Watching: “My Name is Pauli Murray” (2021)

Seemingly from out of nowhere, the documentary My Name is Pauli Murray was suddenly everywhere.  I had seen the film among Amazon Prime’s myriad choices, but since I’d never heard of Murray, I would scroll past. But the ads and articles and reviews kept coming, and the media giant’s heavy-rotation tactics wore me down. Seeing it come up again and again, I decided to watch— and I’m glad I did. 

Pauli Murray was clearly an extraordinary person, brilliant and determined. Born in 1910, Murray was orphaned at a young age and rode freight trains during the Depression, then later attended Harvard Law School, corresponded with Eleanor Roosevelt, taught at Brandeis, and became an Episcopal minister. This activist, writer, lawyer, and priest sought the freedom and justice proclaimed in America’s ideals, while struggling to live through mid-twentieth century as a nonbinary person of color. 

My Name is Pauli Murray reminds us to look beyond the often-discussed to lesser-known people whose contributions to our collective understanding of diversity and freedom are underestimated, underappreciated, or both. This film made me think of Bayard Rustin, and to a lesser extent of Allen Ginsberg, whose mid-century efforts for equality, fairness, and social justice are often overshadowed by the celebrated victories of movements that came later. While some brave independent activists have taken their proper places in the overall narrative, others, like Pauli Murray, seem to have remained on the periphery. Hopefully, this documentary will help to establish the recognition that Murray deserves.  


 

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