Pauli Murray

A Personal and Political Life

By Troy R. Saxby

376 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 21 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-5492-8
    Published: May 2020
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-5493-5
    Published: March 2020
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5420-9
    Published: March 2020

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Awards & distinctions

Finalist, 2020 Hooks National Book Award, Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change at the University of Memphis

The Rev. Dr. Anna Pauline "Pauli" Murray (1910–1985) was a trailblazing social activist, writer, lawyer, civil rights organizer, and campaigner for gender rights. In the 1930s and 1940s, she was active in radical left-wing political groups and helped innovate nonviolent protest strategies against segregation that would become iconic in later decades, and in the 1960s, she cofounded the National Organization for Women (NOW). In addition, Murray became the first African American to receive a Yale law doctorate and the first black woman to be ordained an Episcopal priest. Yet, behind her great public successes, Murray battled many personal demons, including bouts of poor physical and mental health, conflicts over her gender and sexual identities, family traumas, and financial difficulties.

In this intimate biography, Troy Saxby provides the most comprehensive account of Murray’s inner life to date, revealing her struggles in poignant detail and deepening our understanding and admiration of her numerous achievements in the face of pronounced racism, homophobia, transphobia, and political persecution. Saxby interweaves the personal and the political, showing how the two are always entwined, to tell the life story of one of twentieth-century America’s most fascinating and inspirational figures.

About the Author

Troy R. Saxby is an academic and research officer at the University of Newcastle.
For more information about Troy R. Saxby, visit the Author Page.


"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." —Library Journal

“There’s so much to glean from this book, so many milestones Saxby says Murray set, that you almost can’t stop reading despite watching the discomfort, obvious pain, and inner struggle she endured. Through letters and articles she wrote, readers get to know Murray as she perceived herself. Those personal peeks are engrossing, especially given the legacy she left. . . . Any reader who wants to know more about social justice pioneers should get a bead on it.” —The Washington Informer

"Ground-breaker, activist, strategist, and saint, Pauli Murray has been celebrated for the many ways in which she shaped the women’s movement and the long civil rights movement. Her fiery activism was fueled by the founding traumas of both the black experience, broadly, and her own family history. Bringing together her emotional complexity and her brilliant drive to make better things possible, this book is an elegantly crafted account of Murray and the complex, wrenching world on which she made her mark." —Adriane Lentz-Smith, author of Freedom Struggles: African Americans and World War I

"Until recently, there has been very little written about Pauli Murray, and Saxby has made excellent use of her voluminous papers to dive into her life story. He shows how Murray worked to fashion a coherent sense of self, providing important insights into how her private life related to her public endeavors." —Susan Hartmann, author of The Other Feminists: Activists In The Liberal Establishment

“In recent years, we’ve been able to learn much more about the incredible life and work of Pauli Murray. She gave all that she could to make the United States confront its failure to live up to its own creed of liberty and justice for all. Now, Troy Saxby’s new biography of Murray helps us to understand both the personal cost and the existential sources of her courage. If suffering and struggle are the fates that make us more human, Murray’s courage and faith in the face of pain and despair teach us the gritty truth of how one woman became not only a hero for humanity but a modern saint.”—Edward E. Baptist, author of The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism