Song in a Weary Throat: Memoir of an American Pilgrimage (Paperback)
The most intellectually invigorating and historically relevant book I read this year was this splendid memoir by Pauli Murray (1910-1985). Denied admission to UNC for race and Harvard for sex, Murray was an unsung architect of American civil rights, a legal scholar, Episcopalian priest, queer icon, friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, founder of NOW, went to jail for keeping her bus seat 15 years before Rosa Parks, integrated lunch counters 17 years before Greensboro, and her brilliant arguments about the 14th Amendment laid the legal foundation for victory in Brown v. Board and the career of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. – Ruth— From Nonfiction
THE STORY BEHIND THE DOCUMENTARY MY NAME IS PAULI MURRAY
A prophetic memoir by the activist who “articulated the intellectual foundations” (The New Yorker) of the civil rights and women’s rights movements.
First published posthumously in 1987, Pauli Murray’s Song in a Weary Throat was critically lauded, winning the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award and the Lillian Smith Book Award among other distinctions. Yet Murray’s name and extraordinary influence receded from view in the intervening years; now they are once again entering the public discourse. At last, with the republication of this “beautifully crafted” memoir, Song in a Weary Throat takes its rightful place among the great civil rights autobiographies of the twentieth century.
In a voice that is energetic, wry, and direct, Murray tells of a childhood dramatically altered by the sudden loss of her spirited, hard-working parents. Orphaned at age four, she was sent from Baltimore to segregated Durham, North Carolina, to live with her unflappable Aunt Pauline, who, while strict, was liberal-minded in accepting the tomboy Pauli as “my little boy-girl.” In fact, throughout her life, Murray would struggle with feelings of sexual “in-betweenness”—she tried unsuccessfully to get her doctors to give her testosterone—that today we would recognize as a transgendered identity.
We then follow Murray north at the age of seventeen to New York City’s Hunter College, to her embrace of Gandhi’s Satyagraha—nonviolent resistance—and south again, where she experienced Jim Crow firsthand. An early Freedom Rider, she was arrested in 1940, fifteen years before Rosa Parks’ disobedience, for sitting in the whites-only section of a Virginia bus. Murray’s activism led to relationships with Thurgood Marshall and Eleanor Roosevelt—who respectfully referred to Murray as a “firebrand”—and propelled her to a Howard University law degree and a lifelong fight against "Jane Crow" sexism. We also read Betty Friedan’s enthusiastic response to Murray’s call for an NAACP for Women—the origins of NOW. Murray sets these thrilling high-water marks against the backdrop of uncertain finances, chronic fatigue, and tragic losses both private and public, as Patricia Bell-Scott’s engaging introduction brings to life.
Now, more than thirty years after her death in 1985, Murray—poet, memoirist, lawyer, activist, and Episcopal priest—gains long-deserved recognition through a rediscovered memoir that serves as a “powerful witness” (Brittney Cooper) to a pivotal era in the American twentieth century.
Patricia Bell-Scott, professor emerita at the University of Georgia, wrote the award-winning The Firebrand and the First Lady, an account of Murray’s relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt. She is co-editor of the best-selling Doublestitch: Black Women Write About Mothers and Daughters, which earned the Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Prize, and is also co-founding editor of Sage: A Scholarly Journal of Black Women.
— Drew Gilpin Faust, New York Review of Books
Americans are finally waking up to realize just how visionary Pauli Murray really is. This long-awaited republication of Song in a Weary Throat bears witness to her crowning achievements.
— Henry Louis Gates, Jr., host of PBS’s Finding Your Roots and co-editor of The Annotated African American Folktales
The architect of the legal
argument against segregation and a pioneer in the fight against gender
discrimination, Murray proved as fearless as she was brilliant. The
intensity and urgency of her resolve light up every page of this gripping
memoir, a chronicle of the life of an eminent American who made great changes
come a great deal faster.
— Jill Lepore, author of The Secret History of Wonder Woman and Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin
Pauli Murray’s lyrical
autobiography eloquently chronicles the decades-long African American freedom
struggle. A one-woman civil rights movement…. Reading her autobiography
will restore your faith in the audacity of hope.
— Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, author of Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919-1950
Murray’s role in history is important for a number of reasons, especially because their gender and sexuality placed them at a complex set of intersections situated outside the normative standards of both the white women–led rights movement and the black church–led freedom struggle.... Murray’s gender-nonconforming (GNC) body and experiences makes their contributions to the work of freedom and liberation of black people that much more critical. Sadly, these experiences are also the likely cause of Murray’s erasure from so much of history.
— Jenn M. Jackson, Teen Vogue
“This book is a gift, a
testimony and powerful witness, of one of the 20th century’s greatest freedom
fighters. Pauli Murray was a woman before her time, one whose vision of a world
not divided by polarizing ideas of race or gender, is a vision we are all still
striving to create. The profound sense of hope and indomitable fighting spirit
that inspired Murray to challenge injustice wherever she encountered it is the
very hope that our weary throats and hearts and minds need in this moment.”
— Brittney Cooper, author of Eloquent Rage and Beyond Respectability, and cofounder of Crunk Feminist Collective
The intensity and urgency of Murray’s resolve light up every page of this gripping memoir.
— Jill Lepore, author of These Truths: A History of the United States