By Sophie Suberman
In honor of Women’s History Month, we’ll be posting one story each day of March written by local citizen journalists about a revolutionary woman from history or today who has inspired them as women.
For a civil rights activist, lawyer, groundbreaking Episcopalian priest, poet and author, likely transgender, lesbian woman of multiracial descent, Pauli Murray’s legacy remains largely unknown. And yet, she may be the perfect embodiment of our current America – certainly of our current Seattle.
Murray descended from a trustee of a state university that ultimately denied her admission because of her heritage: a mixture of African peoples, both free and enslaved; Native peoples; Irish descendants; and slave-holding people – of whom the university trustee was one. In 1941, Murray attended Howard University law school where she helped form the multiracial Congress of Racial Equity, a central institution of the civil rights movement. In 1960, President Kennedy appointed her to his Committee on Civil and Political Rights. And this is just a piece of one of her four careers.
Pauli Murray’s legacy of nonviolent civil disobedience, loving in all types of nontraditional ways (she considered her sexuality to be inverted and considered herself to be the masculine lover in relationships), and living into her beauty and wisdom with power (she wrote poetry, law, editorials, sermons, a family history, and was cited as co-author for a US Supreme Court brief) mirrors the vibrant “do you” lifestyle that I see promoted and lived in Seattle. Her strength to be herself proudly and hold space for others to do the same, all while honoring the shoulders on which she stood, are ways of being that I see reflected here in the South End and beyond.
Pauli Murray stood for equity, authenticity and reconciliation (love) throughout her life and many-stranded career path. Her principles and wisdom are so aligned with the struggles and ideals Seattle faces and stands for – from handling gentrification with a mind toward community to facing homelessness with courage as the cost of living skyrockets.
I grew up one town south of Murray, never knowing her name or hearing her listed among the Greats to pass through our area. To see a list of her achievements, you’d think Murray would be someone we’ve all heard of – just check out her Wikipedia page. Murray is a model for all of us who strive to embody our ideals over and over and over again.
Speaking her name feels like a call to connect to past, present and future in a way that creates meaning, healing and growth. Her legacy is so alive today in every face and body through her experience as a person of color, or as a person experiencing and embracing the gender and sexuality spectra, or as a person committed to unity in diversity, or as a powerful human filled with ideas, creativity, solutions and infinite potential. May we walk our path with Pauli in mind, holding our individuality as sacred as the whole.
Sophie Suberman is a life and business coach coach in South Seattle. She is a southerner, culturally Jewish, Spanish-speaking woman with a kind, smart partner in the financial technology sector. She is on the board of Earthship Seattle and Woman’s Way Red Lodge. Sophie is on a mission to be part of creating a better, more sustainable world, one person, group or organization at a time.