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Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray

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hroughout her prodigious life, activist and lawyer Pauli Murray systematically fought against all arbitrary distinctions in society, channeling her outrage at the discrimination she faced to make America a more democratic country. In this definitive biography, Rosalind Rosenberg offers a poignant portrait of a figure who played pivotal roles in both the modern civil rights and women's movements.

A mixed-race orphan, Murray grew up in segregated North Carolina before escaping to New York, where she attended Hunter College and became a labor activist in the 1930s. When she applied to graduate school at the University of North Carolina, where her white great-great-grandfather had been a trustee, she was rejected because of her race. She went on to graduate first in her class at Howard Law School, only to be rejected for graduate study again at Harvard University this time on account of her sex. Undaunted, Murray forged a singular career in the law. In the 1950s, her legal scholarship helped Thurgood Marshall challenge segregation head-on in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case.

When appointed by Eleanor Roosevelt to the President's Commission on the Status of Women in 1962, she advanced the idea of Jane Crow, arguing that the same reasons used to condemn race discrimination could be used to battle gender discrimination. In 1965, she became the first African American to earn a JSD from Yale Law School and the following year persuaded Betty Friedan to found an NAACP for women, which became NOW. In the early 1970s, Murray provided Ruth Bader Ginsburg with the argument Ginsburg used to persuade the Supreme Court that the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution protects not only blacks but also women - and potentially other minority groups - from discrimination. By that time, Murray was a tenured history professor at Brandeis, a position she left to become the first black woman ordained a priest by the Episcopal Church in 1976.

Murray accomplished all this while struggling with issues of identity. She believed from childhood she was male and tried unsuccessfully to persuade doctors to give her testosterone. While she would today be identified as transgender, during her lifetime no social movement existed to support this identity. She ultimately used her private feelings of being "in-between" to publicly contend that identities are not fixed, an idea that has powered campaigns for equal rights in the United States for the past half-century.

About the Author

Rosalind Rosenberg is Professor of History Emerita at Barnard College, Columbia University. She is the author of Divided Lives: American Women in the Twentieth Century, Changing the Subject: How the Women of Columbia Shaped the Way We Think About Sex and Politics, and Beyond Separate Spheres:
Intellectual Roots of Modern Feminism.

Rosenberg brilliantly situates Murray at the forefront of post-WW II civil and women's rights movements....This major contribution to African American history and queer studies sheds light on Murray's lifelong struggles with gender identity. The feminist scholar and Episcopal priest identified as a
man, established relationships with women, donned men's clothes, and during the 1930s unsuccessfully underwent hormone therapy in order to transition from female to male. A stellar and fascinating monograph that celebrates Murray's lesser-known accomplishments. Essential.--CHOICE

Rosenberg offers a compelling look at a complicated woman.--Booklist (starred review)

A cradle-to-grave account about one of the most interesting, accomplished, and controversial figures in 20th-century America who is far too little known....Assiduous research and clear prose give [Pauli] Murray her due.--Kirkus

Placing Murray in historical context with practiced ease, Rosenberg weaves these many threads together into an authoritative narrative that will introduce Murray to many future generations.--Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

Rosenberg tells Murray's story as she lived it but also casts a well-informed, modern eye on the intersections and omissions within that life. Her striking interpretive work clearly shows what Murray herself suspected: that everything Murray did was 'part of history...an instrument for achieving
things.'--Foreword Reviews

A fascinating look at the incredible life of Pauli Murray, a mixed-race, transgender scholar, lawyer, activist, priest, and trailblazer who played a pivotal role in the civil rights and women's movements of the 20th century.--The Advocate

A splendid definitive biography....This thorough investigation into Murray's life is fascinating, as the author traces the intersection among gender, race, and politics.--Library Journal, Starred Review

Historical figures aren't human flotsam, swirling into public awareness at random intervals. Instead, they are almost always borne back to us on the current of our own times. In Murray's case, it's not simply that her public struggles on behalf of women, minorities, and the working class suddenly
seem more relevant than ever. It's that her private struggles--documented for the first time in all their fullness by Rosenberg--have recently become our public ones.--New Yorker

A compelling read from start to finish....Like all the best biographies, this is more than just the story of a single figure. It is the story of America, told through the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality that have come to define it....Rosenberg's Jane Crow makes not only an important
contribution to the fields of Black, feminist, and trans history, but also offers us the timely reminder that, as Murray herself once wrote, 'one person and a typewriter make a movement.'--Lambda Literary

A fresh perspective on this crucial slice of history.--Gay & Lesbian Review

Rosenberg's research is thorough, and her lively style keeps readers engaged....[A]n edifying and enjoyable read.--Christian Century

Beautifully crafted...[Jane Crow] underscore[s] the pleasures of biography as history.--Eileen Boris, The American Historical Review

Rosenberg has done the world an immense favor by presenting, in all its triumph and pathos, the life (or perhaps 'lives' is more accurate) of this brilliant and defiant African-American.--National Catholic Review

Meticulously researched, expansive in its coverage of Murray's many achievements, engagingly written overall, Rosenberg has given us the means to a greater appreciation of this most remarkable American, and provides a foundation for even further conversation about her significance and
legacy.--North Carolina Literary Review

Rosenberg has delivered an insightful, sensitive, and long-overdue biography that gives Murray her rightful place among the twentieth century's most important civil rights activitists.--Jeffrey J. Crow, North Carolina Historical Review

Rosalind Rosenberg's Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray is a highly readable account of Murray's intense and life-long battle to confront social issues bound up in the entangled threads of race, sexuality, gender, and class... Her narrative has an immediacy that seamlessly connects Murray's
personal and public lives.--Southern Register

Jane Crow does justice to the powerful mind and personal pain of Pauli Murray and to the momentous events she had a hand in bringing to pass. This is a book that asks us to meet it with an energy and compassion that does honor to its subject and will change the way we understand our world. --
Nancy Kreml, Resources for Gender and Women's Studies: A Feminist Review

Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
Pub date:
514 pages
Format: Paperback