day.


By Kayla Dunn, Reporter

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