This weekend I eagerly watched the new documentary film, My Name is Pauli Murray, available on Amazon Prime. Murray was a poet, civil rights lawyer and advocate, and Episcopal Priest, and I encourage everyone in our diocese to watch this excellent film (The trailer is available here.)
Murray’s story is one that should be familiar to all Americans—but it isn’t. I had heard her name a few times in seminary, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I read two of her memoirs (Proud Shoes and Song in a Weary Throat) and learned what an amazing life she led and how she was both ahead of her time and, by being so, laying the groundwork for generations after her. As she said, “I’ve lived to see my lost causes found.”
In the 1940s, Murray came up with the arguments that would subsequently be used to end legal segregation in Brown v. Board of Education. She argued for women’s rights before Ruth Bader Ginsberg successfully challenged discrimination on the basis of sex; and struggled with gender identity and sexuality in ways that made me wonder who she would have been able to be if she was alive today (and indeed, if “she” is the pronoun she would have used had there been such options for her).
Murray’s intellectual curiosity, faith, courage, and witness are inspiring, and I am so glad that they are being restored to a rightful and honored place in the narrative of our nation and our church.
I will close today with a section of Murray’s poem, “Dark Testament”:
Hope is a crushed stalk
Between clenched fingers.
Hope is a bird’s wing
Broken by a stone.
Hope is a word in a tuneless ditty—
A word whispered with the wind,
A dream of forty acres and a mule,
A cabin of one’s own and a moment to rest,
A name and place for one’s children
And children’s children at last.
Hope is a song in a weary throat.
Give me a song of hope
And a world where I can sing it.
Give me a song of faith
And a people to believe in it.
Give me a song of kindliness
And a country where I can live it.
Give me a song of hope and love
And a brown girl’s heart to hear it.