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Check It Out: The Firebrand and the First Lady

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Today, I’m recommending The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice by Patricia Bell-Scott.

Longlisted for the National Book Award, this groundbreaking book—two decades in the making—tells the story of how a brilliant writer-turned-activist, granddaughter of a mulatto slave, and the first lady of the United States, whose ancestry gave her membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution forged an enduring, unforgettable friendship.

Pauli Murray and Eleanor Roosevelt first crossed paths in 1933 when the first lady made an unannounced visit to Camp Tera, a New Deal facility for unemployed women, where a young Murray was living and working. Coincidentally, the idea for camps like Tera came from Mrs. Roosevelt who pushed her husband to do what they could for women and the poor during the Great Depression. 

Five years later, they would cross paths once again, when Murray wrote a letter to both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt protesting racial segregation in the South and her own outrage at being barred from the University of North Carolina’s graduate school because of her race. The president’s staff forwarded the letter to the federal Office of Education, but it was the first lady who wrote back.  

What started out as a burgeoning professional relationship between these two smart, opinionated, and ambitious women over their shared interest in social justice issues, soon developed into a genuine friendship that would last for decades. 

Drawing from letters, journals, diaries, manuscripts, and interviews, Patricia Bell-Scott has written a captivating collective biography that paints an intimate portrait of the bond between civil rights activist Pauli Murray and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Full of rich detail and thought-provoking prose, The Firebrand and the First Lady is a uniquely fresh take on the biography genre.

Check out The Firebrand and the First Lady and other engaging works of nonfiction like it at the Sioux City Public Library.     

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Support for Check It Out comes from Avery Brothers.

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