On July 1, we honor the memory of Pauli Murray, an early and committed civil rights activist and the first African American woman priest ordained in The Episcopal Church.
Liberating God, we thank you most heartily for the steadfast courage of your servant Pauli Murray, who fought long and well: Unshackle us from bonds of prejudice and fear, so that we show forth your reconciling love and true freedom, which you revealed through your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Born in Baltimore in 1910, Murray was raised in Durham, North Carolina, and graduated from Hunter College in 1933. After seeking admission to graduate school at the University of North Carolina in 1938, she was denied entry due to her race. She went on to graduate from Howard University Law School in 1944. While a student at Howard, she participated in sit-in demonstrations that challenged racial segregation in drugstores and cafeterias in Washington, DC.
Denied admission to Harvard University for an advanced law degree because of her gender, Murray received her Master of Laws degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1945.
In 1948 the Women’s Division of Christian Service of the Methodist Church hired Murray to compile information about segregation laws in the South. Her research led to a 1951 book, States’ Laws on Race and Color, that became a foundational document for Thurgood Marshall in his work on the decisive Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in 1954.
Committed to dismantling barriers of race, Murray saw the civil rights and women’s movements as intertwined and believed that black women had a vested interest in the women’s movement.
Perceiving a call to ordained ministry, Murray began her studies at General Theological Seminary in 1973. She was ordained deacon in June 1976, and, on January 8, 1977, she was ordained priest at Washington National Cathedral. She served at Church of the Atonement in Washington, D.C., from 1979 to 1981 and at Holy Nativity Church in Baltimore until her death in 1985.
Murray’s books include the family memoir Proud Shoes: Story of an American Family (1956) and the personal memoir Song in a Weary Throat: An American Pilgrimage (1987).
(Hagiography taken from A Great Cloud of Witnesses, Church Publishing, Inc.)