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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Pauli Murray, February 13, 1976. Interview G-0044. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Decision to become a seminarian

Murray discusses her decision to become a seminarian and to become a candidate for the Holy Orders. According to Murray, her decision was partly fueled by growing militancy within both the civil rights and women's liberation movements. Murray explains that her views on liberation and justice were quite similar to those of Martin Luther King Jr. Like King, Murray believed that reconciliation amongst people was the best path towards equality and she felt that the seminary offered the best environment for pursuing these ends.

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

Now finally, in terms of career, it is very interesting to me that you have returned to writing, but more significantly that in 1973, you resigned the professorship to become a candidate for the priesthood, or at least to become a seminarian, first at General Theological Seminary and then at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia and what I would like to know, is there any connection between your decision to become a seminarian and ultimately seek ordination to the priesthood and your concern about sex discrimination in the United States and if so, what? If not, is this at all connected with your general pioneering efforts in the struggle for societal change?
This question about the relationship to sex discrimination is one which I have asked myself. I think I can honestly say, "No. It is not directly connected, or it was not directly motivated by my interest in sex discrimination." When I applied to become a candidate for Holy Orders, the reading that I had at that time, in early 1973, was a very positive and encouraging one in respect to women in the priesthood. Therefore, I did not expect, I completely miscalculated the controversy that was to arise as a result of the non-decision of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the fall of 1973. I think that I can truthfully say that my decision to become a candidate for Holy Orders is much more closely related to my feeling of standing in the tradition of Martin Luther King, Jr. and my strong conviction that basically, all of these problems of human rights in which I had been involved for most of my adult life, sex, race, all of the problems of human rights, that basically these were moral and spiritual problems. And I think that I was driven more into this position when I saw that the particular profession to which I had devoted the larger sector of my life, law, was …that we had reached a point where law could not give us the answers. You know, here we are, the busing controversy in Boston. I began to see women, feminists, behaving in the same hostile extreme way that I had seen black militants. Instead of the possibilities of reconciliation, there seemed to be even greater and greater alienation and to me it was important to keep the tradition of Martin Luther King alive and this all seemed to point toward my witnessing where my conviction was. And if my conviction is a spiritual conviction, then I should witness in that way and make it clear where I am standing. Moreover, it seemed to me as I looked back over my life that I was being pointed in the direction of the priesthood or service to the church. It seemed to me that it came out in my writings, it came out in my speeches, it came out in my rather steadfast devotion to the notion of reconciliation as well as liberation. I asked myself, "What do you want to do with the time that you have left?" This seems to be the answer.
Now, when you speak of the tradition of Martin Luther King, you are emphasizing primarily what? The notion of nonviolence and Christian love, brotherhood or what?
It seemed to me that Martin Luther King stood for two things. He stood for liberation, which is the contemporary term, but he also stood for the possibility of reconciliation between people, among peoples. He was not satisfied to merely enter into the struggle. He would call it, and in Christian terms we would call it, "salvation." After he died, the notion of reconciliation was almost discarded in the black militant stance. My feeling is that if this country is to survive, we must live together in harmony and we must live together in a spirit of harmony, you can call it brotherhood or whatnot. We cannot survive as a divided country. Therefore, there is a need for people to be involved with and concerned about reconciliation even as we are working on liberation. One's concern for reconciliation … [interruption] …I was saying that there is a need for people who are as concerned about reconciliation as they are liberation from racism or from sexism and one's concern about reconciliation will affect the quality and the way in which one approaches the problem of liberation. This is where I am today.