The Price of Survival

A significant portion of American jurisprudence rests on the shoulders of a black lesbian theologian whose name you likely do not know.

The Price of Survival, a documentary film on the life of 20th-century intellectual Pauli Murray, stitches together the diaries, private notes, poetry, and autobiography of the profound and important thinker to paint a picture of the shifting cultural landscape of her time. Murray worked as an American civil rights activist, women’s rights activist, lawyer, and author before joining the ministry late in life as the first black woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest. Of her varied and impressive career, the filmmakers write:

As a lawyer she is the architect of modern feminist legal theory. As a civil rights leader, she is credited with helping to develop direct non-violent action in the 1930s as a strategy for civil rights that would pave the way for the movement of the 50s and 60s. As a writer and theologian, she has left us with groundbreaking material on American democracy and identity.

Murray spent her life in defiance of a concept she termed “Jane Crow,” the double discrimination faced by black women, and she was often the victor. She recognized early what social change agents decades later would come to understand, that addressing issues simultaneously is the best way to root out their causes. Her work would always address race and gender discrimination at the same time and she would later describe her strategy as “not only good politics, but also it may be the price of survival.”

Mass Humanities funded the pre-production of The Price of Survival, the trailer for which can be seen above. The original working title for the film was A Song of Hope: The Life Story of Pauli Murray.

Documentary Educational Resources was awarded a $10,000 Media Project Grant for pre-production support for a film about Pauli Murray, an African-American woman who made historic contributions to civil rights, women’s rights, and religious life in the U.S. [Project Director: Margo Guernsey; Date Awarded: 6/8/12]

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