Pauli Murray: A Personal and Political Life

Univ. of North Carolina. May 2020. 372p. ISBN 9781469654928. $34.95. BIOG
In this detailed biography, Saxby looks at the “person behind the accomplishments,” to piece together Pauli Murray’s (1910–85) professional and private struggles and how these influenced Murray’s personal philosophy and sociopolitical concerns. Murray was a writer, lawyer, activist, and Episcopal priest, along with being an early pioneer of the civil rights and women’s movements; she is also an underrated and often forgotten political figure. Diving into Murray’s history, background, and mental and physical health, Saxby connects the pieces of Murray’s life, examining Murray’s experience of the South, history of activism, complex family dynamics, and anxieties regarding mental health and sexuality. Murray’s life is marked by a career of starts and stops, the result of extreme poverty, barriers to access, and a complicated relationship with the South, family, queerness, and the constant threat of physical and mental burnout. This detailed biography on an underrated social and political activist results in an ambitious undertaking by Saxby, whose emphasis on Murray’s private life tells a history of trials based on personal experiences and records.
VERDICT Recommended for readers with an academic interest in African American history, women’s history, and early 20th-century queer experience.

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