Paulie Murray should be a household name. Why shows a new movie.
Although she lived modestly, Murray, who called her preferred method of persuasion “confrontation by typewriter”, had long been aware of her own exceptionalism. He published a memoir about his family’s complex, multiethnic history in 1956, and held teaching positions across the country and in Ghana, advancing ideas about achieving equity. But every step towards a wider audience, a bigger stage, was barely won. Like Hill, Murray was a professor at Brandeis University—but Murray had to fight for tenure, the documentary shows, even though she was the first black person to receive Yale Law School’s most advanced degree, the Doctor of Forensic Science.
In 2017, Yale named a residence hall after Murray, but Hill said that when she herself was at Yale Law in the late 1970s, she didn’t even remember the mention of Murray’s name. “I almost overstate his contributions as an activist, author, scholar – law, African studies, African American studies, and gender studies,” Hill said.
Murray was a nomad. She “took her wherever her cause took her,” said Karen Rouse Ross, her niece. After college, Murray, who often wore ostentatious clothing, jumped off trains, then joined the labor movement. After settling into life as a traveling worker and lawyer, Murray delivered enough books and papers to fill floor-to-ceiling shelves and a wall of filing cabinets. In her 70s, living in an apartment in Baltimore, Murray maintained a habit of typing on her Remington early in the morning, with books piled on the floor. “She had a white coffee mug, like you’d find at a diner somewhere, constantly filled with black coffee, and she smokes an unfiltered cigarette,” Ross said. “She was the one who was there all night.” When Murray’s papers were donated to Harvard, he filled 141 boxes.
Tallah Bridges McMahon, a producer on the film, was shocked when she began sorting them out. Rather than draft speeches and other public-facing documents she thought she would find, there was a bunch of private correspondence between Murray and her inner circle, including doctors. “The whole conversation happened,” she said, and decades of magazines. Some pages were torn or the words blacked out. “These are curated records,” McMahon said. “The more I looked, the more I understood that what we were seeing is what Paulie wanted people to see.”
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