In On the Basis of Sex, the forthcoming movie about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s journey into law, RBG (played by Felicity Jones) holds a moot court in her apartment to prepare for Moritz v. Commissioner, her first big case and the beginning of her lifelong fight against sex discrimination. One of the moot court judges is Dr. Pauli Murray (Sharon Washington), an African American lawyer, activist, poet, and priest, who’s wearing a truly terrific pink pantsuit. “Pauli would have been upset about that pink suit,” Rosalind Rosenberg, Professor of History Emerita at Barnard College, and Murray’s biographer tells me. In fact, “Pauli never visited Ginsberg’s apartment and certainly did not serve on a moot court as a judge, but it’s a biopic, and I think it’s a visually defensible way into the picture. But [as] a historian, if this was a documentary, I would’ve protested because this never happened.”
I was thrilled to see Murray in On the Basis of Sex, even if the film rewrote some of history’s details. (The movie’s screenwriter is RBG’s nephew, Daniel Stiepleman, and a generous defense would suggest the inclusion is a tribute to those his aunt admired most.) I have been fascinated by Murray’s life, career, and why she’s been so overlooked and underknown since I stumbled across an article about her a few years ago. Anna Pauline “Pauli” Murray was born into a mixed-race family in Baltimore in 1910, orphaned at the age of 3, adopted by her aunt, and raised in the Episcopal church in Durham, North Carolina, before becoming an influential civil-rights lawyer. Despite her accomplishments, when I visited the movie’s IMDb.com page, I found neither Sharon Washington nor Murray’s names listed. “Guy #1” and “Guy #2,” however, are.
In some ways, the most effective way to tell Murray’s story would be a Where’s Waldo? picture book of all the significant social-justice moments in American history during the middle of the 20th century, and then try and spot her. She’s hard to see, but if you look really, really closely, she’s there. For example, her final law school paper on race discrimination made its way to Thurgood Marshall, who upon reading it, decided to “shift course,” apply Murray’s thinking, and “attack segregation directly as a violation of equal protection in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954,” writes Rosenberg.
n the 1960s, Rosenberg continues, Murray’s “attack on federal government for failing to protect women against gender discrimination persuaded Betty Friedan to join her in founding a NAACP for women, which Friedan named NOW—the National Organization of Women.” And there’s more: “In the early 1970s, Murray’s concept of Jane Crow—the depiction of gender discrimination as analogous to race discrimination,” what Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw coined as intersectionality in 1989, “propelled RBG to her Supreme Court victory, establishing a woman’s constitutional right to equal protection in Reed v. Reed.” (RBG named Murray and Dorothy Kenyan coauthors because their thinking was so influential to her case.) And finally, in the late ’70s, Murray became the first Black female Episcopal priest. She also had a 23-year-long friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt, served on President Kennedy’s Commission on the Status of Women, and was arrested in Virginia in 1940 for refusing to sit on broken bus seats. So, just why is she so hard to spot?
Murray’s behind-the-scenes influence started young. “She was practically born a protester,” Rosenberg says, protesting when her grandfather got more pancakes and in her high-school’s newspaper when segregated Black schools didn’t have access to modern French textbooks. When she graduated from college, she became active in the labor movement. Her fire was fueled when she was rejected from graduate school because of her race, and once she was accepted into law school, she was discriminated against for being a woman. She left the board of NOW because she believed that Friedan was excluding the poor from its mission; her friendship with Roosevelt began when Murray was trying to save a Black sharecropper facing the death penalty; and one of the reasons for her move into priesthood, was because, as Rosenberg says, “the church was the final frontier, the last major institution that refused entry to positions of power categorically to females.”
This life of protesting came from a place of incredible hardship: She was impoverished from childhood until her death; she had severe mental-health issues and was diagnosed with schizophrenia in her 30s; and she was carrying the burden of keeping her thoughts about gender hidden. “I could not find one single living person who Murray had confided in about her wish to be a man,” Rosenberg says. Central to understanding Murray is what Rosenberg describes as Murray’s feeling of “in between, outwardly female but inwardly male.” Revealed in the 135 boxes of papers Murray left to the Schlesinger Library when she died in 1985, and which took Rosenberg 20 years to get the permission to quote from, is Murray’s struggle with what we would call today a transgender identity. What began as early as 8, when Murray asked her aunt Pauline to buy her boys’ clothes, became a lifelong journey that involved invasive surgery to see if she had “secreted male genitals.”
She asked repeatedly for hormones that she knew some young men were starting to receive. (“I always thought it was revealing that doctors at the time had no difficulty giving hormones to emphasize binary distinctions but they were dead set against giving hormones to elide those distinctions,” Rosenberg says.) From the 1930s, she read extensively about sexology, as it was known in the scientific community at the time, and came across the notion of “pseudo-hermaphroditism,” a now redundant clinical term for what we call intersex. She insisted on being called Dr. Murray or Dr. Reverend Murray and asked people not to call her mother when she became a priest. (On writing her biography, the use of pronouns was a “struggle” for Rosenberg and she rewrote chapters with various versions. But for Rosenberg, pronoun choice is a modern notion, and “historians try never to be presentist and use the language of today for the past.”)
Murray’s refusal to conform, and her public identity as a lesbian, mixed-race woman who rejected gender norms, helps explain why this influential legal thinker and activist trailblazer is so little known. “You couldn’t be a leader as a gender ambiguous firebrand, as Pauli was. She was too forceful, too disagreeable,” Rosenberg says. “Her activism began so early—in the ’30s, the ’40s, and the ’50s. By the time she comes into her own, by the mid 1960s, she says, ‘I speak for my race and for my people, the human race and just people,’ but you couldn’t be like that and have organizational influence by the mid ’60s. You had to be a Black nationalist if anyone is going to listen to you.”
Today, Murray is slowly creeping into the public consciousness: Yale named two residential colleges after her in 2016; Rosenberg’s biography was published in 2017; Murray’s collection of poetry was published in 2018; and of course, she has her first movie cameo in On the Basis of Sex. The house Murray lived in as a child in Durham was named a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2017, a National Historic Landmark by the Department of the Interior in 2017, and there are plans to transform the house into the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice by 2020. Rosenberg also tells me that Hollywood has come knocking, interested in giving Murray her own biopic. Perhaps maybe then she’ll get her IMDb.com mention, and this time there won’t be a pink pantsuit.
And perhaps we’re ready for Pauli Murray at long last: “History has finally caught up to Pauli,” Rosenberg says. “You can be a hero who is a mixed-raced, genderfluid, trans-identifying person now in a way that was not possible before.”
Since when did liberal mean…solicitous, radical or riotous? Since when did feminist mean…severe and dowdy?
“If by a “Liberal” they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people-their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights and their civil liberties-someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a “Liberal”, then I’m proud to say I’m a “Liberal.”
Those that follow my blog have discovered a vast majority of hodgepodge and the occasional, news worthy item. Often it is difficult to write of anything that seems ‘real’ in this era of dissociation via the internet, texts, emails and lack of face to face, realism.
However, I put my cynicism aside…for one day. I will be sappy and sweet and somewhat, how should I put it, down right approachable. A look I do not wear well.
Why is it that the skinny, the touched up, the photo shopped and the endowed with Greek God good looks…still seem to be those in which we place our admiration?
Everyday, every waking hour, every moment of my adult life…I see the housewives, the single mothers, the waitress and the barber. I see these women struggle with what their dreams once were…and,now, have been placed aside. Placed aside out of nothing more than for the betterment of others.
Whether it is that breakfast you just had. Two minutes before the kitchen shut down. No matter how wonderful the taste….you had been served. You day just went from bad to okay.
Or, perhaps, your morning included a shave and a hair cut. No big deal. Something you do…once a week. Once a week exactly at ten o’clock, you open a door to an establishment that has embraced your cranky, quirky way of how you think a buzz cut should go. As always, you are greeted by a woman who knows you better than your wife. She smiles, dusts the old leather barber-ing seat off and says,
“How’s the wife, Hank?”
I am a feminist. A feminist in the truest sense of the word…the women I have met have always made me strive to be the best woman…I can be!
Though many of my readers are not from New Hampshire…All of my readers are intelligent, caring and wise persons…searching for a better world through the written word.
Please take a moment and read the following story of a slightly Dented Saint. Slightly off Point Princess. The unsung heroine…she lives near me. But you may know of one or two…in your home town.
She is a Mom, a Sister, a Daughter, a Love, a Niece, an Aunt, Friend, and everyone’s favorite Barber.
Sande Lamanuzzi is an avid Outdoor Enthusiast, Horse Lover and someone you wont typically find standing still for long. The photo below was taken just a few days before the accident while she was vacationing in one of her favorite places, Arizona.
As her sister, I can tell you she is a powerhouse, and a force to be reckoned with. She is someone you want by your side. She is strong, yet compassionate, and would do anything to help someone in need.
Now, she is in need, and I hope you, all of her friends, family, neighbors, customers and community, will come together to help her.
Sande was involved in a horrible car accident on Wednesday, March 25th, and suffered a broken neck.
She is currently in Dartmouth Hospital in Lebanon awaiting spinal surgery that will fuse her C1 and C2 vertebrae and implant 4-6 screws to stabilize her head and neck. By the grace of GOD she was not paralysed in this accident, however, her road to recovery will be a steep mountain to climb and I want to believe that we all will be there supporting her the whole way. Not just financially, but physically, spiritually, and mentally as she will need all the support she can get. From doing errands to rides to doctors appointments and physical therapy. As I said previously, she doesn’t stay still, this is taking its toll on her just having to lay flat on her back and unable to move freely, (something she hates!)
As we all know, Sande has run “Sande’s Casual Cuts” in Franklin, NH, for 30+ years. She is self-employed and if she is not cutting hair, she is not making money. She supports herself so this means she will need money to pay her everyday living expenses and medical costs during her recovery until she is back on her feet, cutting hair and making people look and feel their best!
Sande’s expenses will be massive and she is so overwhelmed by it that she isn’t focusing on what she needs to focus on which is healing! Please help me help her to ease her burden and know that “her people”, as she loves to refer to us all, are going to come together in her time of need and ease that burden.
Any amount will help. I can assure you that her gratitude, (as well as our whole family), will be limitless and not forgotten.
Please keep my Sister in your prayers as she fights one of her toughest battles.
Dented Sister Saints
Dented Saints with their gifts drawn.
A not declaration on the urban battle lawn.
Daily grind wars on swollen feet.
Conflicts on who to feed.
Bake sales, overtime and
vacations watered down.
making ends meet in a small town.
Still no complaints…not a sound.
Never a lit candle to beckon on the pain.
Punctured Princess has no time for the…
Faded blue jean feminist where is your badge of courage?
Waiting at the empty table…
with your tip.
In a bottle to which you no longer sip?
Or, placed in a memo…
along with a grocery list?
Praise be to the Dented Saint.
the ones who mend the socks
cut the hair.
The pretend Dad…
when Dad is not there.
Heavenly let your light shine down on me.
heaven knows those battle scars
were received on bended knee.
Sometimes, as woman, I need to focus on being the best I can be, today. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. Not next year…Just today -Randomwordbyruth
…spent hundreds on flowers for her to arrive on a random day…Fuck Penny! She wasn’t trustworthy. She didn’t always think of me. And, I didn’t know what to do because she was the best thing in my life.
The trials and tribulations of finding that one true love by an empty heart often times leads to the truth. Like pulling a Band-Aid off quick instead of waiting for the slow burn.
I spent five long agonizing months uncovering the aimless young adult from Concord, New Hampshire. Waiting for the first move and avoiding the bad sex.
Being married to a woman of depth, the shallow pool that lay before me seemed very murky and covered in bias.
That first day at work, you jumped up on the trunk of your car and patted a place on the trunk next to you. There was supposed to be training done…you wanted to train me in other ways.
You wanted me to sit next to you and have a cigarette.
So, I did.
See, even than I was well trained
Then you told me about the rapes, the bad relationships, and the mistreatment from girlfriends, your mother and Penny.
Every little sordid detail you told me
Then you asked me what I thought you should do.
Than you went away on Vacation with Mommy Dearest and your father-Martha’s Vineyard, I think it was. You sent me pictures of you in a bikini!
You asked to be friends on Facebook in between and I knew from that you had other intentions. You said, you had been creeping on me.
You told me that Mark and Kevin both teased you because they said you had a crush on me
I tried to hook you up with Steph because you needed to get laid…. Course, there was the buzzing me up front when you didn’t need me and the avoiding of running the desk so you could spend time in the kennels with me…showing me your other profession, posing naked. You cornered me in a pen with a naked picture of your ass. I wonder what the department of worker’s rights would think about that.
Then you giggled.
Then the chase was on. The buying of the morning coffees, the texts saying, ‘hey, guess what I have on under my shirt?’
My patented response: I give, what?
The next stage of exhibition came:
‘Guess what? I don’t have any underwear on.’
The best ideas are those with a storyline. Still happily married, the hunt remains ON. The Gracie’s, the Ambien’s, the Annie’s and the WTF continue with the passing of each politically mistaken day.