For the next few months, students who visit the Yale Law School Library may find near the entrance a prominent but unobtrusive glass display box. Inside, handwritten missives, black-and-white photographs and other trinkets from the early life and career of Pauli Murray LAW ’65 glimmer.
This semester, the Lillian Goldman Law Library Annex will host an exhibit titled “Pauli Murray at Yale Law: 1961–1965.” Curated by Law School lecturer Jordan Jefferson, Associate Law Librarian Lisa Goodman and law professor Teresa Miguel-Stearns, the exhibit highlights the time Murray — now the namesake of one of Yale’s two new residential colleges — spent studying at the Law School. In 1965, Murray became the first African American to obtain a Doctor of Juridicial Science degree from Yale.
“The most personal memorabilia, like the work schedule, were definitely the most interesting to me,” said Julia Gourary ’21, a first year who viewed the exhibit. “The insight into her daily life as a student really made her seem much more relatable and human than before.”
During her time at the Law School, Murray was an active member of the Civil and Political Rights Committee of John F. Kennedy’s President’s Commission on the Status of Women, and helped plan and organize the March on Washington with Martin Luther King, Jr. She lobbied executive and legislative branches to include sex as a protected class for employment discrimination in the Civil Rights Act, and wrote and spoke about issues impacting marginalized Americans across the country, according to the exhibit’s website. The exhibit encompasses these and various other aspects of Murray’s engagements at the Law School.
Exhibit curators did not comment on the content of the exhibit, but noted in an email to the News that the display is still a work in progress, and that more memorabilia will be added later in the semester.
The memorabilia on display include a pink ticket and a scribbled-on invitation to Yale’s 1965 Commencement, a postcard from Murray’s sister expressing “what a proud sister [she was],” an annotated prospectus of Murray’s thesis, a letter from the chairman of the Yale Graduate Committee at the time informing her that she would be awarded the degree — complete with a personal note that reads “a Mississippian is proud of you” — and several other documents from her time at Yale.
Claire Kalikman ’21 said she felt that the exhibit not only makes Murray easy for current Yale students to relate to, but also makes her more inspiring as a role model.
“I think that all the Yale memorabilia makes the exhibit at once individual and universal,” Kalikman said. “While it focuses on her and her admirable achievements, it also underscores how any one of us could have our name on those certificates.”
In one of several displayed letters, Murray writes that “there are two groups which neither law nor religion have been successful in keeping in their place — the civil rights activists and the Yale Law School-trained and other kinds of feminists.”
The memorabilia reflect the obstacles she would have had to overcome as a woman of color seeking a prestigious professional degree in the 1960s. A letter that addresses Murray as “Mr. Murray” and a group photograph in which Murray is noticeable as one of only four women, are particularly revealing.
For Rohan Agarwal ’21, another viewer, the fact that the exhibit explores these historical issues does justice to Murray’s legacy.
“I think the exhibit does a fantastic job of recognizing and celebrating how women and African-Americans began to find their place at the University, and educating students and the Yale community at large about its laureates from marginalized groups,” Agarwal said.
The exhibit is free and open to the general public.