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Who Was Pauli Murray?

On a recent episode of Amicus, Dahlia Lithwick discussed the legacy of Pauli Murray—a Black, non-binary, queer, feminist, civil rights pioneer who was also a poet, a teacher, a lawyer and legal activist, and ultimately an Episcopal priest—with Betsy West and Julie Cohen, directors of the new documentary film My Name Is Pauli Murray, and Patricia Bell-Scott, author of The Firebrand and the First Lady, a book about Murray’s friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt. Their conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Dahlia Lithwick: Julie and Betsy, your last movie was RBG. What is the pivot from making a movie about RBG to making a movie about Pauli Murray like, because it is striking that one is an icon larger than life, known to all—there’s a coffee mug in every cabinet—and then Pauli Murray, who but for dints of race, dints of not having a Marty to push them forward is almost completely unknown to history.

Julie Cohen: It wasn’t exactly a pivot to go from RBG to Pauli Murray. It was a very straight line, because it was RBG herself who put Pauli’s name on a 1971 Supreme Court brief: the first one that RBG wrote, Reed v. Reed. Pauli Murray did not specifically work on that case, however, previously in both a law journal paper and in a case that Pauli argued in federal court, Pauli had made the argument that the 14th Amendment, the equal protection clause, could be used to secure gender equality just as it had been used to secure racial equality. This essentially was RBG’s argument in Reed v. Reed, the series of cases that we talk about in our film RBG. RBG took the unusual position that she was going to give credit where it’s due. FOR MORE

Photo from the New York Amsterdam News

poetry, racism, WOMENS LIVES

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