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Blessed Pauli Murray


Born Anna Pauline Murray on November 20, 1910, in Baltimore, Maryland, Pauli Murray lost her parents at a young age and was raised by relatives in Durham, North Carolina. A nearly lifelong activist for racial and gender equality, Pauli Murray became the first African American woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1977. While pursuing higher education, Pauli Murray encountered racism and sexism—unfortunately, common types of discrimination of the 1930s. After graduating from Hunter College With these experiences of prejudice, and with her own faith in God, Murray became active in civil rights and women’s rights movements and spurred her participation in many sit-ins and other forms of protests. After receiving law degrees from Howard University and the University of California, Pauli Murray worked as a deputy attorney general of California during the 1940s. She spent time in private practice before pursuing a doctorate in law at Yale University.


When she finished her doctorate in 1965, Murray became the first African American to be awarded a J.D.S. degree from the university. In 1966, Murray became a founding member of a group that addressed issues of gender equality and women’s rights: the National Organization for Women. In addition to her work as a social activist, Pauli Murray taught at numerous colleges and universities, including the University of Ghana, and served as president of Benedict College in the 1960s. During the 1970s, she was called to ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church and entered the priesthood. Murray earned a Master of Divinity degree from Yale in 1976, and she made history the next year when she was officially ordained in Washington National Cathedral. She served in churches in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Pittsburgh until her retirement in 1984.

A talented writer and editor of non-fiction and poetry, Pauli Murray had several books published. Showing great versatility in her early works, she tackled complex issues as the editor of 1951’s State’s Laws on Race and Color and shared her own story in 1956’s Proud Shoes. Later in her career, she explored such diverse topics as the Constitution and Government of Ghana (1961) and Human Rights U.S.A. (1967). She also had poetry published, including 1970’s Dark Testament and Other Poems.

The Blessed Pauli Murray Icon

On February 24, 2019, St. Thomas commemorated the life and ministry of Blessed Pauli Murray with an icon.   St. Thomas honored the daughter of St. Simon's Mission and St. Thomas Parish, the first African-American woman ordained in the Episcopal Church, and a leader in the civil rights movement of the 20th century. Pauli was added to the liturgical calendar by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 2018.  The icon of Pauli was consecrated at the liturgy, and was placed permanently in St. Thomas Church. 

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