( 1910-1985), activist for human liberation
SONJA K. FOSS
"With humility but with pride I shall offer one small life . . . for whatever it is worth, to fulfill the prophecy that all men [sic] are created equal" ( "An American Credo,"24), wrote Pauli Murray in 1945. For the next four decades, she offered her life in the service of human liberation as a civil rights and feminist activist, educator, lawyer, writer, and Episcopal priest.
Born on November 20, 1910, Murray grew up in Durham, North Carolina, in the care of her maternal grandparents, after she was effectively orphaned at the age of 3 by the death of her mother and her father's inability to care for his six children. She was descended from both slave and slave owner. Her grandfather was the son of a half-Irish mulatto slave who had been given his freedom; her grandmother was the daughter of a part-Cherokee slave and the white man who had raped her.
Murray attended Hunter College in New York City, where she majored in English and planned to become a writer. Graduating in 1933 during the Depression, she was able to secure employment under the Works Progress Administration (EPA), teaching in its Remedial Reading Project and Workers' Education Project. Her experience on public assistance was the impetus for the development of a lifelong friendship with ELEANOR ROOSEVELT. In 1938 Murray wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Herald Tribune, describing the experience of applying for public assistance, and sent a copy to Roosevelt, initiating a correspondence between them. The two met for the first time in 1940, when Murray, as executive secretary of the annual National Sharecroppers Week, an observance designed to focus attention on the plight of sharecroppers in the South, arranged for Roosevelt to be a banquet speaker. For the next