Pauli Murray was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1910. She grew up in Durham, North Carolina and went on to attend college at Hunter College in New York.
In 1944, when Murray was the only woman enrolled at Howard University Law School she asked her professors, “Why not challenge the ‘separate’ in ‘separate but equal’?” Murray was referring to the legal doctrine from Plessy v. Ferguson that ruled segregation was unconstitutional.
This idea became the basis of her 1950 book, States’ Laws on Race and Color, which NAACP attorney and Chief Justice Thurgood Marshall called the “bible” of the monumental case Brown v. Board of Education.
In 1965, Murray and Mary O. Eastwood co-authored the essay “Jane Crow and the Law,” which argued that the Equal Protection Clause in the 14th Amendment should be applied to sex discrimination as well. In 1971, a young lawyer named Ruth Bader Ginsburg successfully argued this point in Reed v. Reed in front of the Supreme Court. Murray was named as a co-author on the brief.
Murray died in 1985, and in the decades since, public awareness of her many contributions has only continued to grow. Murray was sainted by the Episcopal Church in 2012. Her childhood home in Durham now houses the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice.
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