Documentary directors discuss Pauli Murray's 1940s desegregation efforts

'My Name Is Pauli Murray' directors say the activist fought racial discrimination decades before height of civil rights movement.

ByHosea Sanders and Marsha Jordan WLS logo
Tuesday, September 28, 2021
Documentary directors discuss Pauli Murray's 1940s desegregation efforts
"My Name Is Pauli Murray" directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen discuss the activist's pre-civil rights movement desegregation efforts in the 1940s.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Directors of a Pauli Murray documentary discussed the activist's desegregation efforts they said began decades before the height of the civil rights movement.

Director Betsy West said Murray, who helped desegregate a Washington, D.C. restaurant in 1943, was "always ahead of the curve."

Murray protested Jim Crow laws and requirements that Black people sit in the back of buses years before the civil rights movement, West said. She added that Murray came up with the concept of "Jane Crow," which showcased how Black women were "doubly" discriminated against in the mid-1960s.

"Pauli, despite a life of adversity moving from place to place often because of being impoverished, saved everything: letters, photographs, diaries, a tape recorder rolling," West said.

Director and writer Julie Cohen said Murray also sought gender confirmation treatments before language existed to describe gender transitions.

"Pauli was approaching doctors asking for testosterone, hoping to have gender confirmation surgery at a time when there were no words for transgender or non-binary in the American vocabulary, we're talking about the late thirties, early forties," Cohen said. "We hope that the legacy will be bringing in an understanding of the role that this extraordinary figure played."

"My Name Is Pauli Murray" is currently playing at Chicago's Music Box Theatre and will be available to stream on Amazon Prime starting Friday.