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Pauli Murray is an unsung American hero. The modern-day understanding of equality and the legal arguments used to obtain it for various groups including African Americans, women, and the LGBTQ community were the brainchild of Pauli Murray. This essay illustrates how Dr. Murray’s family history is emblematic of the struggle for racial justice and equality in America. The pain and tenacity of her ancestors shaped her destiny and spurred her activism. Her family experiences illuminate the many ways that the foothold of structural racism began with placing insurmountable legal barriers between Black men, women, and children as a family unit. The law has played a calculated role in separating the races as families from an ideological perspective. In other words, the construct of race and the inferiority and superiority complexes that accompany it allowed for the legal exclusion of family members within family units. This legal exclusion rendered the identity of formerly enslaved persons invisible in some families, and it often disrupted the structure of what was deemed as the normative family. Dr. Murray’s family story is about the ties that bind white and Black families in America together.

Publication Title

Family Law Quarterly

Document Type



Pauli Murray, Racial justice, African Americans, Equality, Civil rights

Included in

Law Commons



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