Civil rights activist and campus alum Pauli Murray will be memorialized on a special U.S. quarter starting early next year.
As a part of the U.S. Mint’s American Women Quarters Program, Murray will become the 11th person to be honored through this initiative.
“A lot of people say to me, ‘it’s wonderful that this is another honor for her,’ and it is of course monumental and unique,” said Rosita Stevens-Holsey, Murray’s niece. “But I look at this selection of her as one of the honorees as a validation and a testament to more than 50 years of achievements that she accomplished.”
Murray was an attorney, Episcopal priest, writer, poet and human rights and gender equality activist. Angela Thorpe, executive director of the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice, described Murray as “one of the architects for American democracy” due to their involvement in civil rights.
Later in life, Murray became a founding member of the National Organization of Women. Murray hosted sit-ins, published articles and wrote letters to several politicians fighting for civil rights, Stevens-Holsey said.
“This is a really exciting opportunity to amplify a historical figure who was one, a social justice advocate, but also a historical figure whose work we’re benefiting from today and is being challenged today,” Thorpe said. “I’m really hopeful that Pauli’s presence on the quarter will encourage people or invite people to take a look at their work.”
Thorpe added that Murray was gender-nonconforming and fought for LGBTQ+ rights. Their identity was often challenged and they “hit brick walls,” according to Stevens-Holsey.
These challenges included being denied entry into a Harvard University law fellowship after graduating top of their class at Howard University School of Law, which led them to get a degree from Berkeley Law in 1945. According to Thorpe, Murray’s time on campus was “a direct result of gender discrimination.”
“Pauli is a gender-nonconforming person being featured on a U.S. quarter, which, to my knowledge, makes Pauli the first to hold that status,” Thorpe said. “It’s exciting that people from many backgrounds and who represent many intersectional identities will be able to see themselves represented in this very prominent way.”
Berkeley Law recently created an exhibit that includes a portrait of Murray at the law school, said Alex Shapiro, assistant dean of communications at Berkeley Law. The portrait, entitled “Love as Liberation,” intends to honor Murray’s work and legacy.
In 2022, Stevens-Holsey worked with the U.S. Mint to nominate Murray for this honor. She noted being on “pins and needles” waiting for the result, and was excited to hear her aunt was chosen to be on a special quarter.
“I’m so pleased that the world gets to know who she is and that she’s made an impact on so many things which affect all of our lives,” Stevens-Holsey said. “I think we could use her wisdom in the things that are happening to our country at this time. She was very bold and very fearless.”