Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray

Rosalind Rosenberg. Oxford Univ., $29.95 (512p) ISBN 978-01-9065-645-4
Historian Rosenberg (Divided Lives) thoughtfully crafts this deeply researched biographical study of civil rights activist Pauli Murray (1910–1985), whose life and work crossed multiple categories of 20th-century identity and politics. Born into a mixed-race, socially aspirational family in the Jim Crow South, Murray was orphaned young and raised within her extended family. During her adult life, Murray worked variously as a labor organizer, unpaid activist, and journalist for the black press. She went on to become a lawyer, teach in Ghana, earn a J.S.D. from Yale, win tenure at Brandeis, and eventually leave professorship to become an Episcopal priest. Rosenberg shows how Murray pursued an intersectional activism, repeatedly identifying the ways in which race, class, and gender worked together to constrain opportunity. The biography also deftly explores Murray’s relationships and private struggles with identity. From childhood, Murray understood herself to be male, repeatedly seeking (unsuccessfully) medical treatment for gender dysphoria; she was also attracted to, and formed lasting relationships with, women during an era when both same-sex attraction and transgender identity were suspect categories. 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. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 01/16/2017
Release date: 04/19/2017
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