Review of Pauli Murray: The Life of a Pioneering Feminist and Civil Rights Activist

Pauli Murray: The Life of a Pioneering Feminist and Civil Rights Activist
by Rosita Stevens-Holsey and Terry Catasús Jennings
High School    Yellow Jacket    288 pp.    g
2/22    978-1-4998-1251-0    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-4998-1252-7    $9.99

The remarkable life of Black activist, attorney, and Episcopal priest Pauli Murray (1910–1985) is presented in an engaging, extensively documented nonfiction account in verse. Drawing heavily on Murray’s autobiography, poems, and other writings, the book spans her entire life and identifies her influences as she became determined, from a young age in Jim Crow North Carolina, to learn and help others appreciate the true history of her people. She endured great hardships in order to graduate from Hunter College, but her efforts to get ahead were thwarted by the Great Depression. She began a lifelong passion for writing to newspapers and public figures about social issues, which she called “confrontation by typewriter,” and was very successful at making those messages heard by people in power, including President Roosevelt. Later, at Howard University Law School, Murray was a strong proponent of overturning Plessy v. Ferguson because “separate could never be equal.” In the later chapters, the authors acknowledge the limitations of language employed at the time, speculating that today “transgender / is possibly / what Pauli would call herself…Pauli’s pronouns may have been / they/them/their.” This is a compelling biography of an “unsung force” — an inspiring and transformative figure who broke barriers pivotal to both the civil rights and women’s movements. Appended with photographs, authors’ notes, a timeline, source notes, and a bibliography.

From the March/April 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Luann Toth
Luann Toth

Luann Toth is a former reviews editor at School Library Journal. She holds an MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh.

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