Civil Rights activist Pauli Murray (1910-1985) is known for her challenges to Jim Crow (as when she applied to the segregated University of North Carolina for graduate study in 1938), and her ordination to the priesthood in 1977 (Murray was the Episcopal Church's first African-American female priest). She has received increased attention from both scholars and activists in recent years, but little has been said about the connections between her political commitments and her religious convictions. Sarah Azaransky ably addresses those connections in her wonderful new monograph, The Dream is Freedom.
Azaransky teases out three themes in Murray's writings. First, identity: Murray constantly navigated binary identities in which she did not neatly fit. She was a light-skinned African American with white and black antecedents. Her sexuality was decidedly not heteronormative; in early adulthood, she sometimes cross-dressed, and she referred to herself as having a "'boy-girl' personality." She was a woman working in a civil rights movement that, by her lights, marginalized the concerns of black women. As Azaransky shows, Murray's vexed personal relationship to "identity" shaped her academic writing about racism. Central to Murray's legal writings was the concept of "Jane Crow," a term she used to name the double discrimination black women experienced.