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Race & Demographics

Pauli: Episode 1 Transcript

Pauli Murray vs. Jane Crow 

Leoneda Inge

00:01
A cruel fact of life is that the folks who have made the biggest impact on us might not be around to share some of our biggest moments. But we think of them almost immediately when major events happen.

Kamala Harris 00:14
Please raise your right hand. Okay. Do you solemnly swear that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States, against all enemies, foreign and domestic…

Leoneda Inge 00:26
When Georgia voters elected two Democratic U.S. senators in a historic runoff, Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, many minds including mine turned to John Lewis. How we wish the iconic lawmaker and civil rights activist could have been here to see his pastor and former intern make history

Kamala Harris 00:47
…of the office on which you are about to enter, so help you God.

Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff 00:53
We do.

Kamala Harris 00:54
Congratulations. [APPLAUSE]

Leoneda Inge 00:57
When Kamala Harris took the oath of office as America's first female Vice President, I thought of my mom who, like the VP, was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated. I just know she would have been proudly decked out in their signature pink and green on Inauguration Day.

[women singing sorority song] 1:17

[protestors chanting] 1:27
No justice, no peace. No justice, no peace.

Leoneda Inge 01:29
And in the summer of 2020, when our nation exploded in protests and anger at the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white police officer. When a deadly virus was claiming tens of thousands of lives in Black and Brown communities. When what was happening to our people started to feel too much like a shift in the wrong direction. One name kept coming to mind over and over again: Pauli.

Pauli Murray 02:02
I feel as fully an American as anyone else. This is my country, nobody will rob me of my birthright. I have as much right to speak as an American as anyone else.

Leoneda Inge 02:15
Anna Pauline Murray, Pauli to most, is someone I never got a chance to meet. But if you're talking about impact and influence on the way I think about justice and equality, we may as well be as close as kin. Pauli Murray was an activist, a lawyer, a poet, and a priest. She was a warrior for social justice, who always kept people's feet to the fire when they stumbled on the path to progress. So as protests and a pandemic swept this country, I kept thinking, what would Pauli Murray think and do, about all this? Would Pauli Murray the activist be joining in the marches? Would Pauli Murray the lawyer write up a sweeping legal document arguing for better health care access during a pandemic? Would Pauli Murray the priest rebuke the tear gassing of protestors in front of a church so a president's path could be cleared for a photo op. My best guess is yes, she would do all that and much more.
I'm Leoneda Inge, and this is Pauli, a podcast from North Carolina Public Radio about the power of one person to speak truth and change what's possible for us all.

Pauli Murray 03:52
My feeling is that if this country is to survive, we must live together in harmony. And we must live together in a sense, in a spirit of harmony. You may call it brotherhood or whatnot, but we cannot survive as a divided country.

Leoneda Inge 04:08
This is Pauli Murray in a 1976 interview with UNC’s Southern Oral History Program. Her message of harmony sounds a lot like the calls for unity coming from politicians on both sides of the aisle these days. But can we really come together in the wake of a former president whose rhetoric fueled the flames of white supremacy? After a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, spearheaded by a mostly white mob? Here's the thing. If Anna Pauline Murray was saying it, she must have believed it. She was a product of a racially segregated America, shaped by the particular pain and trauma that went along with being a Black woman in that time. Despite all the barriers she faced, Pauli always carried a sense of hope, and God knows we need some hope right now. But with our social and political divisions only getting louder, would the world listen if Pauli were alive today? After all, she doesn't have the name recognition of an MLK or RBG. But not all heroes have specials on the History Channel. So here's what we need to consider to put Pauli’s message of hope and reconciliation to the test. First, Pauli was a beautiful writer. She didn't waste words.

Alexis Pauline Gumbs 05:36
“Give me a song of hope and love ,and a Brown girl's heart to hear it or to receive it.” I love that. I mean, I feel hailed in that.

Leoneda Inge 05:47
This is Alexis Pauline Gumbs. She lives in Durham, North Carolina, the city where Pauli grew up. She's quoting a verse here from Pauli’s collection of poems called “Dark Testament.” Gumbs is a poet herself. She's also a National Humanities Fellow, a Black feminist scholar, and a community organizer. And she says Pauli Murray’s legacy, her spirit, continues to guide her.

Alexis Pauline Gumbs 06:14
I feel like Pauli Murray’s life continues to just like, be a windfall of gifts to my everyday experience, you know, like I feel like, I feel like I'm that Brown girl sometimes, you know, like calling forth, “Who would hear this song?” I feel like, “Oh, that's me.” You know, I'm raising my hand and there are many of us.

Leoneda Inge 06:33
Gumbs calls herself a Queer Black Troublemaker, which sounds a lot like Pauli in my opinion. Pauli was a Black Southern woman who could stir it up. But she also expressed a gender fluidity in her private life, sometimes referring to herself as a man. For the purpose of this podcast we're using "she and her" pronouns to describe Pauli because that's how she identified publicly. Okay, back to being a Queer Black Troublemaker. Alexis Gumbs says it's her responsibility to follow Pauli’s lead and always challenge the status quo.

Alexis Pauline Gumbs 07:14
You know, one of the things that I see in Pauli Murray's life is this audacity, right? Like just really, every institution that Pauli Murray interacted with needed to change, like it needed to fundamentally change. And Pauli Murray was not afraid to say that, you know, just the clarity of vision and an unapologetic commitment to speaking the truth.

Leoneda Inge 07:44
The next thing to know about Pauli Murray is that when she wrote, she wrote the truth. Truth was her sword, a weapon she wielded against injustice almost every day she walked this earth. Operating under a sinister combination of racism and sexism, there must have been a thousand ways she was compelled to shrink herself and say only what was needed to get by and make nice. Instead, she followed her instinct to commit to truth telling, as if it were an act of survival.

Pauli Murray 08:18
I must always be concerned, not theoretically, but I must be involved with and necessarily concerned with racial liberation. But I must also personally be concerned with sexual liberation because the two, as I often say, the two meet in me, the two meet in any individual who is both woman and a member of an oppressed group or a minority group.

Leoneda Inge 08:46
Pauli came up with a name for this kind of discrimination. She called it Jane Crow. No matter where she went, Jane Crow followed. And Pauli was always there to meet it head on. Like in 1941, when a 30-year old Pauli Murray entered Howard University Law School, and found old Jane sitting pretty waiting for her.

Serena Mayeri 09:11
I think she really flourished at Howard. She led some of the early sit-ins in Washington D.C. during World War Two, she ended up graduating at the top of her class.

Leoneda Inge 09:20
This is Serena Mayeri. She's a law and history professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Serena Mayeri 09:28
But she certainly noted the degree to which Howard wasn't immune to the kind of casual sexism that was not uncommon in the legal world during those days.

Pauli Murray 09:41
There was a notice on the bulletin board very shortly, maybe two or three weeks after school began, which said all male members of the first day of class are invited to Dean So-and-So's for a smoker. There were only two females in the entire school, one of which was myself. And I was so stunned. And I couldn't imagine, “What is all this?”… And so what I'm really saying is that removing the racial factor, Howard University being a school where the racial factor was not a problem, immediately the sex factor was isolated. And so my whole experience at law school was an experience of learning really, for the first time, what a, in a way, a crude kind of sexism can be.

Leoneda Inge 10:43
Pauli didn't let go of her battle with Jane Crow. She was determined to undermine its grip on the lives of Black women. Two decades after her time at Howard, Pauli argued for challenging sex discrimination by linking it with racial discrimination. Her legal writings culminated with an article in 1965 that became a bombshell in the courts. It was called “Jane Crow and the Law.”

Serena Mayeri 11:13
Pauli Murray comes in and says let's litigate under the 14th amendment, under the equal protection clause. She essentially argued that sex like race was used to limit and oppress individuals for reasons that were really unrelated to their ability or their humanity. Murray predicted at the time that the article would be she said cited to "Kingdom Come" and she was quite right. It's one of the most cited early articles on womens' rights and the law.

Leoneda Inge 11:43
Soon after the article was published, it came across the desk of another lawyer fighting for gender equality: Ruth Bader Ginsburg,

Ruth Bader Ginsburg 11:52
Pauli had the idea that we should interpret the text literally. It said “any person,” not any male person.

Leoneda Inge 12:02
This is the late justice speaking with documentary filmmakers in 2017.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg 12:08
She wrote this remarkable article called “Jane Crow and the Law,” where she called attention to all the laws that restricted what women could do. There were many restrictions, many things women couldn't do. But unlike race discrimination, they were all rationalized as favors for the ladies. For example, women were not permitted to serve on juries.

Serena Mayeri 12:36
I think Murray more than anyone else, as Justice Ginsburg often said, was responsible for this constitutional strategy that focused on litigation under the equal protection clause, based on this analogy between race and sex discrimination. I think that campaign, which was executed by Ginsburg and others, was quite successful.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg 12:58
And that was a tremendously influential.

Leoneda Inge 13:05
When I look over all of Pauli Murray’s accomplishments, and see how many papers she wrote, how many people she worked with, I begin to think the woman never slept. She was determined to get her point across no matter what it took. Which brings me to another thing you should understand about Pauli. Justice was more than something she desired. She demanded it. Let me give you a quick example. In 1965, the same year she published “Jane Crow and the Law,” Pauli swapped her pen for a bullhorn. She was fed up with the federal government dragging its feet on equal protections for women. So she made a speech proposing a women's march on Washington to speed things up. This immediately caught the attention of one of the biggest feminist icons at the time.

Serena Mayeri 13:59
And that was when Betty Friedan, who was a journalist who had authored the best-selling book "The Feminine Mystique” reached out to Murray and Murray then introduced Friedan to her own large network of advocates for women and along with several others they co-founded NOW in October of 1966.

Leoneda Inge 14:20
Now, as in the National Organization for Women, has more than 500 chapters across the U.S. today, NOW addressed barriers to gender equality, but fell down on the job of working for full justice. Soon after NOW was founded, Pauli became frustrated with the organization's lack of attention toward Black women.

Pauli Murray 14:43
White women, who are feminists, must recognize that Black women or other non-white women have their particular problems and agenda and must allow for this within, in a sense, the overall movement toward women's liberation.

Alexis Pauline Gumbs 15:06
I mean, yes, Pauli Murray was a founder of institutions and a participant in many institutions, excelled in different academic institutions...

Leoneda Inge 15:17
This is Alexis Pauline Gumbs again.

Alexis Pauline Gumbs 15:20
...but the reality is that none of those institutions actually embraced all of who Pauli Murray was. And that didn't even come close to embracing the fullness of Pauli Murray’s radical vision. So it was not simply just like an ideal like, “Everybody should do better, all institutions should do better.” When I look at Pauli Murray’s life, I see a question about the very limits of institutions and institutionalization. And what happens when an institution, and we could say this about, we could say this about the NAACP and Ella Baker, for example, what happens when an institution is more committed to certain recognizable forms of participation in the society that already exists, then it is in the lived experiences of the people who are harmed most by the systems that already exist, you know, and I think that is what Pauli Murray was consistently asking for. Thinking about the National Organization of Women, and it's like, this is not all women who are being, you know, represented here, or whose priorities in life are being centered. And so it could be, and I don't know if Pauli Murray thought this, it could be that every institution is a lie in its name, and its mission, and its vision statement.

Leoneda Inge 16:54
And they all leave out Black women, that’s who they leave out

Alexis Pauline Gumbs 16:57
Over and over again.

Leoneda Inge 16:58
Yeah.

Alexis Pauline Gumbs 16:59
And I think I would say, it's not, that's not a coincidence. That's not like just a mean-spirited thing, though it is mean-spirited, it is actually, to me, because of the abundantly loving, inclusive world that Black women are not letting go of, you know, and that, to me, is what is Black feminist about Pauli Murray’s work is like, we didn't, we didn't do it, like, we're still thinking about the children that are hungry, when the white feminist movement is just like, happy to be able to underpay Black women to work to take care of their children, so they could do the same job as a white guy. That was not the vision, you know, and so I think that there's, there's so much love there.

Leoneda Inge 17:53
So why do you think then she didn't get the recognition she deserved during her lifetime? Some influential folks like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and you know, they're definitely household names. And they actually respected and knew the work of Pauli Murray. They used her work. Why didn't she get probably the recognition she deserved when she was living?

Alexis Pauline Gumbs 18:15
You know I think that it's there in the question, right, this idea of recognition, right, and like, what is recognizable, and I think that there is something, and I come up against this as a person who works in multiple forms and writes in multiple genres and you know, things like this, that there's not an award for my experience, for the thing that's not fiction, but it's not poetry, but it's not an academic book, but it's also all of those things. There's not an award called that. You may do something that you're like, this is wonderful, and people may respond to it in a wonderful way. But if it doesn't fit into one of those slots, then it's not that and I think that for Pauli Murray, you know, the other figures that you named, even though who they are is probably much more complicated than whatever slots they are recognized in, there's like, okay, civil rights, let it stand alone, you know, like women's rights and feminism through legal transformation, like, let that be one thing. And I think that there's something about those people, and Pauli Murray is definitely one of these people, who are not here to conform to one thing and make that thing better. Thank goodness for the people who are here to make one thing better, because it's better now. Hooray, you know, and we can celebrate that. But Pauli Murray is one of the people, and I identify in this tradition, who is not here to conform to that thing and make it better, but who is really here to transform what we even think it is. That's important work. And without that work, we wouldn't have the changes that we need.

Leoneda Inge 20:00
So when today's leaders call for unity, togetherness, harmony, reconciliation, what are they really asking of us? To move quickly past the moments of horror and hurt, so we don't have to address the causes? To forgive their culpability in upholding systems that damage our democracy, and invite more hatred, violence, and division? Have they done the work to ask that of us? Have they earned our attention to their pleas? Pauli Murray certainly did. And that's why I hear her call for harmony differently. I hear a brilliant woman who harnessed her intelligence, her moral code and her talents to make a better world. I hear someone who suffered, really suffered adversity, saying, “Yes, we can come together.” Pauli certainly knew her worth. But she held more power than she could have ever imagined, yielding outcomes she could only dream of. And so as this painful war against injustice wages on, and we think about what leaders we have lost would do, consider how Pauli’s words, her truth, and her determination, offer us a guide on what we can do today.

Pauli Murray 21:19
We must accept the challenge of our existence, our existence being that of a rejected unwanted, persecuted minority. And that in a sense, we cannot accept this, we must make our contribution to history.

Leoneda Inge 21:43
Next time on the podcast.

Kenneth Mack 21:44
So Murray creates this book, publishes it, and that was the book that was referenced by the NAACP when they had to figure out what are all the segregation laws all over the country.

Leoneda Inge 21:58
Pauli Murray teams up with Thurgood Marshall.
Pauli is a production of North Carolina Public Radio. Special thanks to the Southern Oral History Program. Our producers are Charlie Shelton-Ormond and Stacia Brown. Lindsay Foster Thomas is our executive producer. Jenni Lawson is our engineer. I’m Leoneda Inge.