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Pauli Murray to be the first Howard alumna to grace a new line of U.S. quarters

Howard alumna, attorney and activist Pauli Murray to join four other women in becoming one of the faces of the 2024 line of U.S quarters, as announced by the U.S Mint.

Pauli Murray was an American civil rights activist, promoter of gender equality, legal scholar, author and priest responsible for the legal strategy behind some of the U.S.’s biggest civil rights and gender equality cases. Murray will now join an exclusive club of Black women and change makers to be featured on a US coin. (Photo courtesy of The Dig)

The U.S. Mint recently revealed the next five women to be included in the upcoming 2024 quarter circulation. Included alongside other historical trailblazers is the Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray, the first Howard alum featured on U.S. currency.

Born in 1910, Baltimore native Murray was one of the foremost civil rights and gender equality advocates of the 20th-century. Murray graduated first in her class at the Howard University School of Law in 1944, among an all-male cohort.

“It’s inspiring to see a Black female civil rights advocate on U.S. currency and receiving the recognition they deserve,” junior elementary education major Alexis Crawley said, given the consistent lack of recognition and respect afforded to Black women.

During her time studying at Howard’s School of Law, Murray became hyper-aware of the unique oppression faced by Black women, an experience Murray coined “Jane Crow.”

Following her graduation from Howard Law, she continued to study law at other institutions, despite consistently facing gender and race barriers. She was the first African American to earn a Doctor of the Science of Law (JSD), an advanced law degree equivalent to a Ph.D., from Yale Law School. 

Murray eventually became a law professor at Yale, co-founded the National Organization for Women in 1966 and later became the first Black woman Episcopal priest in 1977.

Juliana Sellers is a junior political science major in the Howard University BA/JD program who is inspired by Murray’s trailblazing legacy. “It shows how much impact and influence Howard students have not only in our own communities but the nation,” Sellers said.  

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“I see it as a huge accomplishment and something to add to the long list of ‘why Howard is such an amazing place’,” she said. 

“States’ Laws on Race and Color,” one of Murray’s most prominent works, served as an essential framework for civil rights and the legal protection of gender equality. 

Murray also co-authored “Jane Crow and the Law: Sex Discrimination and Title VII” which featured an extensive discussion on the intersectional oppression of Black women, asserting that race, gender and sexuality were not separate from one’s identity. 

Murray inspired Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s argument in Reed v. Reed, a case challenging sex-based discrimination by drawing a parallel between sex-based discrimination and Jim Crow laws.

Murray’s refusal to compartmentalize her identity fueled her passion for legal activism, while her impact was hidden behind Black male civil rights leaders for decades. 

A prominent example of Murray’s concealed historical influence is the lack of public recognition for the role she played in Brown v. The Board of Education. Unbeknownst to many stakeholders, Murray actually suggested the legal strategy employed by Thurgood Marshall by challenging the “separate but equal” clause in Plessy v. Ferguson.

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The consistent erasure of Murray’s historical contributions makes her selection as the first Howard alumni featured on U.S. currency immensely significant.

Following the Amazon Prime documentary “My Name is Pauli Murray” release, more people have learned of Murray’s story. In contemporary society, Murray’s ideas can be found in courses taught at Howard as students continue to be inspired by her legacy.

Tye Compton, a senior political science major and Howard’s Future Law Scholars Association’s (FLSA) president, shared his dedication to learning more about notable Howard-educated lawyers like Murray.  

“Many people don’t know about the integral history of Pauli Murray, but her involvement within the Civil Rights Movement to expand protections for gender equality is the biggest thing I’ve learned from her,” Compton said. 

Compton mentioned that he is inspired to continue Murray’s legacy by implementing programming and providing opportunities in FLSA that will prepare and assist the next generation of Black lawyers.

According to the U.S. Mint, Murray’s face will be produced on the tail of 600 million quarters, framed within the word “HOPE,” representing her belief that societal reform is possible when anchored with hope. 

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The coins will also contain a line from her poem “The Dark Testament,” which describes hope as “a song in a weary throat.” While the sequence of the 2024 American Women Quarters Program honoree circulation has yet to be released, Murray’s quarter will be produced for 10 weeks of the year.

Editor’s note: Murray’s personal writings about her gender expression and sexuality, and the interpretations of those writings, have been a long-standing debate among gender studies scholars and historians. The Hilltop has decided to use she/her pronouns in alignment with how she identified while living and historical precedent. 

Copy edited by Alana Matthew


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