LGBTQ+ people have contributed more to the rule of law than is generally known. One reason for this may be that credit is not always given where it is due. Another reason may be that someone’s understanding of their LGBTQ+ identity/ies is evolving, is not public, or was not understood in terms widely used today. An example is Pauli Murray.
Foundational to the civil rights movement
“In 1940, Pauli Murray and Adelene Mac McBean were the first African Americans to use nonviolent direct action to challenge Jim Crow segregation.”
Challenging Dissemblance in Pauli Murray Historiography, Sketching a History of the Trans New Negro. Elin Fisher, Simon D. The Journal of African American History, 2019-03-01, Vol.104 (2), p.176-200.
In 1944, when Murray was a law student, civil rights litigators had for years brought case after case, challenging “states to live up to the ‘separate but equal’ standard set forth in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) by making separate public facilities truly equal. Nowhere had they succeeded. Nor could they, Murray believed, until they attacked segregation head on and declared that separate facilities were inherently unequal.”
The Conjunction of Race and Gender. Rosenberg, Rosalind. Journal of Women’s History, 2002, Vol.14 (2), p.68-73.
“U.S. Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall later acknowledged [Pauli Murray’s first book, States’ Laws on Race and Color] as his ‘bible’ in the historic Brown v. Board of Education case of 1954.”
Murray, Pauli. A to Z of Women: American Women Leaders and Activists, 2016.
Rosalind Rosenberg describes a portion of Pauli Murray’s identity exploration in this way:
Pauli repaired to the New York Public Library, where she spent her days in the American History Room, a quiet antechamber to the much larger central Reading Room. The library, with its vast holdings, well-organized card catalogue, and helpful reference librarians, was an ideal place to expand her knowledge. … She wanted to know more about her ‘boy-girl’ self.Challenging Dissemblance in Pauli Murray Historiography, Sketching a History of the Trans New Negro. Elin Fisher, Simon D. The Journal of African American History, 2019-03-01, Vol.104 (2), p.176-200, quoting Rosenberg, Rosalind. Jane Crow : The Life of Pauli Murray, 2017.
There is an ongoing discussion about what pronouns to use for Pauli Murray. UofSC scholar Naomi Simmons-Thorne is another important voice in that conversation, cited by the Pauli Murray Center.
The paragraphs above barely scratch the surface of Pauli Murray’s phenomenal contributions and fascinating life story.
Anyone interested in learning more is encouraged to start their research with a Law Library Catalog search, and to ask the reference librarians for help finding more information.