The Book Reader: ‘The Firebrand and The First Lady’

Patrik Henry Bass of Essence Magazine reviews “The Firebrand and the First Lady” by University of Georgia professor Patricia Bell-Scott in NY1’s The Book Reader.

Few first ladies broke the mold during their time in The White House quite like Anna Eleanor Roosevelt.

One of the most discussed people of the past century, there is little that we don’t know about Mrs. Roosevelt.

That is until you pick up The Firebrand and The First Lady (Knopf, $30): Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice.

In this captivating new book, exhaustively written by University of Georgia professor Patricia Bell-Scott, we witness real change through two women’s remarkable eyes.

Though they were nearly a generation apart in age, both women shared a first birth name—Murray was born Anna Pauline—and a determination for gender equality. Their bond began in 1938 after Pauli was rejected from the University of North Carolina. The fearless Murray wrote a letter to President Roosevelt and cc’d his wife, who responded to the determined young woman. A communication was established. Their bond was cemented after Roosevelt - nicknamed ER in letters - invited Murray for tea.

From that moment on, Bell-Scott brilliantly allows both women to literally speak for themselves. The First Lady who didn’t feel particularly maternal, emerges as a protective and affectionate voice of reason. Murray, who soared as an activist, attorney, civil rights leader, and co-founder of NOW, struggled with her identity. In Eleanor Roosevelt she found less of a kindred spirit and more of a source of inspiration and someone incapable of betraying a trust. Bell-Scott also does a notable job of balancing two gigantic personas, without allowing one to overshadow the other.

Indeed, The Firebrand and The First Lady emphatically proves that although both women would’ve made strides without the other, the world we know today, is much better off because a First Lady heeded a young woman’s call.

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