Anna Pauline "Pauli" Murray was born November 20, 1910, in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1914, Murray was orphaned after her parents (William H. and nurse Agnes Murray) became sick and her mother died, and she was raised mostly by by her maternal aunts, Sarah (Sallie) Fitzgerald and Pauline Fitzgerald Dame and her maternal grandparents (Robert G. and Cornelia Smith Fitzgerald) in Durham, North Carolina.
At the age of 16, she moved to New York City to finish high school and prepare for college. She attended Hunter College, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English in 1933. Murray applied to grad school at the University of North Carolina in 1938, but was rejected because of her race. In 1941 she went to law school at Howard University, graduating first in her class in 1944. She went on to earn a master's degree in law at University of California, Berkeley, and in 1965 she became the first African American to receive a Doctor of Juridical Science degree from Yale Law School.
As a lawyer, Murray argued for civil rights and women's rights. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Chief Counsel Thurgood Marshall called Murray's 1950 book, States' Laws on Race and Color, the "bible" of the civil rights movement. Murray served on the 1961–1963 Presidential Commission on the Status of Women, being appointed by John F. Kennedy. In 1966, she was a co-founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW).
In 1973, Murray left academia for activities associated with the Episcopal Church. She became an ordained priest in 1977 when she was ordained at the Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill; that year she also celebrated her first Eucharist by invitation and preached her first sermon at the church (the church which some of her family attended prior to Emancipation). In 1978, she preached in Durham on Mother's Day at St. Philip's Episcopal Church, where her mother and grandparents had attended in the 19th century.
On July 1, 1985, Pauli Murray died of pancreatic cancer at her home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and was buried at Cypress Hills National Cemetery Brooklyn, New York.
(If you haven't read Murray's book Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family yet, it is a "must read" for anyone interested in Orange County history.)