Meet a historical pioneer you may never have heard of

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“How can a person be so crucial and yet their name is a name we never learn? “Is a question asked at the top of” My Name Is Pauli Murray.As the documentary progresses, this question becomes even more bewildering.

From today’s perspective, it is truly inconceivable that a person like Pauli Murray, who has contributed so much to our modern concepts of civil rights and gender equality, could remain such a hidden figure in history. . But like many of these pioneers, it wasn’t so much that Murray was unknown, as much she and her contributions went unrecognized.

While exploring the life and work of Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “RBG” directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen were intrigued by the brilliant lawyer, whom they did not know, whose work helped illuminate and clarify that of Ginsburg. After completing “RBG” they turned their efforts and attention to this other pioneer and found a woman ahead of her time in almost everything she did.

As if she confidently anticipated that enough time would pass for the others to catch up, Murray left behind a mountain of archival material to shape her narrative and a plethora of tapes with which to tell her own story, without talk about more than many documents to be clarified wherever it is. stood on almost all issues related to race and gender. Most astonishing and even more unexpected is the video footage of her, but the surprises don’t end there: Murray, ultimately, was also an LGBTQ pioneer.

If Murray had lived today, she certainly wouldn’t have identify as a woman. Photos of her as a male presentation found in her archives attest to this. There is even some evidence that at one point she explored sex reassignment surgery. Thus, it is more than reasonable to assume, as some in the documentary do, that, if she lived today, she would identify as non-binary, adopting the pronouns “they” and “their”. Restrained by time, however, Murray was discreet in recognizing his lovers. In fact, she hasn’t written much about her personal sexuality and gender issues at all. In other areas stinking of discrimination and injustice, however, she roars.

Julia Betsy West Julie Cohen TIFF 2021

Although born in Baltimore in 1910, she moved to Durham, North Carolina to live with her maternal grandparents and aunt following the unexpected death of her mother and the institutionalization of her father while she was only three years old. Under the watchful eye of her aunt Pauline, a teacher, she flourished personally and intellectually. His courage seemed limitless. In 1939, she made national headlines protesting her rejection on the basis of race by the University of North Carolina.

As a student at Howard Law School (and eventual valedictorian), Murray came face to face with sexism, coining the term “Jane Crow” to describe the unique battles she fought as black woman. These experiences greatly influenced her work as a civil rights lawyer and legal scholar, prompting Thurgood Marshall and Ginsburg to consult and build on her strategies to achieve their monumental victories in racial and gender discrimination.

Julie 2021

A portrait of a trailblazer across so many specters – including the co-founder of the National Organization of Women, a professor struggling for tenure, a published poet and the first black woman to become an Episcopal priest – “My name is Pauli Murray “ more than his case rests on the brilliance and important contributions of Murray. However, those who are historically more grounded in the experience of black Americans are sure to notice the doc’s lack of foundation in civil rights history. As a result, it features Murray’s actions, such as challenging Jim Crow’s segregation by refusing to sit in the back of the bus for more than a decade before Rosa Parks became iconic for similar actions, such as a anomaly when there is a history of such challenges in many black Americans, including Ida B. Wells.

The same goes for sit-ins Murray participated in in Washington, DC Sometimes, “My Name Is Pauli Murray” seems to mistakenly assume that because Murray wasn’t the only person doing something, especially when it comes to race, it somehow makes her less amazing. The truth is that its greatest value is not to be the first, but to succeed in winning centuries-old battles.

Quarrels aside, however, most viewers will be absolutely in awe of the incredible Pauli Murray, asking themselves the same question presented at the start of the documentary: “How can a person be so crucial and yet his name is a name we never learn? “

“My Name Is Pauli Murray” hits theaters in the US on September 27 and on Prime Video on October 1.


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