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Archive for December, 2021

I finished reading Song In a Weary Throat by Pauli Murray today. In December I was also reading a daily selection of Evelyn Underhill’s writings, a book about women mystics, and a book about looking back over a life’s convictions. Underhill is a genius, the other two books were ok. Song In a Weary Throat is excellent.

Murray’s book is the memoir she was finishing right up until her death. If you haven’t heard of her, she was a civil rights and women’s rights advocate, poet, lawyer, scholar, educator, and Episcopal priest (one of the first women to be ordained in that church). Her argument in a law school paper that segregation was psychologically harmful inspired the arguments made in Brown v. Board of Education. She also pioneered nonviolent resistance to Jim Crow laws, including refusing to move back on a bus, and engaging with other Howard University students in restaurant sit ins and pickets. She was a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt’s and a founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW).

Song In a Weary Throat is warm, razor sharp, and deeply thoughtful. I learned a lot about our nation’s history and about the early civil rights and women’s rights movements. And I appreciated Murray’s candid and heartfelt descriptions of how it felt for her to live through pivotal times and events. Her writing is also beautiful and her sense of how best to work towards equity sounds wise and theologically sound to me: “Almost from birth I had been conditioned by religious training to believe that love was more powerful than hate — not a passive, submissive love but a vigorous love which resisted injustice without stooping to the level of hating the oppressor. Applying this belief to the racial problem in the United States, I held to the conviction that once discriminatory laws and systemic practices were removed, the ultimate resolution of racism would come through one-to-one interracial relationships creating a climate of acceptance.”

Some folks would consider that overly optimistic, but to me, it gets to the heart of the kind of hope found in Christian theology. Christ’s love wasn’t the hearts and flowers kind, it was both righteous (think of his driving out the money changers in the temple, arguing with hypocritical leaders, and being exasperated with his followers were not understanding that he’d come to completely upend human ideas about who was first and who was last in society) and “vigorous” as Murray writes, able to withstand absolutely everything, including death. Murray did not stand for half-measures, and regularly engaged in “confrontation by typewriter” with the press and with influential people, pressing for more authentic engagement with racism and sexism and for social and political remedies. But she also believed deeply in the dignity of every person, and saw opportunity for understanding even in the newly post Jim Crow south where she spent time living and working as a college administrator.

This was a terrific read and I’m glad to have ended 2021 with such a good book.

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