Scheduled to enter circulation on January 2nd is the 11th quarter in the United States Mint’s American Women Quarters program. I’m so pleased that my design was selected for this coin honoring the Reverend Dr. Pauli Murray.
It’s difficult to provide a brief summary of the life of Pauli Murray (1910-1985) because it is so multi-faceted. She was a black activist, feminist, lawyer, priest and poet. Here are a few important milestones, though these do not tell the whole story:
• In 1940, she was arrested for sitting in the whites-only section of a bus, and this fuelled her desire to become a civil rights lawyer.
• Though she graduated first in her class in law school, gender discrimination prevented her from attending graduate school. She coined the term “Jane Crow” to describe such prejudice against women.
• She wrote what some would call the “bible” of the civil rights movement.
• Murray advocated for women’s rights, was a founding member of the National Organization for Women, and her scholarly work influenced Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s brief for the Supreme Court case Reed vs. Reed.
• Later in life, Murray left academia to become an Episcopal priest—the first African-American woman to be so ordained.
I use the pronouns “she/her” when referring to the Reverend Dr. Murray, as Pauli Murray herself used. However, I recognize that Murray’s papers indicate that she struggled with gender identity. Murray lived before the term “transgender” came into use, and it is possible that she would choose different pronouns if she were alive today.
Pauli Murray Quarter Design
The coin design shows the word HOPE in large letters, cropped on both sides by the edges of the quarter. Contained within the shape of those letters is Reverend Dr. Pauli Murray’s face and neck, including her characteristic large frame eyeglasses and clerical collar.
In addition to Murray’s face and neck, the word HOPE contains the inscription “A song in a weary throat.” This line from her poem Dark Testament is an eloquent way to summarize her lifelong fight for social justice, and it touches on all of her chosen professions—lawyer, activist, poet, scholar, priest.
I read Pauli Murray’s autobiography Song in a Weary Throat as background for this coin design, and marvelled that I’d never heard of her. What impressed me most was the way Murray, with a determination and energy that leaves me in awe, repeatedly strove for justice despite the many institutional-sized obstacles in her way.
In trying to summarize Murray’s life’s work on a coin, I resisted the design brief’s suggestion of incorporating a list of her professions into the design. Instead, I tried to find a common thread. It seemed to me that hope fuelled the many facets of her life and work. Her belief that significant societal reforms were possible was rooted in hope; hope anchored her most famous poem Dark Testament; and she used a line in that poem—“Hope is a song in a weary throat”— as the title for her autobiography. Showing Murray as part of the word “HOPE” felt appropriately symbolic.
Text on coins
In my last post about an American Women Quarter that I designed, I wrote about the challenge of including a lot of text on a coin. That quarter—honoring Edith Kanaka`ole—involved 72 characters (including the denomination). This Pauli Murray coin tops that, with 83 characters if one includes the word HOPE. The other inscriptions are: A SONG IN A WEARY THROAT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 25₵, THE REVEREND DR. PAULI MURRAY, and E PLURIBUS UNUM. While it’s true that HOPE and A SONG IN A WEARY THROAT are not required inscriptions, I felt they were critical to the quarter’s theme, so I spent a great deal of time trying to find a way to include them without making the design look like a page from a book.