Campus News

Professor emerita to discuss new book on friendship between activist, first lady

The friendship between human rights activist Pauli Murray and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt is explored in a new book by Patricia Bell-Scott, UGA professor emerita of women’s studies and human development and family science.

Bell-Scott will discuss her book, The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice, Feb. 4 at 5:30 p.m. at the Richard B. Russell Building Special Collections Libraries.

Co-sponsored by the Lucy Hargrett Draper Center and Archives and the Institute for African American Studies, the event is part of UGA’s Black History Month observance and will launch a national book tour. Prior to Bell-Scott’s presentation, the African American Choral Ensemble, under the direction of Hodgson School of Music faculty member Gregory Broughton, will present a selection of songs. A reception also will be held.

As founding editor of SAGE: A Scholarly Journal on Women, Bell-Scott contacted Murray to serve on its initial editorial board. A comment in Murray’s return letter—”you need to know some of the veterans of the battle whose shoulders you now stand on”—stayed with Bell-Scott, eventually leading to nearly two decades of research and writing that has produced this dual biography.

“Pauli’s suggestion sounded like a call in many ways,” Bell-Scott said. “Once I began reading the correspondence between them, I knew my job was to tell their story. I wanted to know what drew together the granddaughter of a mulatto slave reared in North Carolina, and a native New Yorker, whose ancestry entitled her to membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution.

“I wanted to understand the nature of their unlikely friendship and how it changed over time,” Bell-Scott also said. “I wondered what individual needs the relationship satisfied, how were they changed by it and what significance did it have for the cause of social justice.”

Drawing on letters, journals, diaries, published and unpublished manuscripts, and interviews, Bell-Scott’s book gives the first close-up portrait of this evolving friendship and how it was sustained over time, what each gave to the other and how their friendship changed the cause of American social justice.

Murray and Roosevelt met after a letter Murray wrote protesting racial segregation in the South made its way to the first lady.

The first African-American to receive a Doctor of Juridical Science from Yale and also the first black woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest, Murray was a key strategist in the fight to preserve Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and a co-founder of the National Organization for Women.