Queering Jane Crow
Queering Jane Crow
Pauli Murray’s Quest for an Unhyphenated Identity
Pauli Murray was one of the young activists that Mary Church Terrell mentored. In the 1940s, Murray enrolled at Howard University Law School and went on to graduate as the only woman and top student in her class. In the 1930s, the convergence of several important Black male intellectuals at Howard University, including Abram Harris, E. Franklin Frazier, and Ralph Bunche, had cemented a new formal model of the academically trained Black male public intellectual. When Murray enrolled in the 1940s, she experienced great sexism from these Black male intellectuals. She termed their treatment of her, “Jane Crow.” While she went on to have a storied career as a legal expert, Episcopal priest, poet, and writer, all of which place her firmly in the tradition of the race woman, her identity as both a woman and queer person in the 1940s and 1950s collided with the Howard model of public intellectual work. This chapter brings together Murray’s time and training at Howard, her archives, and an examination of her two autobiographies to suggest that her concept of Jane Crow grew out of the collision of race-based sexual politics and limited ideas among Black men about who could provide intellectual leadership for Black people. Moreover, Jane Crow exposed the heterosexist proclivities of Black public leadership traditions, and offers a framework for thinking about how Black women negotiated gender and sexual politics even as they devoted their lives to theorizing new strategies for racial uplift.
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