THE FIREBRAND AND THE FIRST LADY: PORTRAIT OF A FRIENDSHIP: PAULI MURRAY, ELEANOR ROOSEVELT, AND THE STRUGGLE FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE (released by Alfred A. Knopf, February 2, 2016), a work two decades in the making, tells the story of how a brilliant writer-turned-activist, who was the 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 friendship that changed each of their lives, enriched the conversation about race, and added vital fuel to the movement for human rights in America.


Pauli Murray (1910-1985) became a lawyer, civil and women’s rights pioneer, and the first African American woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest, despite the discrimination she faced because of her race, sex, and sexuality. Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), the niece of Theodore Roosevelt and the wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt, became a diplomat and human rights internationalist in her own right. They had a decades-long friendship—tender, moving, prodding, inspiring—sustained primarily through correspondence and characterized by brutal honesty, mutual admiration, and respect, revealing the generational and political differences each had to overcome in order to support each other’s growth as the transformative leaders for which they would be later known.


Drawing on letters, journals, diaries, published and unpublished manuscripts, photographs, and oral history, Patricia Bell-Scott presents the first close-up portrait of this evolving friendship and how it was sustained over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.


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