This month is about us — that is Black youth in the diaspora. Today, everyday, and particularly each day of this 28-day month, the Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100) will fill your social feed with spotlights on people who have contributed to our proud history.

Today’s spotlight is on Pauli Murray, the first African American woman to be an ordained episcopal priest.

 

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Born in 1910, and raised by her auntie of the same name, Murray was a bright child who became set on fire with feminism and racial justice activism. At 28, she began a campaign to enter the all-white University of North Carolina and became it’s first black student.  Two years later, she was arrested for refusing to sit at the back of a segregated bus — 15 years before Rosa Parks became famous for the same thing.
 
Pauli was queer, a lawyer and a writer. One of her greatest accomplishments was writing the biography of her grandparents, “Proud Shoes.” Stanford University recognized her for this in 1957 and here is an excerpt from her acceptance speech which is applicable to all of us as we struggle for freedom:
 

In 1951, after compiling States’ Laws on Race and Color, I realized that the long valiant struggle of the Negro for full citizenship had moved onto a new plane. There was need to look backward; for summing up progress; for investigating the paths by which we had come; for discovering the qualities of mind and spirit which had given us strength, endurance and dignity in spite of our slavery experience and in spite of continued humiliation—qualities and traditions which could be of value not only to ourselves and our children but to our fellow Americans. We needed to articulate our unique experiences as chattel slaves in a country dedicated to the ideal of individual liberty. Only we who had endured this experience could interpret it so as to make it a part of the whole of American experience. Instead of hiding the memories of slavery in the closet, we should exploit the past, rediscover the richness of our heritage as a legacy for our children and use this knowledge as the most potent cultural weapon in our final onslaught on inequality.

Murray’s words are a reminder to us all that the past has a treasure trove of lessons for our current activism, that young people can and do make change, and that it is important for us all to tell and write down histories of our family. May she rest in power and may we all endeavor to eviscerate inequality.

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