Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Pauli Murray, February 13, 1976. Interview G-0044. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Influential professor at Hunter College

Murray describes the influence of her professor, Dr. Dorothy Keur, at Hunter College in New York City. As an anthropologist, Keur taught her students about different cultures. For Murray, this had the result of dissolving any lingering embarrassment about her African and American Indian heritage and gave her an appreciation for what she calls "the unity of mankind." This view would become central to Murray’s positioning within the civil rights movement in later years.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Pauli Murray, February 13, 1976. Interview G-0044. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

PAULI MURRAY:
One other experience I had in college I think is worth recording. We had a marvelous young teacher in anthropology by the name of Dorothy Keur. I could have completely missed up on anthropology but I had a very dear friend who was a science major and loved anthropology and she recommended that I take it and so, I took it as an elective and Dr. Keur, for our field work, had us go once a week over to the Hall of Man at the Museum of Natural History over on 87th Street across the park. It was a marvelous hike because Hunter was at 68th and Park Avenue.
GENNA RAE MCNEIL:
Across the park?
PAULI MURRAY:
Across the park. In those days, there was no problem whatsoever. You could sleep in the park. I have slept in the park. We would hike down to the park and sleep over night, but remember, I am talking about over forty years ago, pre-World War II. We would spend once a week in the Hall of Man, particularly with African villages and village life and art and artifacts and American Indians. Now, I have touched upon the other two streams of my ancestry, growing up in a kind of European dominated a society and my American Indian ancestry and my African ancestry being more or less suppressed. This experience in anthropology did more for me, I think, than maybe any other course in college, because first of all, it showed me a comparative view of man and how man responds to the environment in which he lives, to build his homes, his art, his institutions and whatnot and I could see the parallels between American Indians and Africans. Secondly, in a sense for me, it removed them from the column of what I needed to have any sense of being embarassed about.
GENNA RAE MCNEIL:
That's interesting. This Professor Keur, do you have any idea with whom she studied or what …not all anthropologists took that kind of approach at that period.
PAULI MURRAY:
She was a marvelous person. She's still alive and just recently …oh, she retired, I guess, a number of years ago, but I think that she may have studied with Ruth Benedict, I don't know. She studied at Columbia, I'm fairly sure. Her husband was an archeologist, they spent a lot of time in the West …
GENNA RAE MCNEIL:
On what they called digs?
PAULI MURRAY:
Right.
GENNA RAE MCNEIL:
And field trips.
PAULI MURRAY:
Yes. And she had a sense and she transmitted to me a sense of the unity of mankind and I've never lost that. This may make me a loss to militant racial identification, but this sense of unity within mankind, this sense of seeing mankind as mankind …