Reviews for The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice

by Patricia Bell-Scott

Publishers Weekly
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Bell-Scott (Life Notes), professor emerita of women's studies and family science at the University of Georgia, deftly reveals two women's crucial involvement in the struggle for civil rights. Pauli Murray, a young African American woman, crossed paths with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in 1934 when Murray was living at Camp Tera, a New Deal facility for unemployed women. The burgeoning professional relationship between these two smart, strong-minded, and ambitious women developed into genuine affection. They shared similar ideas about social justice, and each chose her own course of action. The fascinating, complex Murray takes center stage in this absorbing historical page-turner. In the decades before the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision and Rosa Parks's 1955 bus protest, Murray challenged racial segregation at the University of North Carolina (1938) and on public transportation in Virginia (1940). As a law student in the early 1940s, she battled gender discrimination, foreshadowing her co-founding of the National Organization for Women in 1966. Until Roosevelt's death in 1962, she supported Murray's various projects and helped the younger woman with her career goals. Murray's considerable achievements weren't dependent on Roosevelt's assistance; Bell-Scott brilliantly shows that the friendship equally enriched both women. Illus. (Feb.) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A significant new exploration of the enormously important friendship between two activist crusaders in advancing the cause of civil rights for blacks and women. Although the Baltimore-born black lawyer Pauli Murray (1910-1985) and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) exchanged more than 300 letters during their lifetimes, met occasionally, and worked in tandem on issues of social justice, there has not been a proper study of their mutually influential friendship until now. In this stellar work of scholarship, Bell-Scott (Emerita, Women's Studies and Family Science/Univ. of Georgia; Flat-Footed Truths:Telling Black Women's Lives, 1998, etc.) has sifted through their correspondence for evidence of their evolving ideas on black-white issues and how each took the measure of the other while working doggedly to bring down social and professional barriers. Eleanor tirelessly promoted integration despite the public caution that her husband demonstrated, and she first met Murray in 1933 as a college graduate attending Camp Tera (Temporary Emergency Relief Administration), a pilot facility for struggling unemployed women that Eleanor had pushed to create during the Depression. Subsequently, Murray would go on to get advanced law degrees and work as deputy California attorney general and, later, as a professor. All the while, Murray idolized Eleanor ("the most visible symbol of autonomy and therefore the role model of women of my generation") and frequently wrote to heror to the president, sending her a copy of the letter. She laid out in no uncertain terms the plight of the African-American, "the most oppressed, most misunderstood and most neglected section of your population," especially in the South, where she had lived as an orphan. From getting anti-lynching legislation passed to pressuring institutions of higher learning to integrate, the two women bolstered or chided each other candidly in their letters involving issues which Eleanor frequently referred to in her newspaper column. With generous excerpts from the letters, Bell-Scott shines a bright light on this significant relationship. A fresh look at Eleanor Roosevelt and a fascinating exploration of a cherished, mutually beneficial friendship. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

*Starred Review* Eleanor Roosevelt, born to privilege, prosperity, and power, first crossed paths with Pauli Murray, the granddaughter of a slave struggling against racism and poverty, in 1934 when the First Lady visited an upstate New York facility for unemployed women. Murray was in residence after fleeing the Jim Crow South to put herself through college in Manhattan. Four years later, Murray sent the opening salvo in what became a fervent correspondence that lasted until Roosevelt's death, as these two brilliant, courageous, committed trailblazers both orphaned young, taunted for their appearance, devoted to reading and writing, boundlessly energetic, and fiercely independent joined forces to fight for justice and equality. Bell-Scott meticulously chronicles their boundary-breaking friendship, telling each remarkable woman's story within the context of the crises of the times, from ongoing racial violence to WWII and the vicious battle over school integration, creating a sharply detailed and profoundly illuminating narrative. Roosevelt's heroic compassion and world-altering accomplishments shine with fresh significance, while Murray's phenomenal life of firsts delivers one astonishment after another. A clarion writer and seminal civil rights activist, a professor with a doctorate in law and an Episcopalian priest, Murray analyzed and protested every manifestation of discrimination she encountered based on race, gender, and sexual orientation. Bell-Scott's groundbreaking portrait of these two tireless and innovative champions of human dignity adds an essential and edifying facet to American history.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2016 Booklist

Library Journal
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In 1983, civil rights activist Pauli Murray (1910-85) instructed Bell-Scott (emerita, women's studies, Univ. of Georgia; Life Notes) to "know some of the veterans of the battle whose shoulders you now stand on." When Murray died two years later, Bell-Scott began researching the activist's life. After reviewing the correspondence between Murray and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Bell-Scott decided to focus on their decades-long friendship. Murray first wrote to both Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938 to express outrage that she was barred from the University of North Carolina's graduate school because of her race. Over the next few years, Eleanor became mentor to Murray, urging her to be patient with the progress of civil rights, while Murray encouraged Eleanor to consider the plight of African Americans who were suffering from discrimination during the Great Depression and World War II. The quotes from their lengthy correspondence, up to Eleanor's death in 1962, reveal their mutual respect and honesty. VERDICT Bell-Scott makes a convincing case that Murray influenced -Eleanor's views on civil and human rights and though not popularly known, she should be remembered as an important leader in both the civil rights and feminist movements. [See Prepub Alert, 8/31/15.]-Kate Stewart, American Folklife Ctr., Washington, DC Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.