“Get Out the Vote” Spotlight – Pauli Murray

Now you are strong
And we are but grapes aching with ripeness.
Crush us!
Squeeze from us all the brave life Contained in these full skins.
But ours is a subtle strength
Potent with centuries of yearning,
Of being kegged and shut away In dark forgotten places.

We shall endure
To steal your senses In that lonely twilight
Of your winter’s grief.

To the Oppressors. Pauli Murray.

Pauli Murray was a co-founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW), as well as a poet, author, lawyer, and civil rights activist. Murray is well known for highlighting the experiences of African-American women in particular. Her work sheds light on “Jane Crow,” a term she coined to illustrate that southern Jim Crow laws impacted women, too. 

Some Jim Crow laws made voter registration and electoral processes more restrictive, so political participation among many southern black voters was suppressed. Such laws included poll taxes, literacy tests, and residency requirements. Voter turnout dropped drastically in the South as a result. 

Murray’s book States’ Law on Race and Color examined and critiqued Jim Crow and similar laws throughout the U.S. It drew on social and psychological theory as well as legal theory, which drew some criticism within the legal profession. However, States’ Laws on Race and Color was hugely influential to the Civil Rights movement. Thurgood Marshall, who was then the NAACP chief counsel and would eventually become a Supreme Court justice, called it the “bible” of the civil rights movement, and the NAACP mirrored Murray’s social-scientific approach in their arguments in Brown v. Board of Education

 

On display in the exhibit Get Out the Vote: Suffrage and Disenfranchisement in America is Dark Testament and Other Poems. By Pauli Murray. Norwalk, Conn., Silvermine, 1970.

At the heart of the Special Collections & University Archives exhibit Get Out the Vote: Suffrage and Disenfranchisement in America are advocates and grassroots organizations who have fought for expanding the right to vote. Their individual and collective voices have driven major changes to American voting rights, moving the nation closer to the ideal of “one person, one vote.”

Visit the Maryland Room Exhibit Gallery in Hornbake Library to view the exhibit Get Out the Vote: Suffrage and Disenfranchisement in America or explore the exhibit online.

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