Pioneering Episcopal priest Pauli Murray’s US quarter design unveiled

By Shireen Korkzan
Posted Jul 24, 2023

The Rev. Pauli Murray was the first Black woman ordained an Episcopal priest. Photo: Courtesy of the Carolina Digital Library and Archives/University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

[Episcopal News Service] The United States Mint has unveiled the design for its quarter honoring the Rev. Pauli Murray, the first Black woman to be ordained a priest in The Episcopal Church and a renowned activist for racial and gender rights. The quarter will be one of five new designs that will be issued in 2024 as part of the U.S. Mint’s American Women Quarters program, which celebrates the contributions of women to American history.

Murray, who was ordained in 1977, was also a lawyer, academic, poet and co-founder of the National Organization for Women, the largest feminist activist organization in the United States. As a civil and women’s rights lawyer, she was appointed by President John F. Kennedy to serve on the 1961 – 1963 Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. Murray and a friend were arrested in Virginia for refusing to give up their seats to white passengers on a bus 15 years before Rosa Parks did the same in 1955, prompting the Montgomery bus boycott in Alabama.

The Episcopal Church celebrates Murray’s feast day on July 1. Murray, who was queer, was often the only Black woman in positions she held. Murray’ contributions to the civil rights movements in the 1960s were often overlooked, though she’s been credited in landmark Supreme Court cases addressing racial and sex-based issues.

The reverse (tails) side of Murray’s quarter depicts a portrait of Murray within the shape of the word “hope.” A line from Murray’s poem “Dark Testament,” which characters hope as “a song in a weary throat,” is inscribed in the design. The obverse (heads) side depicts a portrait of President George Washington.

A U.S. quarter honoring the Rev. Pauli Murray, the first Black woman to be ordained a priest in The Episcopal Church and a renowned activist for racial and gender rights, will be issued in 2024. Photo: Courtesy of the U.S. Mint

In 1964, future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall cited Murray’s argument against the constitutionality of “separate but equal laws” in Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled against racial segregation in public schools. Marshall, who also led the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Legal Defense and Education Fund, called Murray’s 1950 book on segregation laws, “States’ Laws on Race and Color,” “the bible of the civil rights movement.” Murray was also recognized by future Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a co-author of the 1971 case Reed v. Reed, which established that gender-based discrimination is unconstitutional based on the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.

The U.S. Mint is honoring Murray along with Patsy Takemoto Mink, the first woman of color to serve in Congress; Mary Edwards Walker, a Civil War surgeon, women’s rights advocate and abolitionist; Zitkala-Ša, an advocate for Native Americans’ right to U.S. citizenship; and musician Celia Cruz, the Cuban-American “Queen of Salsa.”

“Sex and racial discrimination was [sic] her defining contributions as a pioneer, and she fought hard and she did a lot to change rights for those who were in the LGBT community,” U.S. Mint director Ventris C. Gibson said of Murray while unveiling the five new quarters on ABC’s Good Morning America.

The American Women Quarters program, which venerates U.S. women who’ve made significant accomplishments and contributions throughout history, began last year and will continue through 2025, with the U.S. Mint issuing five quarters each year.

Although Murray’s civil rights contributions have historically been overlooked, she’s been steadily gaining attention within and outside The Episcopal Church, especially among Black and queer leaders. In 2017, her family home in Durham, North Carolina was recognized as a National Historic Landmark, and in 2021, Amazon Studios released a documentary on Prime Video called “My Name is Pauli Murray.”

Recently, Murray’s gender identity within the LGBTQ+ community has been debated, with some scholars arguing that she should be regarded as nonbinary or a transgender man based on Murray’s preference to describe herself as having an “inverted sex instinct” during her lifetime.

This genderqueer woman, who was Black, who was politically engaged, who was also a priest – she modeled for me what I hope to achieve in my own life,” the Rev. Kim Jackson, the first out priest of color to be ordained in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta and the first openly LGBTQ+ Georgia state senator, told ENS in 2020.

-Shireen Korkzan is a reporter and assistant editor for Episcopal News Service. She can be reached at