Rediscovering Pauli Murray

A Schlesinger Library Event
Pauli Murray, ca. 1925-1935. Courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryPauli Murray, ca. 1925-1935. Courtesy of Schlesinger Library

Anna Pauline Murray (1910–1985), better known as Pauli, was a pioneering civil and human rights activist, feminist and legal theorist, preacher and poet. The Schlesinger Library holds the Pauli Murray Collection, a vast resource comprised of audiotapes, correspondence, legal briefs, photographs, sermons, speeches, and more.

This panel discussion will focus on Pauli Murray’s groundbreaking work, her tumultuous times, and today’s Murray moment, which includes Yale naming a new residential college in her honor and the publication of landmark books by panelists Patricia Bell-Scott and Rosalind Rosenberg, both of whom used the Library’s materials.

The speakers—scholars of history, women’s and gender studies, law, and Africana studies—have each written about different facets of Murray’s prismatic, always interesting, and sometimes contradictory legacy.

Free and open to the public.


Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Victor S. Thomas Professor of History and of African and African American Studies, Harvard University


Patricia Bell-Scott, Professor Emerita of Women’s Studies and Human Development, University of Georgia

Brittney Cooper, Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, Rutgers University

Rosalind Rosenberg, Professor Emerita of History, Barnard College

Kenneth W. Mack, Lawrence D. Biele Professor of Law and the 2016–2017 Frances B. Cashin Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute, will offer a brief response to the presentations.



Patricia Bell-Scott, professor emerita of women’s studies and human development and family science at the University of Georgia, is author of The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice, which was nominated for the National Book Award and the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction. Bell-Scott was co-founding editor of SAGE: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women, a cofounder of the National Women’s Studies Association, and a contributing editor to Ms. Magazine. She holds a doctorate in family studies and African American history from the University of Tennessee and has held post-doctoral fellowships at the John F. Kennedy School of Government and the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University, as well as the Jane and Harry Willson Center for the Humanities and the Arts at the University of Georgia.


Brittney Cooper is an assistant professor of women’s and gender studies and Africana studies at Rutgers University where she teaches courses on Black feminist theory, Black intellectual thought, hip hop, gender and media. Her work and words have appeared at MSNBC, BET, NPR, PBS, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, TV Guide, New York Magazine, Salon.com, The Root.com, and Al Jazeera America, among many others. She is a regular contributor at Cosmpolitan.com and co-founder of the Crunk Feminist Collective and blog. Cooper is author of two forthcoming books, Beyond Respectability: The Intellectual Thought of Race Women (University of Illinois Press 2017) and ELOQUENT RAGE (St. Martin’s Press 2017) and co-editor of the recently released, The Crunk Feminist Collection (The Feminist Press 2017).


Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham is the Victor S. Thomas Professor of History and of African and African American studies at Harvard University. In January 2016, she became the National President of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Higginbotham thoroughly revised and rewrote the classic African American history survey From Slavery to Freedom, which was first published by John Hope Franklin in 1947. She is the co-author with the late John Hope Franklin of this book’s ninth edition, which came out in 2010. A pioneering scholar in African American women’s history, she is the author of the prizewinning book Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church 1880–1920. She is also co-editor with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. of the African American National Biography, now in its second edition (2013). This twelve-volume resource presents African American history through the lives of more than 5,000 biographical entries. Higginbotham is the recipient of numerous awards and honors. Most notably this past September she received the National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama at the White House for “illuminating the African American journey.”


Rosalind Rosenberg, professor of history emerita at Barnard College, earned her BA and PhD from Stanford University and taught at Columbia University and Wesleyan University before coming to Barnard, where she taught American women’s, gender, and legal history until her retirement in 2011. She is the author of Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray (Oxford University Press, 2017), the biography of a Euro-African-American activist, born in 1910, who believed from childhood she was more male than female. Driven by her sense of inbetweenness before there was a social movement to support a transgender identity, Murray devised an attack on all arbitrary distinctions, greatly expanding the idea of equality in the process. Rosenberg’s published writings also include Beyond Separate Spheres: Intellectual Roots of Modern Feminism (1982), Changing the Subject: How the Women of Columbia Shaped the Way We Think about Sex and Politics (2004), and Divided Lives: American Women in the Twentieth Century (1992, revised edition 2008).


Kenneth W. Mack is the inaugural Lawrence D. Biele Professor of Law and affiliate professor of history at Harvard University. He is currently a Radcliffe Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and the co-editor of The New Black: What Has Changed—And What Has Not—With Race in America (New Press, 2013). His work has been published in the Harvard Law Review, Yale Law Journal, Journal of American History, Law and History Review, and other scholarly journals. He began his professional career as an electrical engineer at Bell Laboratories before turning to law, and history. Before joining the faculty at Harvard Law School, he clerked for the Honorable Robert L. Carter, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, and practiced law in the Washington, DC, office of the firm Covington & Burling. More information available at http://kennethwmack.com.


Pauli Murray at Bridgeport, Connecticut, 1931. Courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryPauli Murray at Bridgeport, Connecticut, 1931. Courtesy of Schlesinger Library