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The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice

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A groundbreaking book—two decades in the works—that tells the story of how a brilliant writer-turned-activist, granddaughter of a mulatto slave, and the first lady of the United States, whose ancestry gave her membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution, forged an enduring friendship that changed each of their lives and helped to alter the course of race and rac A groundbreaking book—two decades in the works—that tells the story of how a brilliant writer-turned-activist, granddaughter of a mulatto slave, and the first lady of the United States, whose ancestry gave her membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution, forged an enduring friendship that changed each of their lives and helped to alter the course of race and racism in America. Pauli Murray first saw Eleanor Roosevelt in 1933, at the height of the Depression, at a government-sponsored, two-hundred-acre camp for unemployed women where Murray was living, something the first lady had pushed her husband to set up in her effort to do what she could for working women and the poor. The first lady appeared one day unannounced, behind the wheel of her car, her secretary and a Secret Service agent her passengers. To Murray, then aged twenty-three, Roosevelt’s self-assurance was a symbol of women’s independence, a symbol that endured throughout Murray’s life. Five years later, Pauli Murray, a twenty-eight-year-old aspiring writer, wrote a letter to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt protesting racial segregation in the South. The president’s staff forwarded Murray’s letter to the federal Office of Education. The first lady wrote back. Murray’s letter was prompted by a speech the president had given at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, praising the school for its commitment to social progress. Pauli Murray had been denied admission to the Chapel Hill graduate school because of her race. She wrote in her letter of 1938: Does it mean that Negro students in the South will be allowed to sit down with white students and study a problem which is fundamental and mutual to both groups? Does it mean that the University of North Carolina is ready to open its doors to Negro students . . . ? Or does it mean, that everything you said has no meaning for us as Negroes, that again we are to be set aside and passed over . . . ? Eleanor Roosevelt wrote to Murray: I have read the copy of the letter you sent me and I understand perfectly, but great changes come slowly . . . The South is changing, but don’t push too fast. So began a friendship between Pauli Murray (poet, intellectual rebel, principal strategist in the fight to preserve Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, cofounder of the National Organization for Women, and the first African American female Episcopal priest) and Eleanor Roosevelt (first lady of the United States, later first chair of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and chair of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women) that would last for a quarter of a century. Drawing on letters, journals, diaries, published and unpublished manuscripts, and interviews, Patricia Bell-Scott gives us the first close-up portrait of this evolving friendship and how it was sustained over time, what each gave to the other, and how their friendship changed the cause of American social justice.


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A groundbreaking book—two decades in the works—that tells the story of how a brilliant writer-turned-activist, granddaughter of a mulatto slave, and the first lady of the United States, whose ancestry gave her membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution, forged an enduring friendship that changed each of their lives and helped to alter the course of race and rac A groundbreaking book—two decades in the works—that tells the story of how a brilliant writer-turned-activist, granddaughter of a mulatto slave, and the first lady of the United States, whose ancestry gave her membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution, forged an enduring friendship that changed each of their lives and helped to alter the course of race and racism in America. Pauli Murray first saw Eleanor Roosevelt in 1933, at the height of the Depression, at a government-sponsored, two-hundred-acre camp for unemployed women where Murray was living, something the first lady had pushed her husband to set up in her effort to do what she could for working women and the poor. The first lady appeared one day unannounced, behind the wheel of her car, her secretary and a Secret Service agent her passengers. To Murray, then aged twenty-three, Roosevelt’s self-assurance was a symbol of women’s independence, a symbol that endured throughout Murray’s life. Five years later, Pauli Murray, a twenty-eight-year-old aspiring writer, wrote a letter to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt protesting racial segregation in the South. The president’s staff forwarded Murray’s letter to the federal Office of Education. The first lady wrote back. Murray’s letter was prompted by a speech the president had given at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, praising the school for its commitment to social progress. Pauli Murray had been denied admission to the Chapel Hill graduate school because of her race. She wrote in her letter of 1938: Does it mean that Negro students in the South will be allowed to sit down with white students and study a problem which is fundamental and mutual to both groups? Does it mean that the University of North Carolina is ready to open its doors to Negro students . . . ? Or does it mean, that everything you said has no meaning for us as Negroes, that again we are to be set aside and passed over . . . ? Eleanor Roosevelt wrote to Murray: I have read the copy of the letter you sent me and I understand perfectly, but great changes come slowly . . . The South is changing, but don’t push too fast. So began a friendship between Pauli Murray (poet, intellectual rebel, principal strategist in the fight to preserve Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, cofounder of the National Organization for Women, and the first African American female Episcopal priest) and Eleanor Roosevelt (first lady of the United States, later first chair of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and chair of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women) that would last for a quarter of a century. Drawing on letters, journals, diaries, published and unpublished manuscripts, and interviews, Patricia Bell-Scott gives us the first close-up portrait of this evolving friendship and how it was sustained over time, what each gave to the other, and how their friendship changed the cause of American social justice.

30 review for The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice

  1. 4 out of 5

    Raymond

    Patricia Bell-Scott's "The Firebrand and the First Lady" was a well-researched book about the friendship between Pauli Murray and Eleanor Roosevelt. This book is a great companion to the 2017 biography Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray by Rosalind Rosenberg which I also highly recommend. I would suggest that you read Jane Crow first before this book, so that you can get a full grasp of who Murray is before you read about her friendship with Roosevelt. Murray and Roosevelt's friendship is a sma Patricia Bell-Scott's "The Firebrand and the First Lady" was a well-researched book about the friendship between Pauli Murray and Eleanor Roosevelt. This book is a great companion to the 2017 biography Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray by Rosalind Rosenberg which I also highly recommend. I would suggest that you read Jane Crow first before this book, so that you can get a full grasp of who Murray is before you read about her friendship with Roosevelt. Murray and Roosevelt's friendship is a small part of the book Jane Crow, Bell-Scott's book goes into more depth. Bell-Scott includes excerpts of letters between the two women which I found fascinating and illuminating. I could really tell that both women admired and respected each other. Overall, the book is a very readable documentation of this important friendship in American history.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Erica

    Read because: 2017 Finalist, Carnegie Medal - Non-Fiction I was about a third of the way into this book when I was struck with how downplayed Murray's accomplishments were. In her quest to paint the firebrand portrait - strident letters, protests, activism, civil engagement - the author doesn't seem to overly-emphasize the fact that Murray found a way to do all of that while putting herself through law school as she simultaneously struggled with medical issues, being a "sexual deviant," and alway Read because: 2017 Finalist, Carnegie Medal - Non-Fiction I was about a third of the way into this book when I was struck with how downplayed Murray's accomplishments were. In her quest to paint the firebrand portrait - strident letters, protests, activism, civil engagement - the author doesn't seem to overly-emphasize the fact that Murray found a way to do all of that while putting herself through law school as she simultaneously struggled with medical issues, being a "sexual deviant," and always being on the verge of poverty while caring for elderly relatives. She graduated at the head of her class with a long list of accomplishments to her name but, here, that's all just backdrop. These events are obviously listed and explained to some point but I felt like the main emphasis was not on Murray's amazing personal and community successes and how those won the admiration of the Eleanor Roosevelt but more about the chance meeting between the two women and how Murray wrote letters to the President and cced his wife to ensure those letters got to their intended recipient which then created a dialog between the two women. I suppose that's the "Friendship" part of the title. It seems so passive, not firebrandy at all. That friendship was interesting but, overall, not compelling because I didn't get a sense of solidity, of actual friendship between Murray and Roosevelt. It seems there was mutual admiration and a degree of affection but they seemed more like colleagues or, perhaps, even student and professor, than friends. Murray was more intimate with Roosevelt while Roosevelt seemed to be more reserved perhaps because she was in the role of a mentor or maybe because of her role in politics? I'm not sure because I could never really nail down the nature of their relationship. The author touches on how she'd originally just intended to publish the letters between the two women but as she continued to research, she wanted to share the powerful story that wasn't captured in the epistolary narrative. While she didn't fail, I'm not confident she succeeded, either. This read like a final draft where all the information is there but it still needs to be cohesively tied together to create the full picture. Regardless, I enjoyed learning about Pauli Murray immensely and would recommend this book readers interested in civil rights, womens rights, LGBTQ rights, the Roosevelt administration, American history, and/or biographies of outspoken women.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    This is a very passionate book on two very impassionate people – Eleanor Roosevelt and Pauli Murray. Both these women evolved tremendously during their lifetimes. They both sought social change. Pauli Murray was a woman of mixed racial heritage and in her youth spent time with relatives in North Carolina where she experienced prejudice as both a person of colour and as a woman. When she left the South to live in the North she rarely returned. Pauli Murray was a very sensitive person and could not This is a very passionate book on two very impassionate people – Eleanor Roosevelt and Pauli Murray. Both these women evolved tremendously during their lifetimes. They both sought social change. Pauli Murray was a woman of mixed racial heritage and in her youth spent time with relatives in North Carolina where she experienced prejudice as both a person of colour and as a woman. When she left the South to live in the North she rarely returned. Pauli Murray was a very sensitive person and could not endure the Jim Crow segregation with violence lurking on any perceived transgression. She started to correspond with Eleanor Roosevelt, seeing her as sympathetic to both racial and female advancement. Eleanor Roosevelt responded and thus began an enduring, if somewhat tempestuous, friendship. It is to Eleanor Roosevelt’s credit that she that saw in the much younger Pauli Murray a strong individual striving to overcome the obstacles in her life. They did have some things in common – they both lost their parents at a young age and were shunted off to relatives. They felt alienated in the milieu they grew up in. Eleanor Roosevelt saw her position as First Lady as a way to aid and help disadvantaged people – she also became attached and found a kinship to the younger generation of growing Americans – one of which was Pauli Murray. Pauli Murray was not afraid to let loose on the daily persecutions that her people faced in the U.S. She pointed out to Eleanor Roosevelt the hypocrisy of the U.S. government’s opposition to Nazi Germany during the 1930’s when millions of its own citizens faced similar oppression. Eleanor Roosevelt fought unsuccessfully to criminalize lynching in the Southern U.S. They met several times over the years, with Pauli Murray making visits to the White House and both Eleanor’s homes in New York City and her Hyde Park home on the Hudson River. Pauli Murray studied law throughout her life – and used it to break down barriers – both racial and gender. She applied to the Law school of North Carolina – and was refused because of her race. She applied to study law at Harvard and was refused, this time due to her gender. In both cases she appealed to Eleanor Roosevelt for help - and despite her efforts this was all to no avail. The NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) also refused her for gender reasons. She was accepted at Berkeley in California and at Yale in Connecticut. She also studied at other institutions and always had glowing marks. Page 193- 94 (my book) Pauli Murray published a 746-page legal document in 1951 called “States’ on Race and Color....” “there were laws forbidding the integration of public transportation, hotels, places of employment, housing, hospitals, military units and installations, prisons, recreational facilities, and schools all over the country. Thirty states restricted intermarriage. Mississippi made it illegal “to publish or distribute” literature that promoted racial equality.” Pauli Murray did have a job for a time with a prestigious law firm in New York City, but left because she felt her calling was to advocate for social change. This book deals much more with the life of Pauli Murray, who died in 1985, then of Eleanor Roosevelt; which is proper as there exists a large number of books on the Roosevelt’s’. Page 225 J. Edgar Hoover (FBI chief) intensely disliked Eleanor Roosevelt, and the thirty-five thousand-page file the bureau created on her at his direction would become the largest assembled for an individual prior to the 1960s. Pauli Murray was today what we would call a transgender person, another reason she could not function in the Southern US. She taught constitutional law for a time in Ghana, but had to leave there as well; the government was closely monitoring her classroom activities. Interestingly, at the latter stage of her life at age 66, she became an Episcopal Priest – another hurdle she overcame. Pauli Murray found some solace in this vocation – and used it to spread her message of racial and gender justice and tolerance. This is an emotional book on the extraordinary journey these two women took. Neither was afraid to oppose the barriers against race and women.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jean

    I try to read everything I can find about Eleanor Roosevelt. This book surprised me with new information about Eleanor Roosevelt. I am always amazed at the energy and wide interest of ER. I had not heard of Pauli Murray before reading this book. This turns out to be my second book on black history for the February Black History Month. ER first met Pauli Murray in 1943 when Murray was living at Camp Tera, a New Deal Facility in New York for unemployed women. Eleanor had pressured them to accept bl I try to read everything I can find about Eleanor Roosevelt. This book surprised me with new information about Eleanor Roosevelt. I am always amazed at the energy and wide interest of ER. I had not heard of Pauli Murray before reading this book. This turns out to be my second book on black history for the February Black History Month. ER first met Pauli Murray in 1943 when Murray was living at Camp Tera, a New Deal Facility in New York for unemployed women. Eleanor had pressured them to accept black women into the Camps. Pauli and ER carried on a lifetime correspondence from this date onward. Murray a young African America woman first worked with the NAACP then went on to become an attorney; she became the first African America women Episcopal Priest and was a prominent writer and poet. Murray challenged racial segregation at the University of North Carolina in 1938, and in public transportation in Virginia in 1940. She was a co-founder of the national organization of Women in 1966. She co-authored a brief with Ruth Bader Ginsburg in Reed v Reed. Bell-Scott tells of the friendship between these two women. The author includes many letters between the two women. The book is meticulously researched and the author had interviews with Murray. The book is easy to read and at times reads like a novel. I gathered from the book that ER’s role was supportive encouragement but at times she did take some action on behalf of Murray. I was amazed at the courage and intelligence of Pauli Murray and would like to learn more about her. I picked up a good trivia question about ER from this book. The question is: Who was Eleanor Roosevelt’s favorite poet? Karen Chilton does a good job narrating the book.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Holly

    I love Pauli Murray and truly admire her lifelong struggle for civil rights on behalf of African Americans, women, and LGBT people. Although she and Eleanor Roosevelt only met in person a few times they shared a decades-long friendship and a fascinating and feisty correspondence. It was illuminating to learn how much Pauli Murray influenced and pushed the First Lady in her civil rights outlook. ER was a woman receptive to the cause, but she and Murray did clash a few times when Roosevelt told Mu I love Pauli Murray and truly admire her lifelong struggle for civil rights on behalf of African Americans, women, and LGBT people. Although she and Eleanor Roosevelt only met in person a few times they shared a decades-long friendship and a fascinating and feisty correspondence. It was illuminating to learn how much Pauli Murray influenced and pushed the First Lady in her civil rights outlook. ER was a woman receptive to the cause, but she and Murray did clash a few times when Roosevelt told Murray to be more patient. Even though this biography covers two women and many significant events of twentieth-century American history it is really not a cultural biography (which is what I most enjoy); it's more of what I think of as a researchers' biography, with litanies of names, places, dates, correspondence, and voluminous citational endnotes. So it wasn't, for me, an especially galvanizing read, but I think it will make a valuable resource for future scholars.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Reed

    Unlike many readers, I knew more about the life of Pauli Murray than I did about that of Eleanor Roosevelt when I picked up The Firebrand the First Lady. I can’t do justice to the scope of this book, except to say that we owe Patricia Bell-Scott an enormous debt of gratitude for the painstaking research and comprehensive timeline she provides of the intersection of the lives of two great women in American history. For anyone seeking the inspiration of a tireless activist on behalf of African Ame Unlike many readers, I knew more about the life of Pauli Murray than I did about that of Eleanor Roosevelt when I picked up The Firebrand the First Lady. I can’t do justice to the scope of this book, except to say that we owe Patricia Bell-Scott an enormous debt of gratitude for the painstaking research and comprehensive timeline she provides of the intersection of the lives of two great women in American history. For anyone seeking the inspiration of a tireless activist on behalf of African Americans, women and the LGBT community as early as the 1930s and as late the 1980s, look no further than the life of Pauli Murray. The extraordinary life she led and the work she did (so often uncredited) boggles the mind. Murray was a warrior-lawyer-activist-author-professor-poet-priest who accumulated so many “firsts” (again, many uncredited) it’s hard to keep track, but fortunately Bell-Scott does that for you. Prior to the modern Black civil rights and women’s movements of the mid-late 20th century, Murray was laying the legal groundwork for both movements (literally… her 1951 publication of States’ Laws on Race and Color became “the bible for civil rights attorneys,” according to Thurgood Marshall; the NAACP defense team used one of her published essays to develop the strategy for Brown v. Board; the extensive list of her legal contributions to significant legislation and judicial cases in the women’s and civil rights movements is a huge favor that Bell-Scott has done the reader), all while surviving McCarthyism, her own ongoing health struggles, and battling through the rejection of opportunities she suffered at every turn because of her race, gender and sexuality. (These are only three among many examples: she was denied admission to graduate school at UNC-CH because she was Black, she was denied admission to Harvard Law School because she was a woman. I suspect she was denied her rightful place in the history books because she was a lesbian. ) If you think intersectionality is a recent phenomenon in social justice consciousness, or even that it was labeled in the 1960s/70s, think again. Pauli Murray was one of the most tenacious and brilliant activists of the 20th century -- her life and work defined intersectionality. The friendship and role that Eleanor Roosevelt (a warrior in her own right) played in Murray’s life is equally illuminating in this book. Their lifelong friendship is an example of two people from different backgrounds (although Murray continually pointed out the similarities in their life circumstances), and with vastly different temperaments and social positions, who shared a passion and drive to action from which both derived strength and inspiration. Most importantly for us today and the social justice aims they furthered, the two women educated one another. One of the strengths of this book is its insistence that its subjects be placed squarely in historical context, and is a solid exploration of their lives with the backdrop of the Great Depression, World War II, McCarthyism and the Cold War period. Readers will learn a great deal about the time period as well as the friendship between Murray and Roosevelt. That Murray grew up in Durham, NC and died in Pittsburgh, PA, two of the most important places in my own life was sweet icing on this treat of a book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Miriam

    The introduction explains that Scott's original vision was a book of letters, edited to show the evolution of their friendship. And the work still has clear elements of that vision, letting the words of these historic figures speak for themselves. But the narrative puts them together in the best way, with both personal details and historical scope--the Great Depression and New Deal, the war years, the Civil Rights Movement, the Red (and Lilac/Lavender) Scare, the Women's Rights Movement all foll The introduction explains that Scott's original vision was a book of letters, edited to show the evolution of their friendship. And the work still has clear elements of that vision, letting the words of these historic figures speak for themselves. But the narrative puts them together in the best way, with both personal details and historical scope--the Great Depression and New Deal, the war years, the Civil Rights Movement, the Red (and Lilac/Lavender) Scare, the Women's Rights Movement all follow in turn. My only complaint would be that many of the chapters are quite brief, and her periodization is very finely divided. There's not always room for the scope that is so clearly part of these women's stories. I want to teach this book. I think it would be a great way to point out that women make history, that their ideas and actions matter, and to talk about intersectionality as well. I just wish it wasn't 480 pages. I worry that students will bail out, even though the story is so beautiful and well-rendered.

  8. 5 out of 5

    David

    This is a pretty good biography, but an extraordinary life. Two lives, actually, but one was already familiar. In any case, it's much more about Pauli Murray, and she is a revelation. She is one of those timeless characters that defy in their thinking all constraints of their times and life circumstances. One stares in awe at her ability to be exactly who she was, and to develop her passion for universal justice. The interaction with Eleanor Roosevelt, and the generous samplings of her letters a This is a pretty good biography, but an extraordinary life. Two lives, actually, but one was already familiar. In any case, it's much more about Pauli Murray, and she is a revelation. She is one of those timeless characters that defy in their thinking all constraints of their times and life circumstances. One stares in awe at her ability to be exactly who she was, and to develop her passion for universal justice. The interaction with Eleanor Roosevelt, and the generous samplings of her letters and other writings make her all the more vivid.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Maggie

    I love super specific history books, and this is a really great look at two great women. Too many civil rights movement books sleep on Pauli Murray, who did a ton of activist and legal work, and who also should be more talked about in the queer community. If you're not familiar with her, this is a great introduction to her life's works and challenges. It was really interesting to see her just write herself into a friendship with Roosevelt through skill and determination. Highly recommend. I'm de I love super specific history books, and this is a really great look at two great women. Too many civil rights movement books sleep on Pauli Murray, who did a ton of activist and legal work, and who also should be more talked about in the queer community. If you're not familiar with her, this is a great introduction to her life's works and challenges. It was really interesting to see her just write herself into a friendship with Roosevelt through skill and determination. Highly recommend. I'm definitely adding more reading about and by both of these women to my list.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Hilary Marcus

    So interesting to learn about both women, and the relationship that developed between them over decades. Makes me want to learn more about both. I found it super interesting, and OK I do love history, but think many people would be intrigued by the stories of Murray's outrage and ER's efforts to support African Americans from her position as The World's First Lady. So interesting to learn about both women, and the relationship that developed between them over decades. Makes me want to learn more about both. I found it super interesting, and OK I do love history, but think many people would be intrigued by the stories of Murray's outrage and ER's efforts to support African Americans from her position as The World's First Lady.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    EDIT: I recently wrote a blog post about Pauli Murray, which references Scott's very well-researched book. Please check it out if you are interested in learning more: https://wp.me/pafNQ7-j It took me a while to finish this book (combination of being easily distracted + compulsion to look up names, facts & figures from various historical periods that I'm interested in), but I'm very glad I stuck with it! Before reading this book, I knew relatively little about Eleanor Roosevelt (other than basic EDIT: I recently wrote a blog post about Pauli Murray, which references Scott's very well-researched book. Please check it out if you are interested in learning more: https://wp.me/pafNQ7-j It took me a while to finish this book (combination of being easily distracted + compulsion to look up names, facts & figures from various historical periods that I'm interested in), but I'm very glad I stuck with it! Before reading this book, I knew relatively little about Eleanor Roosevelt (other than basic common knowledge information), and absolutely nothing about Pauli Murray. I felt inspired to finally pick up this book after reading this informative New Yorker article about Murray earlier this year: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/201... This book is a story about the friendship between these two women, as well as their own individual lives of great accomplishment. Although the writing could have been better at times, this story was captivating enough that it didn't really matter. This friendship, though sometimes combative, as both had strong beliefs, was a fascinating look at their specific relationship as well as the times they lived in--ranging from Murray's first letters to Eleanor/FDR in 1938 in the midst of the Depression; to World War II and the death of FDR; to the civil rights struggles of the 50s; to Eleanor's final days in 1962. I know I've learned a great deal of new names and facts solely from reading this book. I have to say that I did not realize how emotionally connected I felt to both of these women and their unique relationship until I read the well-written section about the last time Murray and Roosevelt saw each other, a few months before Roosevelt's death in 1962: "As Murray and her family were leaving, she paused to watch ER walk into her cottage. Her shoulders were 'slightly stooped,' her footsteps measured. It was the last time Murray would see her friend." I was literally tearing up as I read this on the subway. I know this was a meaningful book for me not just because it was about two important American women and activists (though different in many ways), but also because it has inspired me to learn more about both of them. I now feel more of a personal connection to Eleanor Roosevelt, someone who I mostly learned about in history classes and as she was connected to Franklin, not as her own person. I understand better her role as a forerunner to the women's movement of the 60s, 70s and beyond. As for Murray, I am almost mad that I never knew about her before! It is a shame that she is not more well-known, as she was a trailblazer in so many fields, and active for so many years. She was very much ahead of her time, and I found myself wondering as I read if she was almost born in the wrong generation--if she were alive today, she could keep up with the most progressive of race, gender, and sexuality discussions! I see now how much I've written about this book, so I guess it meant more to me than I even realized. I would say if you are interested in general women's history in America, as well as discussions of race, gender, and more, and if you enjoy reading about the mid-20th century, this book could definitely be for you. It's also just a great story.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kacey

    I loved this book. I knew Pauli Murray was an activist for black civil rights, but didn't realize how much she also did for women's rights. I also learned more about Eleanor Roosevelt, a person who doesn't get enough credit for all she accomplished. The book is dense with facts and citations, but well written and easy to read. Highly recommend. I loved this book. I knew Pauli Murray was an activist for black civil rights, but didn't realize how much she also did for women's rights. I also learned more about Eleanor Roosevelt, a person who doesn't get enough credit for all she accomplished. The book is dense with facts and citations, but well written and easy to read. Highly recommend.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Karla Eaton

    Entertaining and educational - very enjoyable read. Pauli Murray's life makes the reader almost ashamed of how little she ( meaning me) has accomplished. This woman was a whirling derbish of activity. Often we think of progress in our lives as progressing in a straight line. Pauli proves that wrong - her hopscotching career with varied degrees in varied interests, from private to government to educational work is astounding Her religious focus at the end of the life did seem logical but I kept w Entertaining and educational - very enjoyable read. Pauli Murray's life makes the reader almost ashamed of how little she ( meaning me) has accomplished. This woman was a whirling derbish of activity. Often we think of progress in our lives as progressing in a straight line. Pauli proves that wrong - her hopscotching career with varied degrees in varied interests, from private to government to educational work is astounding Her religious focus at the end of the life did seem logical but I kept waiting for more of her writing to discuss her anger at a god who would let the injustices of her life continue. One of the best aspects of this writing are the primary source documents - mostly the letters exchanged between Pauli and ER. I had always adored Mrs. R. but the gentle and intimate portrait of her in this piece is charming and lovely. She was such a champion for others. I adore that she and Pauli could disagree about approaches to equality yet their passionate agreement on the needs for improvements kept them as friends. To be poor, black, female, and homosexual in any part of the world, even the US, in the early to mid 1900s had to seem like more of an unfair burden than anyone should have to bear. As a teacher, I pegged two letters I am going to use to discuss the rhetorical devices used for persuasion and a passage about a man kidnapped from jail and killed for the accusation of raping a white woman for my teacher friends who teach To Kill a Mockingbird.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Liz Mc2

    I bought this audiobook because I was listening to a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt. But I got bogged down in that and haven’t finished, and in this book I found Pauli Murray to be far more interesting—she’s also more of the focus. Sometimes this gets bogged down in details: what day did they have tea, what was served. But what emerges is a portrait of two accomplished women, who admired, championed, and challenged each other. Good thing they lived in a letter-writing age that preserved so much a I bought this audiobook because I was listening to a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt. But I got bogged down in that and haven’t finished, and in this book I found Pauli Murray to be far more interesting—she’s also more of the focus. Sometimes this gets bogged down in details: what day did they have tea, what was served. But what emerges is a portrait of two accomplished women, who admired, championed, and challenged each other. Good thing they lived in a letter-writing age that preserved so much about their friendship. Both women fought for social justice, but Murray, from a working-class black family, a lesbian, who had to fight for every educational and professional opportunity, doubly discriminated against by what she called “Jane Crow,” obviously understood inequality in a way that ER could not. She shared those experiences and pushed the First Lady, impatient sometimes at ER’s caution and advocacy of more gradual reforms. What amazed me was her persistence in writing to the First Lady, in insisting on being heard. Probably my favourite part, for personal reasons, was reading about Murray’s ordination as the first black woman (and one of the very first women) Episcopal priest. I want to read her autobiography now. The narration was excellent, though I do wonder about the decision to do voices. ER’s words are read in a grating falsetto that to be fair is a reasonable impression of her actual voice, but I could have done without it.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Beverly

    I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in American social history in the 1930s and 40s. Pauli Murray was deeply involved in early struggles for social justice, forerunners of the Civil Rights and Women's movements of the post-war period. Through her story, the reader gains a great appreciation of all the women and men, Black and White, who worked against all odds and laid the groundwork for nondiscrimination in housing, fair trials, an end to the poll tax, etc. As an African America I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in American social history in the 1930s and 40s. Pauli Murray was deeply involved in early struggles for social justice, forerunners of the Civil Rights and Women's movements of the post-war period. Through her story, the reader gains a great appreciation of all the women and men, Black and White, who worked against all odds and laid the groundwork for nondiscrimination in housing, fair trials, an end to the poll tax, etc. As an African American and a woman, Murray faced endless barriers, eventually achieving success as a poet, lawyer, academician, political activist, and Episcopalian priest. (Sadly, her sexual orientation was not even open to discussion. Homosexuality was still considered a mental illness, grounds for the denial of employment or appointment to public positions.) In this summer of our discontent, Bell-Scott's book is a reassuring reminder that the U.S. has made progress, however agonizingly slow.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Margery

    I struggle with how to rate this book, just as I struggled with reading it. I was enthralled at the beginning, but I wanted to learn more about the personal connection between these two amazing women. Somewhere around page 180 (out of 360 in my edition), I began checking after every couple of chapters to see how many pages were left to slog through. On the other hand, it's extremely well researched, so if you enjoy biographical writing that's full of dates & names & titles & places, you'll proba I struggle with how to rate this book, just as I struggled with reading it. I was enthralled at the beginning, but I wanted to learn more about the personal connection between these two amazing women. Somewhere around page 180 (out of 360 in my edition), I began checking after every couple of chapters to see how many pages were left to slog through. On the other hand, it's extremely well researched, so if you enjoy biographical writing that's full of dates & names & titles & places, you'll probably like this book much more than I did. I learned a lot, always a good thing, but I finished the book not feeling as if I *knew* either Pauli Murray, who is the main focus of the book, or Eleanor Roosevelt.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Excellent review of history seen through the eyes, actions and pens of two remarkable women. One was recognized in her own time, and Pauli Murray only now, posthumously, is getting the limelight she deserved. I recommend this book for both history and social themes.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Gabrielle

    I really admire women like Pauli Murray (and Eleanor Roosevelt) who pushed the limits of womanhood and activism in their own way. It was interesting to learn about this friendship and get context about each of their lives. I was a little exhausted by the length of the book and found that I needed to take long-ish breaks from it to keep my interest going. Tremendous work by Patricia Bell Scott - I could really feel her admiration and respect for the life of Pauli Murray.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Shirleynature

    A synonym for firebrand is revolutionary; both words are fitting for the two social justice heroines in this dual-biography. Author Bell-Scott responded to the challenge made by Pauli Murray to “know some of the veterans of the battle whose shoulders you now stand on.” We all need to know about the audacious human rights activists who opened many more possibilities for us all.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    This was not a perfectly breezy read, but in these times, I found it inspiring. It introduced me to a woman I had never previously heard of, Pauli Murray, & expanded my understanding of Eleanor Roosevelt. But most of all, it left me with hope in what for me is a dark time.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Beverly

    thoughts coming shortly

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ari

    IQ "I learned by watching her in action over a period of three decades that each of us is culture-bound by the era in which we live, and that the greatest challenge to the individual is to try and move to the very boundaries of our historical limitations and to project ourselves toward future centuries." (Pauli, 354) I can't quite remember where I first read about Pauli Murray, it was either in a Slate article about her influence on RBG/general legal scholar bad assery or it was in the New Yorker IQ "I learned by watching her in action over a period of three decades that each of us is culture-bound by the era in which we live, and that the greatest challenge to the individual is to try and move to the very boundaries of our historical limitations and to project ourselves toward future centuries." (Pauli, 354) I can't quite remember where I first read about Pauli Murray, it was either in a Slate article about her influence on RBG/general legal scholar bad assery or it was in the New Yorker. Either way I was immediately drawn to this incredible woman and when I happened to come across this book I knew I needed to snap it up. It ended up being the perfect vacation read, I was completely drawn into Eleanor and Pauli's world from the very beginning. Their voices shine through loud and clear from the letters prominently included but also from quotes from those who knew them, historical events that served as a background to those letters, speeches they gave and letters they wrote to other people. The history nerd in me devoured this story but also never wanted it to end. Both women's stories are balanced well, bouncing off one another in a way that makes sense instead of just featuring random tidbits. Although I admit I found Pauli more intriguing; "She had long suffered the economic and emotional costs of racial segregation and political persecution, and she had no patience with a candidate who was either unclear or afraid to say where he stood on these critical issues" (296), both were tireless advocates for the marginalized but unlike ER Pauli didn't have to answer to anyone so she was truly able to be fiery and impassionate, constantly pushing the Roosevelts even more to the left. Furthermore at the end of the day as a LGBT Black woman Pauli's career trajectory could only go so far but she created an awe-inspiring body of work wherever she went even if employers were not as impressed or eager to give her credit as they should have been. An enthralling double biography of two inspirational, phenomenal and unconventional (for their time) women, who had a lot more in common than one initially might have thought. I was completely captivated by their friendship and the author manages to keep the reader interested and following along even as both women kept exhausting but interesting lives (Pauli moving from career to career as she faced various glass ceilings, Eleanor passionate about many causes and constantly traveling). This biography (of sorts) also made me a bit sad as it is nearly impossible that anything like this friendship would develop today, between a first lady and a constituent (Pauli even wrote letters that received responses from FDR). It is hard not to read this book and grow angry at how Pauli was treated and to marvel at her ambition, at one point she writes a letter to Richard Nixon suggesting she be named to the Supreme Court. I want Pauli Murray's name to become as well known as our other civil rights pioneers and I appreciate that Ruth Bader Ginsburg named her in a legal opinion regarding sex discrimination and that this book has been written along with a few other articles in more mainstream media. Letter to a fellow Episcopalian seminarian: "'If you have to live with anger, I have to live with pain. I'll trade you both my pain, my sex, my race and my age-and see how you deport yourself in such circumstances. Barring that,' she continued, 'try to imagine for 24 hours hours what it must be like to be a Negro in a predominantly white seminary, a woman in an institution dominated by men and for the convenience of men, some of whom radiate hostility even though they do not say a word, who are patronizing and kindly as long as I do not get out of my place, but who feel threatened by my intellect, my achievements and my refusal to be suppressed.' Of their differences Murray told him, 'If I can't take your judgmental statements and your anger, I am in the wrong place. If you cannot take my methods of fighting for survival, then you have chosen the wrong vocation.'" (Pauli, 344)

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    When I picked up this book, I knew a decent amount about Eleanor Roosevelt, and absolutely nothing about civil rights activist/ legal theorist/ author/ priest/ transgender elder Pauli Murray. But it turns out Pauli Murray is so sensational that she really makes Eleanor Roosevelt look boring and kind of predictable. Seriously -- how did I not know who she was before now? I know a lot of readers have criticized this book for making Pauli Murray play in concert with ER, when really Murray deserves h When I picked up this book, I knew a decent amount about Eleanor Roosevelt, and absolutely nothing about civil rights activist/ legal theorist/ author/ priest/ transgender elder Pauli Murray. But it turns out Pauli Murray is so sensational that she really makes Eleanor Roosevelt look boring and kind of predictable. Seriously -- how did I not know who she was before now? I know a lot of readers have criticized this book for making Pauli Murray play in concert with ER, when really Murray deserves her own book (she has several). I think that's a fair criticism, but I also think the whole conception of this book was a very clever way to get liberal white ladies like me to read a whole book about Pauli Murray when we'd never heard of her. So -- I salute Patricia Bell Scott. Well-played. It worked. And I DID need to hear about Pauli Murray. What I like about Murray in this book, is you see so clearly how Murray doesn't always succeed, how her life is constantly interrupted and redirected, and how she isn't always equal to the forces arrayed against her. And yet she keeps going. For instance, when she first gets to college, she isn't a blazing star of a poster child for the oppressed. She is exhausted by how much she has to work, falls asleep in class, ultimately drops out and then GETS MARRIED TO A MAN SHE BARELY KNOWS, counter to her lifelong attraction to women. But -- she keeps going and then DOES wind up getting a degree, and DOES wind up being a sensation at Howard (where some of her student work ultimately winds up getting cited in Brown v Board of education. And of course, she doesn't get much credit). After getting her law degree from the Berkeley, she was appointed to serve as Deputy Attorney General for the state of California -- the first black attorney to ever hold such a position. And yet she had leave the job behind to return to North Carolina and take care of the ailing aunt who raised her. Did I mention that she had a terrible thyroid disorder that manifested as a mood disorder, leading to hospitalizations and breakdowns that made her think she was crazy, an idea reinforced by the era's appalling homophobia? I mean, obviously, I'm not even touching on the barriers posed by Jim Crow, bias against female lawyers, the McCarthy era (in which she was, of course, blacklisted by employers because of early activism associated with socialism). And she kept plugging along, writing the definitive legal text on race-based state laws, then a very well-respected memoir of her family from the Civil War on, then -- oh, I'm not going to spoil it all for you. Just trust me -- at the end of this book you aren't going to remember much about Eleanor Roosevelt, and that's just fine. So, I've decided Pauli Murray is the hero I need for the next decade. I've just downloaded her memoir as an audio book. I could use a lot more Pauli Murray in my life.

  24. 4 out of 5

    DeAnna

    I first learned of activist Pauli Murray earlier this year while reading In search of black history with Bonnie Greer and I was majorly intrigued and eager to learn more about her. When I found out that my library doesn't currently carry any of Murray's books (the slackers!), I decided to settle for The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice by Patricia Bell-Scott for the time being. I'm disappointed with myself I first learned of activist Pauli Murray earlier this year while reading In search of black history with Bonnie Greer and I was majorly intrigued and eager to learn more about her. When I found out that my library doesn't currently carry any of Murray's books (the slackers!), I decided to settle for The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice by Patricia Bell-Scott for the time being. I'm disappointed with myself for not enjoying this book more. It's just much too dry of a read, bogged down the kind of factual information that, though essential to history and biography (think special attention given to creating the timeline of someone's life by listing every date and place name plus lots of namedropping), isn't the most riveting content for me. It also eventually eclipses the titular portrait of Murray and Roosevelt's friendship, which was my only reason for reading the book. One review termed this a "researcher's biography" and I think that's a perfectly apt description. If you need references, The Firebrand and the First Lady, with its immaculate endnotes, is the book for you. If you, like me, are reading to sate your own curiosity, it may not hit the spot.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tamara Willems

    The true testament to a book that has changed for me my vision (so to speak) of the world, is when I have closed the book, I immediately look to see if and how I can contact the author to express my sincere appreciation. Which I have done in the case of this book by Patricia Bell-Scott, whom just this morning I sent an email to. "I have just this very moment finished reading your book: The Firebrand and the First Lady, and I just wanted to say Thank you so very much for everything this beautiful The true testament to a book that has changed for me my vision (so to speak) of the world, is when I have closed the book, I immediately look to see if and how I can contact the author to express my sincere appreciation. Which I have done in the case of this book by Patricia Bell-Scott, whom just this morning I sent an email to. "I have just this very moment finished reading your book: The Firebrand and the First Lady, and I just wanted to say Thank you so very much for everything this beautiful, masterful book contains. I have not heard of Pauli Murray before, I happened to pick this book up as I have a good deal of interest in Eleanor Roosevelt and all she worked tirelessly for in regards to human decency around the world. I am a Canadian, so really have a mild interest in American politics, but I am also an avid reader (preferring non-fiction) and learner, and have read biographies of The Roosevelts before. I very much would like to express my appreciation for introducing me to Pauli Murray, the courage, determination and intelligence of her indomitable spirit in all the incredible accomplishments of her distinguished life, have completely astounded me! Also I might add the beautiful writing and the depth of research, as well as the way each is presented here, have been a complete consuming joy for me to read. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for bringing this incredible human and the story of this beautiful friendship to my attention. I will indeed be following up on the names and other books I have madly jotted down while reading your extraordinary book, as well as now diligently pressing it into the hands of anyone I can!. I promise you, you will benefit from reading this exquisite book!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sandi Miller

    This is a book giving insights into the professional and personal lives of Eleanor Roosevelt and Pauli Murray. Murray was a lawyer, civil rights activist, author and the first black female ordained Episcopalian priest who had become friends with Eleanor Roosevelt while she was still First Lady. Murray was highly intelligent but had many difficulties obtaining her goals since she was black and a woman and a lesbian. She worked hard at clearing obstacles through her work as a civil rights attorney This is a book giving insights into the professional and personal lives of Eleanor Roosevelt and Pauli Murray. Murray was a lawyer, civil rights activist, author and the first black female ordained Episcopalian priest who had become friends with Eleanor Roosevelt while she was still First Lady. Murray was highly intelligent but had many difficulties obtaining her goals since she was black and a woman and a lesbian. She worked hard at clearing obstacles through her work as a civil rights attorney, college professor and as a protester. She tried for years to enter Yale Law School, and in 1965 she became the first African American to receive a Doctor of Juridical Science degree there. Her friendship with Mrs. Roosevelt helped her achieve a few of her goals due to Mrs. Roosevelt's connections, sometimes with the president, but most of her achievements were accomplished with hard work that left her with little sleep. (Murray was disappointed in FDR's reticence to accelerate civil rights legislation. He "wanted to placate conservative politicians from the South, where whites lynched blacks with impunity." BTW, federal anti-lynching legislation has continually failed to pass in Congress 200 times since 1882 and finally passed last year.) The Episcopal Church named her a Holy Person after her death. This book about her lifelong efforts to make life better for blacks and for women is enlightening...worth reading!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Yofish

    This is really basically a biography of Pauli Murray---the author mostly uses the correspondence/friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt as a hook. Which is fine, as I was mostly interested in Pauli Murray. It was mostly a fairly straightforaward biography, and I learned a lot. But there were a few weird things. The author pretty much always referred to Eleanor Roosevelt as “ER.” Fine sometimes, but jarring at others. There were regularly points where I had to ask myself “wait, what year is it here?” This is really basically a biography of Pauli Murray---the author mostly uses the correspondence/friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt as a hook. Which is fine, as I was mostly interested in Pauli Murray. It was mostly a fairly straightforaward biography, and I learned a lot. But there were a few weird things. The author pretty much always referred to Eleanor Roosevelt as “ER.” Fine sometimes, but jarring at others. There were regularly points where I had to ask myself “wait, what year is it here?” and it was harder to find out than it should have been. PM lived through a tough time to be black and female (and gay), and found it hard to find useful work because of those things. Sort of cool how she did the restaurant sit-in thing 20 years before the more famous ones. The book did not, though, do a good job of explaining how she supported herself before ...well, before ER died in the early ‘60s (by which time PM was almost 50). She wrote some books and poems and papers, but… did that really bring home the bacon? I did learn about ER, too. I hadn’t quite realized how much of a radical (at least for a first lady in the 30s and 40s) she was herself. Mostly about civil rights. I mean, I sort of knew, and maybe it was just that the book was focused on that anyway.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

    I would probably have never been drawn to this title on my own, but read it for a book discussion. It’s a biography of a black woman, Anna Pauline “Pauli” Murray, who became an activist at a young age. The substory is her friendship with (and a briefer biography of) Eleanor Roosevelt, which developed slowly after Pauli began writing letters to the first lady to lobby for support for civil rights issues. Pauli quickly learned the most effective way to communicate, often going first through ER’s s I would probably have never been drawn to this title on my own, but read it for a book discussion. It’s a biography of a black woman, Anna Pauline “Pauli” Murray, who became an activist at a young age. The substory is her friendship with (and a briefer biography of) Eleanor Roosevelt, which developed slowly after Pauli began writing letters to the first lady to lobby for support for civil rights issues. Pauli quickly learned the most effective way to communicate, often going first through ER’s secretary and asking her to bring an issue to the attention of the first lady with the hope that it would eventually reach the President’s ear. ER developed great respect for Pauli, who was tenacious and an eloquent, persuasive writer. Pauli battled poor health and much rejection (including from black men) in her eventually successful quest to obtain three advanced degrees in law and a seminary degree. Today any college or university would go all out to recruit a black woman as brilliant as Pauli Murray. I had never heard of this amazing woman, but she deserves to be as well-known as any civil rights or women’s issues activist. This was a timely read during the week after the murder of George Floyd. I was struck both by how far we have come and how far we have to go.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Marianne

    I absolutely loved this book. I read it to learn more about Pauli Murray, and initially I feared it was "borrowing interest" in Eleanor Roosevelt to sell books, but I came to see that so much was revealed about these extraordinary women in their letters and other encounters. There is no doubt that their friendship was important and influential to both of them. I am astounded that Pauli Murray is not better known and I suspect this is because she faced discrimination as an African-American, as a I absolutely loved this book. I read it to learn more about Pauli Murray, and initially I feared it was "borrowing interest" in Eleanor Roosevelt to sell books, but I came to see that so much was revealed about these extraordinary women in their letters and other encounters. There is no doubt that their friendship was important and influential to both of them. I am astounded that Pauli Murray is not better known and I suspect this is because she faced discrimination as an African-American, as a woman, as a lesbian, and as someone who was gender-queer. She also struggled with bouts of mental illness. She really understood intersectionality before we were talking about it. And her tireless work as an activist/organizer, attorney, and priest has made a tremendous difference in the world, for which she did not receive enough recognition. Myself a Episcopal priest, I was also delighted to hear about about her becoming a priest helped bring all things together. I hope everyone who is interested in HUMAN rights will read this book. She was a brave, determined, courageous, expressive woman, who suffered mightily and always held onto herself. I am so glad my church has made her a saint.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Janet Mahlum

    I highly recommend this book. Perhaps it isn't a true five-star book, but I decided to give it 5 stars to counter some of the lower ratings, which I felt were undeserved. Pauli Murray was descended from a slave and a slave owner. In addition, she had a little Native American thrown into the mix. Many of her family could and did pass for white. Pauli found herself discriminated against because of her color, her gender, and her perceived sexual orientation. Her lifelong workings were in trying to I highly recommend this book. Perhaps it isn't a true five-star book, but I decided to give it 5 stars to counter some of the lower ratings, which I felt were undeserved. Pauli Murray was descended from a slave and a slave owner. In addition, she had a little Native American thrown into the mix. Many of her family could and did pass for white. Pauli found herself discriminated against because of her color, her gender, and her perceived sexual orientation. Her lifelong workings were in trying to overcome discrimination in every area she found it. In a book she wrote about her family's history, Proud Shoes, she commented on how not much had changed in the past 100 years. As I read about her story and her relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt, I kept being struck by how not much has changed since 1933. Oh yes, laws have been passed, there has been some effort to enforce them, but by and large a person of color, a woman, a person whose sexual orientation doesn't align with 100% male or 100% female is still denied rights granted to others in this country. I pray for the day to come, when all humankind will be treated with love and respect.

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