[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Ingersoll: What was it like growing up in a family that was focused on a newspaper? If that's not the way to put it, "a family focused on a newspaper," please change it.
Murphy: A family focused on a newspaper. I guess the earliest memory I would have would be the fact that we did a lot of reading. The dinner time was structured. The dinner was a structured meal. My earliest memory is that my mother [Vashti Turley Murphy] would read a story, "Up the Down Staircase," and that we were expected to pick out the main idea, we were expected to tell her what it meant and how it would affect our lives, and maybe what the lesson was. It was just a very quiet sort of thing.
I remember the early book reports. We didn't call them book reports. We were assigned to come to the dinner table with something that we had read, to talk about. She didn't call them book reports. She would just say, "Tonight is your night that you're going to discuss that." Remember now, I grew up in the days when there wasn't television, the early days, and the radio that was allowed, my memory is "Howdy Doody Time" and "Mert and Marge." When my father's car came into the driveway, even those were turned off. This was talking time, this was family time, this was discussion of grades and discussion of what you were going to do tomorrow. In the morning we would all have to be standing at the front door ready to move when my father [Carl James Greenbury Murphy] moved to go in town, because we lived in the suburbs.
Let me back up. Up until I was five, we lived in the city, which would normally be called the inner city now. Of course, at that time it was just the city.
Ingersoll: That was Baltimore.
Murphy: That was Baltimore, 1051 Myrtle Avenue. There was a lovely park in front of our house. In fact, I remember the people who lived on both sides, a doctor [Dr. Carper] and people who we remembered all our lives. It was a pretty close-knit neighborhood, a drugstore on the corner owned by Dr. T. Henderson Kerr, and there was a church across the way, Perkins Square. So it was a fairly close-knit neighborhood. I remember we had a big front yard. We would sit on the front steps and wait for my father to come home, and we had to be clean and starched. Boy, were we starched. I can think about the fact that when you sat down, the starch hurt you. It was really something.
I was the youngest of five girls, so therefore I was the one who couldn't go off the steps unless an older child went with me. I was the one who was always left behind when my other sisters went off to places. I was the one usually left at home with my mother and the housekeeper. So those were really nice days.
Then in 1929, when I was seven, my dad built the house in Morgan Park, which is right next door to Morgan State College. In those days it was a fairly wooded area, completely surrounded by white people. Those were interesting times. We had a huge house with a huge back yard and then a huge side yard. I was about seven, I guess, then, and those are my fondest memories of childhood.
I don't remember too much about Myrtle Avenue except for the fact that I remember my sister was run over by a car because she went after ice for me. It was my sister Vashti. Everything happened to my sister Vashti. So she was the one who was very protective of me all through school, in fact. She fought all my battles for me. That's why we laugh about sexual harassment today, because I can't imagine anybody doing anything to me and me not coming home and telling my sister Vashti. She would take care of it immediately. [Laughter.] My sister Vashti, she was something. Anyhow, I remember that she was going after ice for me, that I wanted some ice. An ice truck in those days came by the house. She went out to get ice for me and got struck by a car.
Anyhow, we moved to Morgan Park and we very, very early were treated as boys, not girls. My father called us "boy." He'd say, "Boy, come here," and he wrote poems to us and in the poem he talked about the fact that the Lord had given him five girls. In my case, [in the poem he wrote] he had asked the Lord for a boy, and that when the nurse held the baby up, here was Frances L. And that's how the poem ends. He had just hoped to have a boy. When he didn't get a boy, he said, "Oh, well. They'll all go to the newspapers, none of them will stay home to learn to cook and clean." [Laughter.] And we didn't.
From the time that I can remember, I was taken to the office with my father. I learned to sit through his meetings, to sit very still. After the meeting he would ask me, even from my earliest memories, five, six, and seven, he would ask me, "What did they say? What did you think of Mr. So-and-so?" And he gave me an opportunity after the meeting to discuss what had happened. But during the meeting, even if I moved a bit, I can see his glance coming over toward me, shaking his head at me now. He put a pencil in my hand very, very early to take notes, and even though I can remember now—I wish I had saved some of those—I can remember that I didn't know how to write cursive, I would take little notes in printing. I remember doing that. Then I remember very, very early that after one of the meetings, the people had come in to ask the Afro to raise funds for something. It must have been Christmas. He insisted that I write a letter to Santa Claus, which I did, thinking I'm writing to my parents. I picked up the Afro and there it was in the paper. Can you imagine a third grader picking up the Afro, finding her letter to Santa Claus in the Afro-American newspaper? [Laughter.] Then, of course, that next week, my teacher read it in class.
So from the earliest times we were treated as though we were not expected to be home, although my mother was a homemaker and she stayed home. My mother, of course, even though she had a college education and had been a teacher in Washington, D.C., before she married my father, who was her professor, incidentally, at Howard University—he was a German professor at Howard University before he went into the newspaper business, and she was in his German class. They married after she graduated from Howard, and I guess in about 1918 moved on to Baltimore. So even though she was trained as a teacher, she never worked when she got married. She remained a homemaker.
We were taught very early by my mother that there were certain ways to do things, certain ways to talk, set the table, use the forks. Her favorite expression was, "You'll never know what day your father's going to pick up the phone and say, 'Let's go to the White House,' and they
expect you to know how to do things." Of course, he was a frequent visitor at the White House. They traveled all over the world and they expected us to be able to meet them in New York and be able to sit down at the hotel, wherever they were, and be able to know what to do without being told. So we learned that very, very early.
I can remember the lessons at the table. We used our silver every day. It was not anything. Good china and good silver, which I have today, was on the table every day. I sat beside my father. We had long silver knives, and if you put your elbows on the table, you would expect them to be cracked with the end of that long silver knife. So you learned very early to sit up straight. [Laughter.]
I guess the other thing in a big family is that you soon learn that "neither a borrower, nor a lender be." Despite the fact that there were five girls, my father would not allow us to borrow from each other. I've carried that through life. My children have never borrowed from me and I've never borrowed from a girlfriend. A lot of people do, but I don't. My father would say that that was just the cause for argument, that you each have a closet, you each have a room, and therefore unless it's handed down—of course everything was handed down to me, but he would say over and over again, "Unless it's handed down to you, don't you touch it."
My father liked the color blue. From the time I can remember, I had a blue chinchilla coat, and I can remember that he purchased everything for all the girls at one time. We did not shop in Baltimore because you could not try on clothes, you could not try on hats. So, therefore, my mother and father took us on twice-yearly trips to Philadelphia and New York to buy our clothes. Or they got them, I guess, maybe through a catalog or something. Anyhow, we had chinchilla coats. For as long as I can remember, because everybody had a chinchilla coat, my older sisters' coats were finally passed down to me, so I must have worn blue chinchilla coats for years. I remember that he also liked blue skirts and white blouses, so therefore my wardrobe consisted of many of those. [Laughter.]
So we had a large family, there were twin girls, the two oldest ahead of me were twins, and then the two older.
Ingersoll: What were their names, the two oldest?
Murphy: The oldest was Elizabeth Murphy Phillips Moss—that's her name now—but she was, of course, Elizabeth Murphy. Then there was Ida, named for my grandmother on my mother's side. Elizabeth and Ida were the oldest. Vashti and Carlita were the twins. Vashti was named for my mother, Carlita named for my father, whose name was Carl. Then, of course, I came along, named Frances Louise, named after my aunt, who was [Martha] Frances Louise Murphy, the first. She was the maiden aunt in the family.
Ingersoll: I noticed in some of the notes that came to you through the years, you were called Frankie. Was that a name that you got early on, or did that come later?
Murphy: Very, very early on. My father, going back to what I've been saying about boys. I imagine he wanted to call me Frank. My mother, in her soft-spoken way, I'm sure, must have objected, and it ended up Frankie. My aunt was always called Aunt Frank, so I became Frankie or, as my father would say, Frankie Lou, or Boy, one or the other. [Laughter.]
Ingersoll: Can we go back just a little ways and pick up on some of these things that you've told me that are so interesting? As I figured it out, am I right that your grandfather,
John Henry Murphy, Sr., who was one of the men who started the paper, must have died about the same year you were born.
Murphy: 1922. There were two deaths in that family that year. The youngest boy in my father's generation, Dan [Daniel Thomas Howard Murphy, Sr.], died that year. Then my grandfather died. So they died both before I was born.
Ingersoll: So you, of course, never had a chance to know your grandfather.
Murphy: No. Or my grandmother.
Ingersoll: But were there family stories about him that may have influenced you as you were growing up?
Murphy: I would say that what we got from my father and my uncles and aunts was a strong feeling of family. I would say, for instance, "Why am I Frances? Why can't I be something else?" And my father said, "Names determine a family. They are tradition, so therefore you look in the Bible and you make sure that there's a family name there that you put into your children's names."
My grandfather had ten children, and he believed very firmly that when you fight, you get into the room and you stay there until you solve your problems. So that was another tradition that came down through the family. My father and his brothers would fight over the Afro, but we could only hear their voices rise and come down, rise and lower. But when they came out of that room, they had their arms around each other, they were laughing and joking, and we knew they had been in there fighting like cats and dogs. But when they disagreed, they took it out of the office and they brought it to one of their homes, settled it, went back into the office. So we got the feeling that you had to settle your problems within the family. That evidently came from my grandfather.
My grandfather was a fair man as far as women were concerned. He left the stock of the Afro-American newspapers in equal shares to women as well as to men. Every single person, every one of his ten children, got an equal share of the four hundred shares of stock that were outstanding at that time. That was interesting to me, that here's a man dying back in 1922, who is determined that the women in his family, as well as the men [have equal shares]. He didn't pick out the oldest son, but he gave it to everyone.
The other thing was the tradition of the family getting together somewhere. So in my early days, before I got old enough to go away to camp, I guess up until I must have been seven or eight, the whole family gathered at Gaithersburg.
Ingersoll: This would be the wider Murphy family, cousins and uncles?
Murphy: Everybody went up to Hattie Prather's farm. I just have vague memories. I guess you'll have to ask my sisters that. She was related to my grandmother. My grandmother, as you remember,
was a slave, but she was freed and was able to buy the freedom of other sisters and brothers somewhere along the line.
Ingersoll: Your grandfather had been, too, hadn't he?
Murphy: Yes, my grandfather was a slave.
Ingersoll: Before he went to the war.
Murphy: Yes, that's right. Before he went to the Civil War. So he had been a slave. As I look back on it, I see my cousins and they say, "Oh, yeah, remember when we all used to go to Hattie Prather's?" Therefore, we spent the summer up there, so evidently as soon as school was over, they shipped us up to this farm, we stayed all summer, and then we came back home when school started.
It must have been around the time when I was either six or seven, one of my cousins [Houston Murphy] drowned or something during summer vacation. Then I think that next year, all of us went away to Camp Atwater, run by the Urban League, in East Brookfield, Massachusetts. I don't think we went back to the farm after that.
The other thing that I think we really get from the family is the fact that we all look alike. It's absolutely amazing to me when I look at a picture of my grandfather, look at my father, and look at the children and my grandchildren, the Murphy strain is very, very strong.
Ingersoll: Strong resemblance.
Murphy: A very strong resemblance. It's interesting to listen to cousins and first cousins, second cousins, third cousins. You ask the little child, "What is your name?" And the second name is Murphy. Everybody has the Murphy in his/her name if they're any way related to the family. Not everybody, but most of them do. We're a huge family, so huge now that I really don't know all the cousins and so forth.
Ingersoll: Why would you say they keep that name Murphy within their own name, no matter what other family they go into?
Murphy: I just think it's really interesting that even through the sixties when we had some who decided that, well, they didn't want to, the sixties, you know, were really a turnaround time when they didn't want to do it, some of them are going back and putting it back into their names.
Ingersoll: Since then?
Murphy: Since then. I have a little granddaughter, Andrea Draper, who is one of the few who doesn't, and she's now sixteen and she's saying, "Grandmother, please get my name changed so I can get Murphy put in. I'm the only one who doesn't have it."
Ingersoll: Isn't that interesting.
Murphy: I have promised her that at her next birthday, that I would help her to get it in. I think it's a feeling of closeness, a feeling that here you have something that you can cling to, that means something, and I think the newspaper does that, too. This kind of tradition, you walk away from it and then all of a sudden you say, "Well, my goodness. No matter where I go, somebody can relate to me." Because if I say Afro-American newspaper, there's always at least four or five people in the room who say, "Oh, I remember," or, "I know your cousin," or, "I know So-and-so and So-and-so." So it's a kind of name that's known all around the world, no matter who it is. I've been many places where you didn't know anybody, and if I just say, "I'm one of the Murphys from Baltimore," I know three or four people will come up and tell me they knew this cousin or that person or something. So it's the sort of binding thing that's very good for you in a family this size.
Ingersoll: And the way they have been bound together, I think is certainly fascinating. One thing that interests me a great deal about your grandfather—many things, for that matter—but one I remember reading was that in the 1920s he wrote a letter hoping that he would live to be 100, but in case he didn't, it would be put away until the forties when he would have been 100.
Murphy: December the 25th. That's right.
Ingersoll: Do you have any memory of what you, as a young person growing up, thought, waiting for that letter to be opened? Was that an important thing in your life?
Murphy: Growing up, I guess I wasn't aware of the letter until maybe one Christmas that it must have been read. My memory is just that it was read at one of the Christmas dinners or something. Tradition had it that we sat down together as a family, even after we got married, almost every Sunday. We went to my mother's house, my mother's and dad's house. I say my mother's house because you'll have to understand that my mother ruled her house in a very soft-spoken way, and I can hear her very calmly saying to my father, "Carl, when you set your foot in this door, I am in charge." And she said it so softly, and you could see him saying, "Yes, Vashti." [Laughter.] My father could be a tyrant, but she had him completely under control. When she thought he stepped over the line, she pulled him back very gently. So therefore I say "my mother's house." We know good and well it was his house, of course, too. But the things that went in the house, the decisions that they made behind closed doors—here again, the closed-door argument thing, we never heard them argue, but we know they did. I guess the only time that my father was really upset is when he would discipline one of us, much to my mother's distress, and my father believed in whipping. I never got a whipping, but he whipped the older girls, much to my mother's distress. So I'd have to say that this was one of the things that was extremely important, as I look back, that she controlled a whole lot of things.
Ingersoll: So you were at her house probably then when the letter was read, do you think?
Murphy: Yes. She read it, I'm sure, or he read it. Dad and Mama would interchange in reading. They would pull books out and Dad would say, "Let me read this passage," and Mother would say, "Oh, yes, let me read this." You could almost see them going back as to when they were at Howard University together and had study clubs, you know. So therefore I'm sure it must have been read at one of the dinners either at Christmastime or at one of the Sunday dinners or maybe at the New Year's Eve celebration. We were always at my mother's and father's house at New Year's Eve. They believed in being on your knees first, and then if we were going to a party, just go to the party from there. So I'm sure that may have been one of the times it was read.
Ingersoll: Tell me a little more about your mother. This name Vashti interests me very much because I've only heard it once before. Where does it come from?
Murphy: It comes from the Bible, Queen Vashti, who, like my mother, had a mind of her own.* When they told her that she was going to do something, she said very nicely that she wasn't. In those days, you know, women were told what to do by men, and she was one who insisted no.
Ingersoll: Maybe you or I could look it up and put it in the appendix.
Murphy: That was a lovely story, yes, and I've heard it so many times. I kind of remember where it comes from, but I'll have to look at the concordance and see where it came from.
Ingersoll: A strong-minded woman, soft-voiced woman. Did I read perhaps in one of the Mother's Day editorials or Mother's Day columns that your sister [Elizabeth "Bettye" Murphy (Phillips) (Moss)] wrote, that she was somebody who loved music very much?*
Murphy: Yes. Mother had a grand piano in the living room, which she loved to play. My earliest memories are of the family around the piano, singing. We all took piano lessons very early, and I can see Miss McAbee [Mrs. Ruth McAbee] now coming to the house, teaching us music. We took piano lessons year in and year out. Then when we got married and the children came along, my father sent all the children off to Peabody [Institute] for music. He said, "I don't care whether you learn to really play or not. You're going to learn how to read music, how to transpose music, and to appreciate good music." I think that's what he really wanted us to do—to appreciate good music.
In the house in the morning when my father got up, my father used to be, as I say, a German professor, and so therefore the operas were on—loud. That's the way you woke up in the morning. Daddy would get up in the morning and put his records on. Boy, you could hear them all over that big house. I'm sure the neighbors could, too. He would be singing in German, and Mama would join him in French. Boy, it was something. [Laughter.] But they loved good music and they enjoyed good music. I guess we got it by osmosis. It was just one of those expected things. I guess I was one of the children who really didn't pay too much attention to it, but I'd sing the melodies. He would read the stories of the operas and then he gave me a little book on the stories of the operas so I could understand what was going on. He got real disgusted when time came that they put it all in English. He didn't see any reason for that, because he said, "We'll never learn to communicate with other people if they don't teach us how to listen to the sounds." He believed very strongly that we needed to learn to listen to the sounds in the various languages.
So I guess the musical training came so that you could really hear people, and that's interesting, too, because Mother used to say that, too. We used to complain because she made us take Latin and French. I took Latin from the time I was in the seventh grade all the way through to the twelfth grade, and I took French from the tenth to the twelfth. Her reason for that insistence was the fact that we could hear things better, that you would pay more attention to it if you learned the language. Latin, of course, so that we'd know the roots of all the words and could define the words. She said, "You can't write unless you know what you're reading." So that was the reason for the Latin. That was interesting, as you said that to me. Things you don't think of.
* Vashti, Queen of Ahusuerus (Esther 1:9-2:17).
*"I Remember Mama" in the "If You Ask Me" column in the Afro-American, 1970.
Ingersoll: That's right. The fact that your father had chosen, in the beginning of his life, to be a German professor, I think is very interesting. Did he ever explain to you what his thought was as he was growing up in deciding what his career would be?
Murphy: You know, now that you've asked me that, no. I don't recall him talking about why he wanted to be a German professor. That would have been interesting to find out. I do remember that he wanted to do something that other people weren't doing, and I think you have to remember that when we came along and when he came along, it was not unusual to have black teachers with Ph.D.s. So many of his teachers had Ph.D.s coming along in those days and they spoke and wrote in Greek and they understood Latin.
Ingersoll: Would those have been people who were probably educated at Howard themselves?
Murphy: Educated at Howard, educated all around the world. He knew a lot of people all over the place. So I imagine with my grandfather traveling like that with the newspaper, that maybe he also got the feel for different things. Then the war [World War I] came along, but he was already a German professor when the war came along, because he spent some time at the University of Jena [Germany]. He was over there when the war broke out, so they had to help bring him home. I wish I had asked that question.
Ingersoll: Interesting. I think I read somewhere, too, that at one point he was rather strongly pro-German, probably quite understandably since he'd been so close to all of it for a long time.
Murphy: I wouldn't have been surprised.
Ingersoll: Did that ever enter family conversation?
Murphy: I imagine it did. As my father used to say, I was so busy doing so much of everything. And I was. I was always busy. From the time I can remember, I joined clubs, worked in church, did everything. So as he has often said, I was just so busy I may not have paid particular attention.
Ingersoll: I should say now that the place where I'm getting a lot of these things that I have read are from the Afro-American archives at Bowie State [Bowie, Maryland] and some of the things are from an unpublished manuscript of Haywood Ferrar, a man who teaches at Spelman [Spelman College, Atlanta, Georgia] now.*
Murphy: I haven't read his.
Ingersoll: Very interesting. It's about the Baltimore Afro-American from, I think, 1872 to 1950.
Murphy: You've read something I haven't read! I need to read that.
Ingersoll: Another thing that he [Ferrar] mentioned, while we're talking about your father's outreach and this sort of thing, was that during the thirties, I think it was, he sent a reporter to Russia and there were people who had negative things to say about this, calling him "pinko" and that kind of thing. Does that ring any kind of a bell in your memory?
* "See What the Afro Says: The Baltimore Afro-American, 1892-1950," 330 typed pages - copyright 1986.
Murphy: It might. One of my cousins, George B. Murphy [George Benjamin Murphy, Jr.], was very keen on the Russian people, and George B. was the editor of the Afro-American newspapers here in Washington back in the 1930s, 1936. My real memory of George B.—remember now, we have a huge family and George B. was older than I am. He's in my same generation, though, a first cousin. Back in '72 he insisted that I join a delegation going to the Soviet Union, and that's my really earliest memory of getting to know him well. He made all the arrangements for me to go, along with ten publishers of black newspapers. I was chairman of the board of the whole Afro chain at that time from '72 to about '74 or '75, and so I was a member of the delegation that went over. Everywhere we went, people were familiar with George B. Murphy, Jr. He's named for his father. A lot of places we went, people asked me about my cousin, so he had been a fighter in their movement for many years, obviously.
I think in later years he and my father may have been at odds, but I was not privy to the problems that may have come up at that time between the two of them. I do know that around about the fifties, when I was assigned to Washington to take over the paper for a little while, one of the things that my father wanted to do was to mute some of the things that George B. had done in the community. Not to get rid of them altogether, but show another face to the Afro. He wanted the Afro to get away from its editorial slant where it was. So I took over writing the editorials and so forth, with no background at all about communism and so forth, but strictly from the American point of view.
I've heard older Washingtonians talk about the leanings that George B. had toward the Soviet Union and how he felt that many things in the Soviet Union were a lot fairer than they were here in America. I understand that he worked very hard with Paul Robeson and so forth, people who were mistreated here in America and who fled to other countries in an effort to get fair treatment. So I have a fair understanding of some of that, but some of it I don't know.
Ingersoll: Then there came a time when your father was the German professor at Howard, I guess working part time with the Afro, even when he was a professor?
Murphy: When he was at Harvard College, he would do a lot of writing for my grandfather. Obviously he did some of the writing when he was away from Harvard. I have some of their letters back and forth between my grandfather and my father when he spent that year or so at Harvard. He graduated from Howard University, taught at Howard University for a while, then went on to Harvard to get his master's degree. So therefore during those periods at Harvard, he would see a lot of things. I remember one of his letters that made me feel so good. He talked about the chimes that he could hear in the morning when he woke up. About his room on the Harvard Yard, the fact that it was cold and he needed more money for coal, he didn't realize it was going to be that cold up there, and the fact that it was so beautiful walking out in the morning among the trees and things like that. Then he would write about the people who came to talk at Harvard, Norman Vincent Peale and these people. He was writing about these. These were the kinds of things that he would write to my grandfather about during his years at Harvard. Of course, he wrote about the people in his class and what they were doing. I have a whole scrapbook.
Ingersoll: It sounds as though there was a very close relationship between father and son.
Murphy: It sounded from the letters that he wrote to my grandfather and my grandfather wrote him right back. Remember now, my father only had a small stipend to go to Harvard. My memory is that his sisters and brothers and my grandfather helped him to get through Harvard. That was the only way. In fact, when he went to Europe, when he went to Germany to study,
it was his sisters and brothers who helped support him there. I remember somewhere in my memory that his salary at Howard University was something along about $1,000 or so a year. That's somewhere in the papers. So there wasn't really very much money. His sisters and brothers were teaching at that time in the public schools of Baltimore, and then there was a Dr. [John] Oliver out there in Indiana, who was married to one of my father's sisters [Mary Rose Allen Murphy (Oliver)], all these people evidently chipped in and helped him, as many families have done. They had all gone to college right there locally. I don't think any of them went any place but either to Morgan, or I think somebody went to Hampton. But none of them went away like to Howard. That was a long ways away, to Howard. And to think of going to Harvard, that was, I imagine, just unimaginable back then in those days. We're talking about 1913, 1914. I imagine that must have been something.
My father worked on the railroad in the summer. My memory tells me about a tale that he was serving in the dining car or something. A passenger was going to give him a tip. He talked to him and he [the passenger] told him [my father] that his diction was so good, my father told him he had just graduated from Howard or he was going to teach at Howard, and he wanted to go away to graduate school, and Johns Hopkins had said no. So the man evidently said to him, "Do you want to go to Harvard?"
My father said, "I'd love to go to Harvard."
He says, "Well, report." And he went to Harvard. Evidently his first year of tuition was paid.
Ingersoll: I guess we don't know who that man was, do we?
Murphy: No. This is my memory of it. It's funny how things get away from you, because when I graduated from Johns Hopkins with my M.E.D. degree, my sister [Elizabeth] did an article about the fact that he had been denied admittance to Johns Hopkins, and how proud he was that here his daughter had been able to go and graduate. Of course, if he was alive today, he would know that also his granddaughter also went on. My daughter [Frances M. Draper] followed me and got her master's at Hopkins, too. So I don't have a memory of really what happened there, but I imagine that maybe my idea of really what happened and how he got to Harvard may be somewhere near the truth.
Ingersoll: But even the fact that he had gone to Howard before that made him quite different from his other brothers and sisters.
Murphy: They had all taken some college courses. The first son, George B. Murphy [George Benjamin Murphy, Sr.]—you heard me talking about his son—he was a principal in the Baltimore schools. So he had graduated from college. My Aunt Frank ended up being a professor at Coppin State College, which was the teachers college in those days, so she graduated.*
Ingersoll: So your father, as I understand it, was teaching and some of his brothers had already gone in to help their father with the newspaper.
* Coppin State College named for Fannie Coppin, the first African-American woman to graduate from a university in the United States.
Murphy: Yes. My father was teaching at Howard University. Of course, my uncles had already come back and helped my grandfather. The one you heard me mention a few minutes ago, George B. Murphy, was principal of a school, because he was principal of the school that I went to as a little child. So they were teaching in Baltimore and my dad was over in Washington, D.C., and living in Washington, D.C.
When my grandfather got up to, I guess maybe 1918, so three or four years before his death, he was very concerned about his health, so he asked my father to come home to Baltimore. My father thought about it, talked it over with my mother. My mother owned her house over here in Washington, because she had purchased it while she was teaching school. So she sold her home and they left Washington and bought the house on Myrtle Avenue and moved to Baltimore.
It's interesting, in some of the love letters I have, my mother's and father's love letters, on one of her birthdays or something he gives her a diamond, "In exchange for the money you loaned me to buy the house." Their love letters are just gorgeous. I have some of those. They're just beautiful.
Ingersoll: Oh, what a treasure.
Murphy: Back and forth from the time that he began to court her up until the time they were married. In one of the letters, he writes that he courted her for a year before they got married. The letters back and forth are just beautiful.
Ingersoll: What a treasure to have those.
Murphy: They're lovely.
Ingersoll: Have you ever seen a letter or anything like that—and this is something that Ferrar says—that your father, Carl, said that he would go and "help Pa and the boys"?
Murphy: That's the way they used to talk. They talked about Pa and the boys. In many of his writings, it's "Dear Pa." They called my father Pat or "Dear Carl," or "Dear Pat." But it's to Pa. Most of the letters I have, he writes, "Dear Pa."
Ingersoll: I thought just that phrase, "going to help Pa and the boys" made it such a family kind of work.
Murphy: Not to my memory, but the phrase sounds like the way he talked.
Ingersoll: Another thing that Ferrar says is that your father was quite forceful and could even be quite iron-fisted—in terms of the newspaper after he became editor, I guess he's [Ferrar] probably thinking.
Murphy: That is an understatement. My father was a short man, 5'2", but there were very few people who would cross him. He had a way of turning on you, and in no time at all you would understand that you'd better get out of his way. Or else! My father took very little off of anyone. It didn't make any difference who it was. It was frightening at times, because you heard me say that we lived in this big house with this gorgeous lawn around us that we so well kept, that my father kept so beautifully, and our neighbors were all white. So therefore I can hear him saying right now, "Those people behind me ought to do something," and he'd go out and tell them.
"Clean up this," whatever. We as children would have to walk about a quarter of a mile from the car barn to our house.
Ingersoll: Because the property was so large?
Murphy: No, because we couldn't go to the neighborhood schools because they were for whites only. Therefore, we had to take the streetcar.
Ingersoll: The car barn meant the building where the streetcars were housed. I'm sorry. I see.
Murphy: We had to take the streetcar in to school. So when we came home from school, we'd have to get off the streetcar at Montebello Terrace and walk up the terrace, as we called it, for about a fifteen-minute walk to our house which was in Morgan Park, which was a circle and which was on Overland Avenue. Walking through that treacherous area of white homeowners, where at any time someone might call us "nigger" or something of that sort, we learned very early how to protect ourselves. I carried one of those long hat pins in my pocket. Many times, of course, my mother would meet us at the car barns. But if there were three or four of us together, she would not. My father got angry a couple of times. He slept with a gun under his pillow, and I can hear my mother say, "It's not worth going after them. Let the girls learn how to take care of themselves."
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Ingersoll: You were saying that your mother in her soft-spoken way would say that it wasn't worth going after them.
Murphy: My sister Vashti was a fighter. I was not. Her twin sister Carlita was not. So I would wait for Vashti, and I can see her now coming home from elementary school. The neighbors soon learned that if Vashti was along, you didn't bother us, because Vashti would half kill you in a minute.
My two older sisters, of course, were in high school or junior high school by the time I started school, but the twin girls, Vashti and Carlita, went to the same elementary school as I did. I followed them by, I guess, two years to junior high and followed them two years to high school. So Vashti was fairly well around me most of my life. Even I can remember in elementary school, the word got around very quickly, "Please don't bother Frankie, because Vashti will come after you in a minute." When we went away to camp at Camp Atwater in East Brookfield, Massachusetts, my father put my sister Bettye in charge of all five of us, and Bettye was in charge and we had to mind Bettye, do what Bettye said. But the time when I got in trouble, I went to Vashti. Vashti took care of it very quickly, very fast. She didn't have to fight too often. It was, I think, the same demeanor that my father had, that Vashti let you know in no uncertain terms that if you did that again, she would in no uncertain terms come after you. My father had that same demeanor. The look in her face, the anger in her face, was just enough to say, "Look. Back off." I did not, as a child, bother Vashti either. She defended me very vigorously and I never bothered her.
So my father was the same way, even in his political dealings. I think the thing that used to make people back up was that my father was such a reader, by the time you finished arguing with him, you realized you didn't know anything. He let you know in no uncertain terms, "Wait a minute. You don't know so and so because it says so and so here and so and so there." By the time he finished with that, you had to sit back and say, "Wait a minute. I guess I didn't read that,"
or, "I didn't hear that." He would also let you sit and talk as if he knew nothing at all. They called him Mr. Carl. They'd go in to see Mr. Carl and they'd say, "I'm going to tell Mr. Carl this." He could have heard it ten times before, but he never let on that he had heard it. So therefore you found yourself explaining over and over again the minor details, and then when he got ready to use that information, he made you look silly. He had such a tremendous mind.
My young son, who is an orthopedic surgeon, Jimmy Wood [James Edward Wood, Jr.], in California, I think he's got his grandfather's mind, too. He must have had a photographic mind. My dad would read those Supreme Court briefs and sit down with Thurgood Marshall and those lawyers and talk, and you'd listen to the conversation and you'd say to yourself, "Oh, my goodness gracious." He had read all the law. He could cite the law. "The law says here," and, "It says this here." I can hear the arguments now, about separate but equal and so forth. I was privileged to be able to sit there and listen.
Always, as I look back on my father, I just think how wonderful he was to me during my mother's last illness. He read all my books when I did my master's at Hopkins. We would talk on the phone half the night, about what they said. Johns Hopkins gave four-hour comprehensive examinations, you know, and they would ask you to give the train of thought of a book. Of course, my father very easily had picked up the train of thought already, you know. Milton, Shakespeare came easy with my dad. He made you see them. He'd recite that old English language and then he'd translate it into [modern] English.
Ingersoll: Of course, it was fairly close to the German.
Murphy: Oh, yes. It was so easy for him. As I look back on it now, you're talking about my father and the way he handled people, it was just absolutely amazing to me how he could just take things and make them so simple and just turn those words around. Then you sat there, and he would pound the desk. "Do you understand what I'm saying?" What else are you going to say but, "Yes"? [Laughter.] You knew he was in complete charge, and it didn't matter whether the governor was sitting there at the breakfast table or the mayor or the president of the United States. I can see John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy. My father made his point, he made it very, very clear, and that was it, and you couldn't say that you didn't know. I think the thing that I wish I had been privy to was to have seen the two of them, John Kennedy, who I understand was extremely brilliant, and my dad together. I knew they had many a meeting together. I would have loved to have seen the two of them go head to toe.
Ingersoll: Was this the same kind of reasoning, argument, assurity, that he used with his daughter as well as with his compatriots?
Murphy: Yes. I guess I was one of the last ones home. Everybody else had gone away to school. What he would say many times was, "This is the way you've got to handle that situation. Let me show you how to handle this one." Or, "Come on, let's go here. I'm going to an NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] meeting tonight and I want you to listen to this." Or, "I'm going up to the NAACP board meeting and I want you to listen."
Ingersoll: He'd take you with him.
Murphy: Oh, yes. He took me with him to New York and so forth. "I want you to sit and listen to this one. Listen to these people who are running their mouths and don't know what they're talking about. Then listen to how you are going to have to put the information in so they'll understand without them getting upset with you."
Ingersoll: What a skill!
Murphy: And he would do that. Politicians who were running for office in Baltimore, he'd bring them into his office. You'd watch him very astutely.
Ingersoll: This would be white and black, probably?
Murphy: Anybody. And watch him turn people around, try to get them to do what he wanted them to do or change this bill. The skill that he had in doing that, and then hold his point. You couldn't change him off that point. He'd just hold to that point and argue and argue, and finally win out. When he won out, you knew he'd won, because he'd sit back and fold his arms and rock in his chair and chew on his cigar. In later years, he'd smoke his corn pipe, but in earlier years, chew on that cigar. He had a spittoon there. They had spittoons in those days. He'd chew on that cigar and he knew he'd won that point. They may not have given in yet, but he knew he had won.
Ingersoll: As you were growing up, did you have any sense that you were absorbing this kind of way of dealing with situations?
Murphy: No. No. What you knew is that my mother would say, "Are you tired?" and I'd say, "No." "You're sure you want to go?" I'd say, "Yes." You knew you were enjoying what you were seeing, but you had no idea that you were learning anything. He made it so interesting, so I guess not. No.
I guess in those days my mother was busy because she had her Delta sorority. My mother was a co-founder of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, so my mother was busy with the church and with the Deltas. I was in high school, as busy as I could be with so many clubs and this and that and the other. Then my dad would come along and say, "Hey, come along with me and do so and so." And if Mom couldn't go, he'd take me. If my mother could go, that was the end of that. Every now and then they'd take me along with the two of them, but that wasn't too frequently, because they'd wanted to get away just to themselves. You knew they wanted to be away.
Ingersoll: I want to ask you about the Delta Sigma Theta sorority that your mother co-founded.
Murphy: She was co-founder of it with twenty-one other women at Howard University. That's one of the largest black sororities in the country today. It's huge. There must be four or five chapters here in Washington alone. In my chapter here in Washington, there are about five hundred dues-paying members, and there are chapters like this around the country. They pull ten thousand to fifteen thousand people to a convention.
Ingersoll: As you were growing up, you were probably too young to go to those meetings, or did you sometimes?
Murphy: Our house in Morgan Park was the center, which means that a lot of things went on in the house. Mother would let us come and sit on the steps and listen to the meetings. So we learned the songs early, we learned the ritual early. That was nice. Of course we knew we were going to be Deltas. It didn't make any difference.
Ingersoll: Do you think that had an important influence on your life in any way?
Murphy: Oh, definitely! I think what it taught us very, very early was no matter what people said, there were a whole lot of intelligent women in this country. Mama talked all over the country to the Delta chapters. Of course, being a co-founder, she was invited.
Ingersoll: She traveled?
Murphy: Traveled, invited everywhere to speak. Now and then she'd take us with her. Mama founded two important things that I remember. One was Delta Sigma Theta, which, of course, went nationwide. The other was a study club in Baltimore called the Philomathians. I'm president right now of the Philomathians. She established that in 1932. That is a study group. We come together once a month and have speakers and talk about national and local issues. This is the way the club was founded.
Ingersoll: What is that name, Philomathians?
Murphy: It means "lovers of learning." So those are the two. There are a lot of other organizations, of course, that she was very active in and she helped establish and so forth, but I think those are the two that had the most impact on our lives.
Ingersoll: Would you go to the Philomathians as a young girl growing up?
Murphy: Oh, yes. Not as a young girl growing up. Mother took us to the Women's Junior Civic League as young children growing up so that we would learn how to organize clubs. Our parents were right there and they helped us. We had teas. You know, the usual things that you have. But I did not come into the Philomathians until I was a college graduate. I didn't go into Delta until I was a sophomore in college. That's the time you generally pledge, when you're a sophomore in college.
Ingersoll: Did your mother have very much to do with the newspaper at all?
Murphy: My mother would discuss with my dad the things she'd read. I think she had something to do in her own way of changing his mind about things, how he would see things. Oh, they would talk about editorials and books and things. They were so widely read that he would come home and bounce things off on her. But there were two things that she just could not take. She hated to be photographed, because she said she wasn't photogenic. She said every time the Afro camera focused on her, she didn't come out right.
Ingersoll: And there's that beautiful picture of her in the sorority book.
Murphy: As I look around the room at her in the pictures that are here on the wall, the family and so forth, she said she never looked right.
The only other thing that I do know that I can hear her saying to him is we got numerous invitations, as you must know, at the house. Everybody invited them to everything. I could hear her saying, "Carl, don't take that invitation to the office before I have a chance to respond to it." He would take it to the office and give it to the social writer and tell her that he wanted this written up. My father did not particularly like to go to social events. Every now and then he would go with her. Then I knew my mother had worked on him for weeks. Finally, in desperation, he'd throw up his hands and say, "Okay, Vashti, I'll go." She'd throw up her hands when she came back and say, "I can't get him to come home. He danced and he had a good time and he talked to everybody, and I can't get him to come home."
My father was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, which is one of the largest black fraternities here in the country. He was editor of their journal during the early years of their marriage. He went to their national conventions and so forth. But in later years, they [the Alphas] had evidently saved their money for something, for a house or something. I don't remember all the details. They used the money for something else instead of buying the house, and my father got disgusted and became inactive. Many of my cousins followed him in the Alpha fraternity because he was an Alpha.
But he enjoyed going to NAACP board meetings. He enjoyed sitting down at home and just reading. Of course, his best hobby was his yard. That's why our lawn was so gorgeous, and the trees. We learned early the names of flowers. He loved the flox and the azaleas. So very, very early we learned how to take care of a lawn. Even though we didn't learn how to cook, we all learned how to take care of a lawn and pull up the crabgrass and take the potato bugs off and spray the roses and look after the apple trees and the lilac trees. So I have a green thumb. The children ask me where I got it from. I got it from my father. My mother loved to cut flowers. She wanted the house beautified with flowers, and she always wanted fresh flowers in the house. But Dad was the one who, every Saturday morning, got up early in the morning, dared you to call him to the phone—he didn't care who it was—and spent the day in the yard with his "boys," his daughters and the hired help.
Ingersoll: My goodness.
Murphy: Then when he went to work during the summer, he would divide the lawn up. It was a huge lawn. There was your part that you had to get out there and pull the crabgrass.
Ingersoll: You were responsible.
Murphy: You were responsible for the crabgrass. We had a huge grape arbor behind the garage, and my mother would make grape jelly. We had tomatoes. Oh, boy, what else did she do? She put up tomatoes. In our early days, Mama and Lola (the maid) would get in there and they would can during the summer.
Ingersoll: Was Lola someone who helped in the household?
Murphy: She was the housekeeper. I remember them doing it, and I must have done something along with it. I remember working in the yard, but I don't remember actually helping with the canning. I'm sure we must have, because we were all responsible. We all had chores, so we all had to do something. I imagine there must have been something I had to do.
Even though we had household help, we all were responsible for our own clothes. You had to do your own ironing. You had to make sure your clothes were hung up. And my father meant that in no uncertain terms. My room was across the hall from theirs, and he caught something down on my bed one day. I came home from high school and I had one skirt and one blouse left in my closet. For the next week, there was a note that said, "You will iron and wash this blouse and wear it every day until you've learned to hang your clothes up." So, "Yes, sir," I learned to hang my clothes up. I really don't have any memory of anything but that. I can remember the little note. That's all it was, a little note. "Lola will not iron your clothes for you. You will do them yourself. You will do this one." And I wore that one blouse that whole week.
Ingersoll: Washed and ironed every night and morning?
Murphy: Every night and morning. Washed out my underwear and so forth and so on. In those days you didn't have nylon like you have today. You had to iron those slips and so forth before you could wear them, and had to iron that blouse. So I'm sure it must have been a dark blue skirt that he left me. I can't conceive of it being anything else.
Ingersoll: What about your aunts and uncles who worked on the paper, many of them? What kind of influences did they have on you? Maybe we can start with your Aunt Frank, for whom you were named.
Murphy: Aunt Frank [(Martha) Frances Louise Murphy] was a spinster, as you heard me say. She was a maiden aunt. From Aunt Frank I learned to keep on my gloves and wear my hat and walk like a lady on the street. I didn't just learn that from Aunt Frank, but she impressed it on me. Aunt Frank had a Model T Ford. I was walking with my girlfriends one afternoon, and she stopped that Model T Ford in the middle of the street, got out, and said, "Young lady, where are your gloves?" People say to me today, "Why do you wear gloves all the time?" But I can see her doing that.
Aunt Frank liked to play golf. She tried her best to teach me golf. I think she finally gave up on that. She was a schoolteacher and she directed the Clean Block Campaign. The Afro had a Clean Block Campaign. It was her idea to start it back there in the early thirties, and she directed it every single summer.
Ingersoll: What did that mean?
Murphy: That meant that around about April and May, she sent out letters to all the public schools. Remember now, she was a teacher, a professor at Coppin State Teachers College, where she was teaching teachers. So, therefore, many of them she had taught. She would either send out letters or, I guess, call them. I'm sure she sent out letters in those days, and said to them that she wanted them to organize their children in their classrooms to get prepared for what she would call proper activity for the summer. Proper activity for the summer was that they would join the Afro Clean Block Campaign. Every morning they would get up and they'd sweep their streets and pick up the trash and wash their marble steps. By afternoon, they would be sitting down like ladies and gentlemen in their blocks, in clean clothes. So, therefore, Aunt Frank organized all these children, 10,000 of them, every summer, and she went out and raised the money for people to give them prizes.
Ingersoll: I think I remember seeing some kind of a certificate.
Murphy: That's it.
Ingersoll: Young Frances Murphy, yourself, had received one as a successful participant.
Murphy: In the Clean Block Campaign. She did this for summer after summer. Then when she got where she thought that she couldn't handle it by herself, who would be the natural person that she would want to direct the campaign? Me. So she very politely told my father it's time that I worked with her during the summer.
Ingersoll: At what point did you come into that responsibility?
Murphy: I must have been just out of college. Maybe it was in high school, just out of college. I don't remember. One or the other. I was awfully young. Aunt Frank, therefore, took me with her as we went around to visit all these people. When she came into the blocks, the children just
appeared from everywhere. You could almost see her in her classroom. If she saw somebody whose hair wasn't combed the way she thought it should be, she would tell them so. They would see her car coming, and it looked like the word just spread, "Here she comes." People would come out and greet her and want her to eat and so forth, and they wanted to show her how the back yards were cleaned. She would say to them, "We're going to come back and judge these. I'm going to bring the judges back to judge these." Then she gave away prizes and so forth. This was the Afro campaign. It still is.
Ingersoll: That still exists?
Murphy: Still exists.
Ingersoll: In all of the cities where the Afro is published?
Murphy: Washington had it last year. I'm sort of backing away from Washington this year for '92, but Baltimore has had it consistently ever since then. It's a wonderful campaign. You can imagine the thousands of children who came up under that campaign, who she would say to them, "You've got to have pride in your home if you want to have pride in yourself."
Ingersoll: And it's still possible to get children to participate?
Murphy: It's a tradition in Baltimore. People expect the Afro to have a Clean Block Campaign every summer. They expect you to have a meeting every week to pull the children in. They expect you to get some sort of free tickets to movies and things. So around about April, people begin to call. "When are you going to start the stuff on the Clean Block Campaign?" The people begin to send in money. It's not like over in Washington where you have to almost hit against a brick wall. In Baltimore it just begins to come. People talk about the activity for the Afro Clean Block Campaign. Even if they don't even sign up, you begin to see all over Baltimore little baskets of flowers and boxes of flowers in front of the streets and so forth. So it's almost a tradition, and people just say, "It's time for the Clean Block Campaign." They just expect that, so we've always had it.
Ingersoll: But there has been something of that in Washington, too?
Ingersoll: More difficult to arrange, but still possible?
Murphy: It's more difficult to arrange because the city is doing a clean-up campaign at the same time. So it almost looks like you're blocking each other, you know. We haven't been able to mesh them together, whereas in Baltimore, the city gives so much money to the Clean Block Campaign, businesses give it. It all goes into what is called the Afro charities. Then from the Afro charities, they send it out. It doesn't go to all different people with different standards and so forth. The paint companies in Baltimore give paint and the Afro gives it away. One day you'll see all the trucks out there from the National Guard ready to distribute paint and stuff. Then you'll see people who just come.
The basis of the campaign is that you've got to help yourself, and in order to help yourself, this is a place to start. Organize your block, have a block captain, and get everybody in your block to help clean up. Many of those blocks that Aunt Frank organized back in those days are still stable blocks today. I can think of the block where my daughter lived and where we
purchased a home way back there in the late forties, and all of those houses were owned by the children of people who lived there.
Ingersoll: They've just continued generation after generation.
Murphy: It's remained a solid block. The people have known each other all their lives, so it's really interesting. A lot of blocks in Baltimore are just like that, that were originally organized as clean blocks with block captains who get everybody together to do things and are now still doing things together. It's really interesting.
Ingersoll: And you've continued that, your part in it, in one way or another, from the time you left college.
Murphy: Yes, and it's interesting. August 13th, which is the birthday of the Afro-American newspapers, is also the date that's always been used as a parade down to the Clean Block Campaign closing, so we've always celebrated the birthday of the Afro-American along with the closing of the Clean Block Campaign.
Ingersoll: In Baltimore?
Ingersoll: Does that happen in Washington?
Murphy: It did this year and it did last year, too, but I think the last two years are the first times we've had it in Washington for a good ten or fifteen years. But it wasn't easy.
Ingersoll: There's also a Richmond edition, isn't there?
Murphy: Yes, in Richmond.
Ingersoll: Do they do the Clean Block Campaign there?
Murphy: Not like that. Richmond also has a Clean Block Campaign, the city does, and I think the Afro helps.
Ingersoll: They work together at that point.
Ingersoll: When you were growing up, did you have any daydreams, as a young girl, about what you would do with your life?
Murphy: I guess maybe when I graduated from high school I said I wanted to be a journalist, and I think young people today understand this, but it wasn't what I wanted to do, it was what we were going to do, as arranged by my mother and father. My mother and father looked at the college catalog and they said, "You will take so and so and so and so." You took them. Then the grades came in, you sent home the schedule, and they sent it back to you and said, "This is what you're going to take this semester." So for the five of us, it wasn't a matter of choice. We took in high school the programs arranged by my parents, and we took in college the programs arranged.
When I came out of high school, it was expected that I would work at the Afro, and I worked at the Afro.
Ingersoll: Were your high school years the first years in which you worked at the Afro?
Murphy: Actually worked and got paid.
Ingersoll: But you did some other kinds of work there before that?
Murphy: Oh, yes. We all wrote from time to time. My father would say, "We want so and so," and you'd write. If he needed research, you did the research. He said, "I need somebody this summer to help me," with what in those days was called the morgue. We call them libraries now. You went in and you helped in the library. He had two secretaries, but now and then they'd get backed up because of so many things he was doing, and he'd tell you to come in and help him get organized on this. My father was an organizer, so therefore his library at home had to be organized. So we organized the library at home. I can see all my different sisters' writings on the cards that we were organizing at the time. He organized the yard. This year he was going to plant impatiens here and then next year he was going to have so and so. He rotated his flowers so that they'd grow. So, therefore, that had to be organized. So his house had files as well as files in the office. So you say, "Gee, I didn't really actually work in the early years," but there were lots of jobs and chores that he expected us to do.
Ingersoll: I think it was your sister Elizabeth, Bettye, who told me that all of you even sold the Afro from time to time.
Murphy: Oh, early newsboys. Every single one of us.
Ingersoll: How would you do that?
Murphy: It was very, very simple. We lived in what is called Morgan Park. Remember now, Morgan Park was a circle. When you came into the circle, you went around the circle, there were fifty or so homes around the circle, and this was right across from Morgan College. My father would come home on Tuesdays and Fridays with the Afro, and you had a route. Evidently it was started by him and my sister Bettye, who was the oldest, and it passed down. As she went off to college, it came down to the next one, came on down. So finally it came to me. Those were lovely days, because Dad would come home, and before he sat down to eat his dinner he'd say, "Okay, let's go serve the Afros."
Ingersoll: And he probably felt very good that it was out.
Murphy: He would walk with me sometimes, not all the time. He would walk with me. Say he'd been in the office and maybe something had gone on. He'd walk with me with his cane, whistling and singing, and people would come out and talk. Those were really beautiful days. I knew all my neighbors because of that.
Ingersoll: These would be white neighbors, wouldn't they?
Murphy: No, no, no. This is in the circle. This is just in the circle where there's nothing but black neighbors, mostly made up of Morgan State College professors and people like that.
Ingersoll: This was a circle that was black people, Afro-Americans, who were surrounded by white people.
Murphy: Yes. So I would deliver my papers and collect for my papers, sometimes with him along. When he went along it was just great, because we talked to everybody. As my mother would say, it would take us forever to deliver the papers, but we had a good time because he would, as I say, sing and talk, and people would come out and bring him stuff. "Why don't you put this in the paper?" You could imagine. One of our neighbors was W.E.B. DuBois and the college professors and the president of the college. Those were the days when the professors on the campus were beginning to move off the campus. A lot of them built their homes there, the Dr. O'Connells and so forth, the Dr. T. I. Browns, the Dr. [Joshua] Maxwells. These were professors at Morgan in those days. Dr. [Clarence] Monroe. I can just think of the professors who had homes there, who had built their homes. The guy who was head of the music department at Douglass High School, Lwelleyn Wilson, was there. So in this area were people whom he wanted to talk with.
My dad was chairman of the board of trustees at Morgan State College, so therefore for a whole lot of these people, of course, he was legally their boss. When Dad would walk with me, everybody was coming out of the house. "Hi, Mr. Carl!" "Hi, Dr. Carl!" That was nice. I would just deliver my papers, throw them up on the porches, and go back and collect. That was some of the other things that we did.
Mother walked with me sometimes. When Mother walked with me sometimes, I knew somewhere along the line someone would call, "Miss Vash, come on and play bridge," and I would lose my companion. [Laughter.] But she would walk every now and then with me, but I knew for sure it wouldn't be too long before somebody would say, "Come on. I need one more for bridge." Or, "We're going to play pokeno."
Ingersoll: Looking at your school days, I think I know the names of your junior high school and high school, but I don't know the name of your elementary school. What was that?
Murphy: I went to two elementary schools. I started out at School 112. They had numbers in those days. My uncle, George B. Murphy, was the principal at School 112. When we moved to Morgan Park, my dad transferred us to East Baltimore schools because actually we were in East Baltimore, so it was easier to come straight down Hartford Road to School 101. We had to pass all these white schools to get to this school.
My memory of 101 is that there was a big guy there named [Howard] Gross, who had a huge voice and would get out in the yard with a bullhorn.
Ingersoll: Was he a teacher?
Murphy: He was the principal. I can see us now, lining up in the yard getting ready to go into the school building. I enjoyed school because school was easy to me.
Ingersoll: Your report cards, which you saved, and I took a look at, were all excellent. A few dropped to "good" from time to time.
Murphy: School was too easy for me. Dad and Mother knew school was too easy for me, and that's why he made me read so much. He knew that I'd do my work and then I needed something else to do. Therefore, they pushed me—Girl Scouts, choir, this, that, music lessons, dance lessons.
You name it, I had it. And I was really extremely busy. I think they purposely kept me busy because they knew that I wasn't being challenged at all.
Ingersoll: Did you read the Afro when you were little?
Murphy: Oh, yes, especially the Junior Page. There was, and still is, what they call Kids Talk now. But there was a Junior Page that had the puzzles and everything on it. So we were quite aware of the Junior Page. And we wrote to the Afro, you know, all my classmates.
Ingersoll: That must have been quite a thing to be in school with classmates who knew that you were one of the Murphy girls.
Murphy: Let me say that they knew because there were only two high schools in Baltimore at that time, Douglass High School and Dunbar High School, when I came along. When my sisters came along, there was only one. When I came along, there were two. Everybody knew everybody. So we weren't the only huge family in the city. For instance, the Mitchells were there. In almost every class there was a Murphy. There was a Mitchell in every class that I can remember. I'm trying to remember some of the other huge families in Baltimore. People just got used to it.
Ingersoll: Do you think teachers had particular expectations of you because you were one of the Murphy sisters? Writing, for instance?
Murphy: My sister Ida was a scholar, like her father. Very often a teacher would say to me, "Well, that wasn't as good as what Ida did," or, "That wasn't as good as Carlita did," my other sister, Carlita, who was very smart. Both Ida and Carlita went ahead of me to the University of Wisconsin, and both of them did extremely well. I can hear professors now saying, "Well, you didn't do that as well as your sister Carlita did," or, "You didn't do that as well as your sister Ida did," or, "You can do better than that, because they did so and so." But it never bothered me.
Ingersoll: I was going to ask you if that bothered you.
Murphy: Nothing bothered me. I have to say that honestly, nothing bothered me. And it didn't. I had gotten to the point that my dad had made me so self-contained that if somebody would say something to me, I'd go home and talk it over with Mother and Dad, and Mother would say, "Well, you did that all right. You were busy with the Junior League that day," or, "That's all right. You start on the volleyball team today," or, "You did well on the Rifle Club." I was president of the Rifle Club. "That's all right. That must have been the day you were shooting that match." She said, "At least you got a ninety." And Mother never was too disturbed about my grades.
Grades weren't a discussion, as far as I was concerned. Dad used to say to Mother that he was a little disturbed that I maybe would bring home too many Es or too many As and so forth, because he always used to say, "She needs to be more well rounded. Get her nose out of those books." He was determined that I was going to do a whole lot of other things than just read, so grades were not a discussion that my parents had with me. I do know I'd heard them talk with some of the other girls, but grades weren't my problem. They knew it wasn't my problem. I think Dad wanted me to party a little more, but I partied some and after a while I'd get bored. [Laughter.] I enjoyed going to parties and I enjoyed my friends, but I wasn't the one who would drop a book to go to a party. I'd just as soon tell you, "No, I'm reading," which was something in those days you didn't tell people. I'd just as soon curl up with a book as to go someplace else, or go with my mom somewhere, go with my dad somewhere.
Ingersoll: Do you remember any particular books, any particular reading that you really remember because it had a special meaning or influence on you?
Murphy: Oh, boy. It's a funny thing that you would say that. What disturbed me—and I guess I shouldn't say it, but what disturbed me, I was an avid reader of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and I was an avid reader of a series of books called Up One Pair of Stairs. Those were lovely little books with stories in them. What used to make me so mad, there weren't any black people in there. Of course, I would complain bitterly about that to my dad.
Ingersoll: What was his response to that?
Murphy: The response that Dad gave me was that he began to bring the books that he had in the Afro home and put them on the shelf and encouraged us to read them, and that's what we began to do. Very, very early, I guess my sister Ida did it more than I did, but we began to read, as we say today, at the library.
Very, very early I remember the [J.A.] Rogers series books, Sex and Race. I think those series of books on blacks in white America made a tremendous impact on me. Here was a man who in those days was writing about presidents who had black blood in them or women who were black and living in the White House. Those books really made an impression on me. There was a long series of them. This gentleman had written these books about the way blacks had been treated in America.
A lot of the things that I read were biographies of people who had done things. I did a lot of reading along those lines. Up From Slavery, the DuBois writings, of course we read. J. Saunders Reddings had done a lot of writing for the Afro, and, of course, we read his things. We went back and we would read Ph.D. theses done by graduate students, doctoral students at Howard. So there was a lot of different kinds of things that we read.
I guess maybe when we got really interested in reading and began to talk about it, he made sure that we had the kinds of books that we needed to have to read. They gave me a better perspective on life, and maybe that's why I felt so good about different things, because very early I read Mary Church Terrell and her writings. I read things that Mary McLeod Bethune had written. So I had a deep appreciation of how these people had struggled and what they were able to do. I guess maybe those would be the best. Of course, in later life I've done a lot of reading of different other people, but I think maybe that was the first.
The first assignment I got in high school or junior high school, I don't remember which, where I had to do an assignment, I must have done the whole encyclopedia in a couple of weeks, and that's when I think I complained bitterly to my dad that I couldn't find any blacks. That's evidently when I started doing the other reading. I do recall early that we had books around the house that we read at the dinner table and so forth, and they must have been some of the books, too, that Dad had brought home. He had gobs of books that he brought home. His library was just outstanding.
Ingersoll: Let me put on another tape.
[End Tape 1, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Ingersoll: I remember seeing in your treasures, your memoirs, a little card. I think it was yellow with green writing, or yellow with red writing, that said that "Frances Murphy is a member of the
Afro-American Junior Club, entitled to all the privileges thereof." On the back, in a youngster's handwriting, were some of the names of your sisters. I imagine others may have been your cousins. Do you remember this?
Murphy: That's the Afro Junior Page. In those days you became a member of the Junior Club. It's a nice idea. They ought to start that again. As I said to you, we'd all read the Junior Page. Everybody would read the Junior Page and you had your membership card. You did the puzzles and you wrote to the Junior Page editor. The Junior Page editor every now and then would have something for all the children, and we went by admission of your membership card.
Ingersoll: Those were the privileges thereof.
Ingersoll: I thought that was so interesting, really. In connection with Baltimore schools, one of the things that Haywood Ferrar said was that Baltimore had an unusually large black population and an unusually high literacy rate. I think he meant among the black population, although he may have meant among the whole population. How would you account for that?
Murphy: I think two things you'll have to remember here in Baltimore, as in many southern cities, we were a segregated society. Therefore, we came up in our own society, and the people who were able to go away to school came back and taught those who were there. You heard me say earlier that my high school professors had Ph.D.s. It wasn't unusual to have a Doctor So-and-so in high school. I can hear us now talking about Dr. Harry Pratt and Dr. this person and Dr. that person.
Ingersoll: This would have been in Douglass High School?
Murphy: Douglass High School.
Ingersoll: Where you went. That would have been late thirties, '37 to '40?
Murphy: I graduated in '40. Where else were they going to teach but in their own schools? So they went away to school, got all these lovely degrees, and brought them right back home to the community because they couldn't teach anyplace else. So either they taught on the college level or they taught on the high school level. It was nothing to have these people who had traveled all over the world to come back and teach you. Then, as you heard me say, there were so many opportunities for us in our own segregated community to do things.
As I look back on it, we were fortunate, very fortunate that we were a closed community, because we were able to do things that so many children never will understand today. I can think about the fact that we had the Masque and Wig Club, where we read the plays and performed them. Our lives were built around the junior high school or the high school, which means that a typical year we went to operas, and we performed operas in our school. We spent the whole year in music, preparing to give an operetta.
Ingersoll: I notice there were quite a few programs of operettas among your high school memoirs.
Murphy: Yes. We gave operettas, we had the Masque and Wig Club, where we put on performances and we all performed, we had French Clubs, we had Spanish Clubs, we had Latin Clubs, we had Rifle Clubs. We had basketball games which everybody went to, including Mom
and Dad, who came. We had the football games. We were in the band. So it was just one of the things which we were just so busy with in that community. Very seldom did we go out of our community to do anything. We went away, of course, because we went away to camp and those places, or I followed my parents.
Ingersoll: Were your camps segregated or were they integrated?
Murphy: Segregated. We went to Camp Atwater in East Brookfield, Massachusetts, where the train came out of the South, picked up people coming up from the South from Florida, stopped here in Washington, stopped in Baltimore, stopped in Philadelphia, stopped in New York. We changed trains and went on off to East Brookfield, Massachusetts,or we went by bus or our parents drove up. Many a year my parents drove up. The boys went through the month of July, the girls went through the month of August.
Ingersoll: How could they do that? Someone must have sponsored it.
Murphy: It was sponsored by the Urban League of Springfield. The prices, of course, through the years went up. From the time I was eight till I was sixteen, I went away to East Brookfield, Massachusetts. We met there at that camp the women and the men today who, of course, are in the top positions across the country. We knew those whose parents could afford to send them had to be people who were professional people and who were in the same kinds of jobs my parents were. But in the early days, my parents had all five of us at Camp Atwater and we spent the whole month of August there. That was the time my parents would travel while we were away at camp. They sent us away to camp or they drove us off to camp, and off they went. It was just absolutely amazing.
I was looking back day before yesterday at some of the camp programs, and it was just absolutely marvelous, the names of the people who I can recognize today. Two or three of the young women I went to camp with as a young child also went to the University of Wisconsin with me. They came out of Philadelphia. Philadelphia had what was called in those days Girls' High. I guess it still does today. It was one of the top schools in Philadelphia. We met them at Camp Atwater. Both girls (Evelyn Bowden and Mary Hinkson) were daughters of doctors, and I met them again at the University of Wisconsin when I was a freshman there. So it was just absolutely amazing. Camp was just something.
So what I'm saying is that we had our own of everything. From the time I could wake up in the morning until I went to bed at night, I was taught or handled by well-educated black people who had everything of their own. From the pharmacist on the corner, as you heard me say, to the minister, to my teachers, everything was segregated. We didn't know any better and it didn't make any difference to us. We thought we were well educated, and we were.
When I got ready to go away to the University of Wisconsin, I can see my English teacher sitting down with me, tutoring me that summer to make sure that there wasn't anything that I had missed. She spent the summer with me. I wish I could remember her name, because she was just so wonderful.
Ingersoll: That wasn't, by any chance, Josie Goodrich Stevens, was it?
Ingersoll: The reason I know is that there was a little note among your memories from Josie Goodrich Stevens that she wrote. She must have thought a great deal of you. She said, "Dear little Frankie, I was gratified today, when computing grades, to find that among them was your fine record."
Murphy: Isn't that nice of her.
Ingersoll: She wrote you that note when you were sick in the hospital in your high school days.
Murphy: On my way getting ready to go to the University of Wisconsin. She spent that summer going through what she knew would be my freshman curriculum, just hitting highlights. "Let's talk about this that you're going to read," or, "Let's see how you're going to take this exam." I don't know whether my parents paid her or not. I know they were all friends, but I don't know whether she was paid or not.
Ingersoll: She was your English teacher.
Murphy: She was my English teacher and she was just marvelous. There were a lot of teachers like that.
Ingersoll: Are there any others who come to your mind, who stand out as personalities?
Murphy: Oh, yes. Nellie Buchanan, who was my Latin teacher. Oh, I admired her so much. She taught me Latin. She was also the advisor for the Masque and Wig Club.
I'll never forget it as long as I live. One day three of my very good friends decided we were going to hook school, and we went off to the movies. I don't know how in the world we thought the four of us, who were so visible in that community, could do anything that a hundred people wouldn't have called, and they did. By the time we got home, the school knew, my parents knew. We must have been stupid.
Anyhow, Miss Nellie Buchanan forgave us. My mother just thought it was hilarious and she thought it was the stupidest thing I had ever done. She laughed every time she looked at me. My girlfriends got punished, but my mother could just make me feel so small. She just laughed every time she looked at me. But we did that.
Miss Nellie Buchanan, I'll never forget. What started it is we missed Miss Buchanan's class, so Miss Buchanan went to the office to find out whether we had been in school that morning. She checked each class and found that we had been to some classes. She said, "What in the world could have happened to the four of them?" knowing we were four friends. So she called my father. So one thing led to the other.
She was the type of teacher who had learned Latin very early. She made it easy for us, and I enjoyed Latin with her. I can think of the Whartons. Dr. Cliff [Clifford] Wharton is now head of TIAA-CREF, the largest teachers' insurance company. His family members, I guess they were cousins, Pauline Wharton taught me down in the fifth grade in elementary school. Then Sister Hermione Wharton taught me in junior high school at Dunbar.
Ingersoll: Was she a sister in terms of being a nun?
Murphy: No. Blood sisters. She taught me in junior high school. She was my home room teacher. In those days, you must remember, you could not wear makeup. If you were looking too hard at a young man or you were seen doing something, you were corrected right away. I don't know what I must have done to upset Miss Hermione that day, but I can remember feeling the sting of her hand across my face. Of course, before I got home, she had already called my mother. Miss Hermione and my mother were very good friends. Of course, when I got home, Mother said I'd already been punished and that was enough for me, because she had never hit me. So that was the end of that, whatever I had done. I don't remember what it was.
Their mother, Pauline Wharton (also a Pauline), taught me music in junior high school. That's where I learned that I had to sit up straight. Dunbar Junior High School was brand new. The music room was just like a concert hall, where the seats were in a semi-circle and the high grand piano was at the front, and the bandstand was in the back. Miss Pauline would walk behind you on those rows, and if you weren't sitting up straight, she'd put her hand in your back and tell you to sit up straight. She was the one who put on those gorgeous operettas, beautiful operettas. We enjoyed it. Everybody wanted to be in her choir. Oh, choir was just wonderful. We loved choir. Everybody went to choir.
Ingersoll: Were you in any of those operettas?
Murphy: Oh, yes. Oh, yes! You know, you had to be in the operetta! Oh, yes. Right on the front row.
Then the other daughter, Constance Wharton, taught me art. She was just wonderful. She was great. They were all Wharton in those days. Miss Hermione never married, but Constance Wharton married. Young Pauline married. Miss Hermione Wharton went on to become principal. She came up through the ranks, became principal of one of the senior high schools, and she was my daughter's [Frances] principal.
Ingersoll: Oh, how nice.
Murphy: At the senior high school. So those are the teachers who I can remember. There was another teacher, a little short teacher named Lottie O. Chase. Miss Lottie O. Chase was another of my Dunbar Junior High School teachers who I'll long remember. She was wonderful. We had a lot of excellent teachers, teachers who cared a lot about you, who made it a joy to learn. It was just lovely to learn in those days. I hear children talking about how they don't want to go to school or the parents say the children don't do their work. They didn't have any trouble with us.
Ingersoll: Hard to understand that, isn't it?
Murphy: We had excellent teachers. They cared about us. They knew our parents, too. Then there's the other thing. These were women or men who were in clubs with my mother and who went to church with us and so forth. We knew them. We knew them well. They knew us well. I was valedictorian of my junior high school class.
Ingersoll: I noticed that there was an article that said, "Frances Louise Murphy leads the class in scholarship." That was 1937. There was a picture of quite a few of the outstanding students, but you were the one who had led in scholarship.
At Dunbar there was a publication called the Dunbar Broadcast, wasn't there?
Murphy: Yes, yes.
Ingersoll: Did you write for them?
Murphy: Yes, and I'm sorry I don't have that scrapbook. I was looking for that. I remember now that I gave it to them.
Ingersoll: For their archives?
Murphy: For their anniversary. For their archives, yes. I had kept all of those, too. Yes, we all wrote for that. That was all part of our English class.
Ingersoll: Were there any special things that you remember writing for that?
Murphy: I wish I could tell you yes.
Ingersoll: Was there some kind of an article called "East Side"?
Murphy: Could have been.
Ingersoll: That was referred to, yet I didn't know what it was. Would it usually have been school doings that you wrote about?
Murphy: Not necessarily, because in those days, you know, we wrote about everything that went on. We may have written about what was going on in school, as well as what we were doing in the Girl Scouts or what we may have been doing in the Junior League. Remember, many of the teachers who were teaching us were also our mentors outside of school who were in the same groups that our parents were in, who may have been sponsors for some of these other clubs that we did. When we went to church, there they were, the superintendents of the Sunday schools, head of the different church things. Everything revolved around the church and school. So there they were right there. So it could have been across the board, sure.
Ingersoll: Then in Douglass High School, you were again in the Honor Society, I think I saw in one of the yearbooks, and the Rifle Club. What was the Rifle Club?
Murphy: Oh, that was great. We would go to the armory once a week with our rifles and shoot. It's funny, they talk about guns today, but we very early learned to shoot. You heard me talk about we were in Morgan Park, so therefore my father had guns. Before the place was built up, he would get out there and shoot the field mice and the rabbits and so forth. When we got to high school, he was just delighted there was a Rifle Club, so he encouraged us all to join the Rifle Club. I can see me going to school now with my rifle slung over my shoulder and proudly walking with my rifle on my shoulder, because we were in matches in those days, matches against Howard University.
I followed one of my sisters into the Rifle Club. My memory is that my sister Vashti was in the Rifle Club. That would make sense, because Vash liked to do things like that. I would go along with her to the Rifle Club. Then when she graduated, I stayed in it, but seems to me I was president of the Rifle Club or something like that. I enjoyed that. That's when we went to shooting matches all over the place.
We learned to handle guns very well. My dad slept with a gun underneath his pillow, and so guns were just accepted in those days. We didn't play with them. We were taught early how to handle them. You knew how to cock, you knew how to shoot, and there wasn't anything to be afraid of. Nothing you would really play with.
Ingersoll: You were on the Student Court, I noticed. What did that mean?
Murphy: We had a student bill of rights, and when there was an infraction of the rules, it came before the Student Court first. There were certain things that came before the Student Court, which you were to rule on one way or the other. I don't remember what the cutoff was, but I can imagine that most of the things were not the serious infractions that we think of today. I imagine it could have been just like us cutting school that day. That would have gone before the Student Court. Or it could have been an argument between the Student Council or something that the Student Court was allowed to, but that was a regular court with the teachers as sponsors, where you did it exactly as a courtroom would go, with lawyers and everything. I imagine some of the young legislators today, like former Congressman Parren Mitchell or some of those were some of those who really worked out of the Student Court.
Ingersoll: He was one of the people who went to your school?
Murphy: You must remember now I said to you there were only two high schools in those days. My class that went into Dunbar Senior High School was the first senior high school class over in East Baltimore. I went to Dunbar Junior High School, but didn't continue into the senior high school. I didn't continue because I had to go to college. My father was afraid they would not be accredited by the time I got to college, because accreditation in those days, as today, was based on the number of successful graduates you had. So we transferred uptown to Northwest Baltimore to Douglass Senior High, which was the one that had been there for years. Therefore, Douglass Senior High School had everybody who wasn't in Dunbar. So anybody who went to high school, we knew. Anybody who became a teacher out of Baltimore, anybody who went to law school, became a doctor and so forth, who came along with you, you knew, because those were the only two high schools.
Ingersoll: I was here before, looking at your scrapbooks, and I mentioned to you that I had looked at the yearbook from Douglass, and the wonderful things all those young people were looking forward to doing. I remember your response was, "Yes, and they did it." Then you explained some very interesting things to me about the situation in Maryland in those days. Could you put that on the tape for us, please?
Murphy: Sure. Before I came out of high school, Parren Mitchell, who later became a congressman, had applied for the University of Maryland, and the University of Maryland had refused to let them come in even as undergraduates. So, therefore, the governor—and I don't remember which governor it was at that time—but the governor and my dad got together. My father said, "If you're not going to let them go to the University of Maryland, then Maryland citizens ought to pay for them to go someplace else." So the agreement between the governor and my father was, "Okay. I'll give you so much money and, therefore, you be chairman of a scholarship commission." There was only one criteria, that if you couldn't get a course at Morgan State College and that course was offered at the University of Maryland, then you were entitled to room, board, and tuition at any college you wanted to go to.
Therefore, my father sent three of us to the University of Wisconsin, room, board, tuition, two travels home each semester, my other sister to the University of Minnesota, on the state of
Maryland because we could not get journalism at Morgan State College. It was offered at the University of Maryland School of Journalism. We couldn't go there. So they sent us away.
Ingersoll: Would that have been true for young people who wanted to be doctors and lawyers, any kind of professional?
Murphy: That's right. In those days, the pre-meds, all of those, if they wanted a certain course. Engineers, we didn't have engineering. University of Maryland had that.
So I guess about ninety percent of my high school class went away to college, which is absolutely tremendous. I should say ninety percent of those of us in the academic course. There were a lot of different curriculums in those days, and we were divided according to career goals—academic or vocational or so forth. First I think there may have been twelve classes, 12A1, 12A2, 12A3, and so forth. The first three or four classes were those of us who were taking the academic course, who wanted to go on to college, the physics, the math, the Latin, the French, and so forth. Other students may have been taking typing, home economics, and some of those things.
Ingersoll: But of the academic course people, ninety percent went on to college.
Murphy: Yes, many got scholarships from the Maryland scholarship commission.
Ingersoll: I was going to ask you, why Wisconsin?
Murphy: Wisconsin, in those days, was the top journalism school. It was between the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin. He started Bettye off at the University of Minnesota. She ran into trouble trying to get in the dorm, so Dad went looking for another school. Therefore, he found the University of Wisconsin. Dr. Grant Hyde was the chairman of the department of journalism at the University of Wisconsin. When my sister Ida got there, I don't remember whether she got into the dorms or not, but by the time my sister Carlita and I got there, the doors were open to us. Dad had gone there and done whatever he had to do, and we were in the dormitory. We stayed in the dormitory until the war broke out.
Ingersoll: So it was your father who looked for the right university for you girls.
Murphy: For anybody in my high school class. They would come to him and he would say, "What do you want to do?"
Ingersoll: You graduated in 1940.
Murphy: So, therefore, it had to be the mid-thirties or sometime when the commission was started. There were many a class that came behind me, because I kept my scholarship for four years at Wisconsin. So, therefore, up until '44 I knew students were still going away all over the country to colleges. I don't remember what year Parren [Mitchell] and the others finally broke the barrier down at the University of Maryland, but before the Supreme Court decision [Brown v. Board of Education], so it was before 1954. But, gee, that was still ten more years, so that was a long time that they sent us all over the country to school, to just keep us out of the University of Maryland.
Curly [Harry Clifton] Byrd was president of the University of Maryland. I call him Curly Byrd because that's what my father would call him. "That Curly Byrd." I can hear him talking
about "that Curly Byrd, who tells me that he wants no Negroes and coloreds in the University of Maryland, and yet he still can't get these professors to do what he wants them to do, or he can't get his board to do what he wants them to do. Getting all this money from the state." I can hear my dad talking about the new stadiums they're going to have and everything, and we couldn't study there.
Ingersoll: So your father would help other young black students to find the right place.
Murphy: That's right. He was chairman of the commission.
Ingersoll: In things other than journalism?
Murphy: Yes. Oh, yes. It depends on what they wanted to do.
Ingersoll: He would help them find the right place in California or wherever.
Murphy: And I have to be very frank with you. Dad would say to you, if you came before him, "If you want to be so and so, find one course that you want to take that Morgan doesn't offer, so I can give you a scholarship."
Murphy: He wanted some of them to come to Morgan. A lot of them came to Morgan, but there were a lot of them who were going on to professional schools so he wanted to make sure that they had everything that that professional school said you were supposed to have. So, therefore, if you were going to a certain school and you didn't have that course at Morgan, he wanted to make sure you had it. So he would say to them, "Wait a minute. Have you looked at the graduate school? Do you know what they're going to require you to have? If you haven't done it, you go back and get the graduate school catalog." He said, "Let's look and see what you have to have in graduate school. Let's see. Does Morgan have all that?" Or he'd say to them, "You're going to Morgan for this one year (or these two years) because you can do all that, but then you've got to have a scholarship so you can go off to so and so and get the rest of it."
Ingersoll: What was your experience at the University of Wisconsin like?
Murphy: Interesting. Extremely interesting. In my freshman year, there were six black women and thirty-six fellows. And being the woman that I was, we set up a system where they could draw straws of who they would date. I was in the dormitory. My sister's room was right next to mine. My father didn't believe, as you heard me say earlier, of us rooming together or borrowing from each other. So they tried to put us together. I can appreciate that as I look back, but my father said, "No. My daughters have to have two single rooms because they're used to being apart." So our rooms were right next to each other. My sister was, of course, very protective of me.
My first year of college I had a ball. I went just wild. After, I guess, the first couple of months, my father cut off my allowance, told me to settle down and go to work. I had a good time. I ran back and forth to Chicago. I don't think I studied at all. I did the minimum or whatever. My father got those first group of grades and had a heart attack.
Ingersoll: Knowing what you could do.
Ingersoll: What happened then?
Murphy: I settled down and went to work. They put me on probation, if I remember correctly, that first semester, and I finally settled down and went on to work, as he knew I would do, and got As and Bs like I was supposed to. But I think getting to Wisconsin and really getting an opportunity to do what I wanted to do, I could care less about Wisconsin. Here I was in a situation where there were just forty-two of us all together in a school of 10,000-something, and I guess I made an effort to go to some of the things. I'm sure I did. I don't remember Wisconsin too fondly. I remember Wisconsin as being a chore, as something I had to do.
Ingersoll: Why was that, do you think?
Murphy: I was very resentful of my high school classmates who had gone off on scholarships to schools like Howard, or they went off on scholarships to Spelman and those places, you know. I'd get back home at the holidays, and, oh, they were having such a good time. They were doing the same things we were doing in high schools. They were still in the Drum and Bugle Corps, still in the clubs and so forth and so on. I don't recall being too welcomed in any of those things at Wisconsin.
I remember I lived in Barnard Hall. I don't know how I'd ever forget this woman's name (Miss Ross), and, boy, her nose was so far up in the air, it wasn't funny. In those days she was the house mother. Oh, she had a fit every time she looked at us black kids coming down the steps to dinner. Because in those days we ate in the dormitory.
Ingersoll: In that dormitory were there just your sister and you?
Murphy: No, no, no. My sister and myself and two girls from Philadelphia, Evelyn Bowden and Bunny [Mary] Hinkson. That's four. Then another girl named Frances Willis, who was so fair you wouldn't have known whether she was white or black, but, of course, she was, and she stayed with us. So there must have been five of us in the dormitory. We were all in Barnard Hall. Of course, I guess the first time that we went down to dinner, I can remember her just looking in awe, with her mouth wide open, because I guess she figured we didn't know what to do with the knives and forks.
Ingersoll: How much better you knew, with the training you'd had.
Murphy: I really remember her just sitting there throughout that whole meal, just staring at us. She just couldn't believe it. Then, of course, I think she finally got used to us, because both Bunny Hinkson and Evelyn Bowden were daughters of doctors, and I think Frances Willis was, too. I think her father was a doctor. They must have been all three doctors' children, and the two of us. So finally she got adjusted to us, I think. She never warmed up to us, but she got adjusted to us.
In those days, of course, everything was very strict. You dated in the parlor, they closed the doors at a certain time, and you had hours that you had to be in. I remember ten o'clock or something and maybe twelve o'clock on weekends was really late, and everything was on the campus. You went to dances. Of course, we were just a couple of folks in a whole big area.
Then the world changed. We went to war. When we went to war, they put us out of the dormitories and here came the soldiers.
Ingersoll: That must have been your sophomore year?
Murphy: Pearl Harbor, my sophomore year, 1941. December '41. They put us out of Barnard Hall and put us over in Chadburne Hall the next year, which was an older dormitory, and the men took over. I must have been assigned to Chadburne Hall that next year. Finally they took us off campus altogether because the sailors came in and took over all the dorms.
But with the war came all these black soldiers. [Laughter.] Oh, that was something! Here we were, just a few of these black women on campus. You talk about somebody running and hiding! And most of them were officers. They had officers' training in those days. So where we had been dealing with our own peers and people who we knew, who were students in the school and so forth, here came all these guys who were in officers' training. So, therefore, when you went to dances and so forth, they were all there, too. It was an interesting senior year. A very, very interesting senior year.
Ingersoll: It would have been for a longer time than just your senior year.
Murphy: Junior and senior year. We went out, but not as much as we used to. I think we sort of pulled together then and just decided, "We'd better date in groups." Because most of the men that we knew had gone, had been drafted by that time, and then there were just so many soldiers there in town. I do remember going to some of the things my senior year.
I guess what really strikes my mind, it must have been in my sophomore year. As you know, they have rushes on campus. Because we were here at the University of Wisconsin in Madison from Baltimore, Maryland, it was assumed that we were fairly rich, from a fairly rich family, so we got rushed by all the sororities until the word got around that we were black. So the first rush we went to, we laughed about it as we did it, because we knew good and well they didn't know that we were black.
Ingersoll: Would this be because they were just going by lists of names?
Murphy: Yes. Grade point and list of names. So we got a rush letter. We talked it over with my parents, and my parents said, "Go! You're not going to pledge anyhow because you're going Delta." And we came back and told them. I can hear my mother chuckling now. She had a way of chuckling. She said, "Well, that's an experience for you."
Ingersoll: And she wanted you to have that experience?
Murphy: Yes. She said, "You girls have never been buffed before," as she would call it. She would say, "You need to really come out and understand how prejudiced the world is."
Ingersoll: That's interesting. You'd been protected.
Murphy: We'd been protected, and every place we went, everybody knew us. So she said, "Oh, go."
Ingersoll: "Buffed" was from rebuffed.
Murphy: Yes. So she said, "Well, you know what's going to happen." She prepared us. "You know what's going to happen. You're going to walk in the door and they're going to look at you." [Demonstrating a gasp.] And that's what happened! Of course, when we got back home, we called and told her. She said, "Oh, well, you knew it was going to happen."
Ingersoll: But that was a good way of having you meet some of these unpleasantnesses.
Murphy: She said, "I just want you to go." And I'll never forget that one of the girls in my journalism class who had also been rushed at the same time, Irene Sunny, she was from someplace up in Wisconsin, and she refused to pledge. I tried to push her to go ahead and pledge, but she refused. Irene Sunny remained my friend all through college.
Ingersoll: Do you think her reason for not pledging was because they had treated you and your friends that way?
Murphy: Yes. Her mother wanted her to pledge, but she said she wasn't going to pledge. She just didn't pledge. Whether she finally did or not, I don't remember, but I remember the sorority that was really after her. She refused. She was from a very wealthy family up in Wisconsin who had never seen black folks before, either.
Ingersoll: But she had some kind of a different consciousness.
Murphy: She just couldn't believe what had happened, you know. I think it hurt her more than it did me, because I had a feeling that maybe she was the one who was the reason why they had rushed us. She never said so. It was really interesting at Wisconsin that so many of the students had not seen black people, and they were getting their first experience. They had never seen the different colors. As I say, in the dormitory there were five of us and we ranged from Frances Willis, who you couldn't tell what she was, down to us, who there was no doubt about what we were, to Evelyn Bowden, who was brown-skinned.
There was one other girl from Waukegan, Frances Smith. Her father was a doctor, too, from Waukegan, Illinois, who came with her convertible, her red convertible, and all of her money and furs and everything. She had everything you could imagine. How could I forget that child? Frances Smith from Waukegan, Illinois. I think they just shook their heads in disbelief, because it didn't go along with anything that they had ever [imagined]. Of course, Frances Smith, as I think back on Frances, Frances Smith was very brown-skinned and, like us, had come from a very protective environment. She looked at people like, "What do you mean, I can't do something?" She had no understanding. Of course, with her parents' money, you know, it was one of those things, "You've got to be crazy!" So she pushed on ahead.
Ingersoll: Was there any chapter of Delta [Sigma Theta] there at the time?
Murphy: No. There weren't enough of us, so we went to Chicago to be made. We were made in the Chicago chapter, and my mother came out for the initiation for me. I don't know whether she came for my sister's or not, but she came out for me. We were made there. Then my sister Ida, I've got a feeling she may have been made at Indiana.
Ingersoll: She's the one who went to Minnesota?
Murphy: No, she went to Wisconsin, too, but she was not made in Chicago like we were, because we were made at Chicago in the Lambda chapter. Ida was made at the University of Illinois (1938)
by the Alpha Nu chapter. My sister Bettye was made right at Howard before going to the University of Minnesota.
Ingersoll: It would be nice to put a Xerox of that picture in the appendix of this with your mother's very nice picture at the top.
Murphy: Yes, with us and the grandchildren.
[End Tape 2, Side A; Begin Tape 2, Side B]
Ingersoll: What about the journalism school at Wisconsin? How was that for you?
Murphy: Journalism school was okay. In many of my classes I was the only black. But you have to remember that I followed two sisters. When you get to the journalism school itself, it was a small school. There weren't that many people in each class. It was headed by Dr. Grant Hyde. He knew my dad. Dad had been out to school by the time I came along. My sister Ida had made a tremendous record there. My sister Carlita came behind her and she sailed on through, you know. Here I came. You'd say something to me and I'd say, "Uh-huh." You know. Big deal. I guess Dr. Hyde just never could understand me at all. I wouldn't get upset. My sister Ida would get upset about things and she'd lay Dr. Hyde, I'm sure, out. My sister Carlita, of course, was just one of these quiet, bright readers who just did everything right, and still does today. She does everything right.
And I came along at Wisconsin and I did my assignments and I worked on the Wisconsin State Journal and they pushed me to work on the Daily Cardinal. I think I may have worked a little bit there on the Daily Cardinal. I don't remember being too excited about the Daily Cardinal. It didn't hit me as anything I was really interested in doing. I went to class, I did my work, I did my papers. As you heard me say, I got my As and my Bs, mostly Bs. I don't recall putting too much effort into what I did because I wasn't enjoying doing it. I learned what I had to learn, came home and worked in the summer at the Afro, which I enjoyed.
Ingersoll: Were any of the classes particularly useful, do you think, for your future career?
Murphy: None that I can think of. I learned at the Afro. I may have expressed that opinion to my father many times, but he said, "Get the degree. You'll need it."
Ingersoll: Very practical.
Murphy: Yes. "You'll need the degree." So I think my grades reflected the fact that I may have gotten all Bs instead of As, which I could have gotten if I'd applied myself.
Ingersoll: Was there a chapter of Sigma Delta Chi [Society of Professional Journalists] at Wisconsin?
Murphy: Yes, but they didn't want me and I didn't apply.
Ingersoll: I was going to ask you if it was difficult. I know Lucile Bluford had that kind of difficulty with Theta Sigma Phi in Kansas.*
Murphy: I remember maybe vaguely someone saying something to me, and then the people who were in it didn't impress me at all. I didn't join. In fact, I didn't join until I got to the State University College at Buffalo. The only reason why I joined there was because the faculty insisted that I join. All of them were members. The Buffalo, New York chapter had its archives housed at the State University there. They were beginning the journalism school. I was one of the professors there and I was head of the print sequence, so they were saying, "Oh, you should join Sigma Delta Chi," so I joined. But at Wisconsin, I didn't have any urge to join.
I guess I could say about my four years at Wisconsin [that they] were four necessary years that pleased my parents. I did what I had to do.
Ingersoll: And you had your degree.
Murphy: I got my degree.
Ingersoll: You were working summers, though, at the Afro. Those were meaningful times?
Murphy: Oh, I had a good time.
Ingersoll: Tell me about those.
Murphy: Of course, Dad expected everybody to work during the summer. That was just a matter of course.
Ingersoll: You worked at the Afro during the summers?
Murphy: Yes. Those were the days when you just did general assignments and you had a good time. My sisters at that point were working at the office, too. My sister Bettye, my memory is that she may have been my city editor or a reporter at that time. My sister Ida was working in the advertising department. My cousins were all working at the paper. So it was like coming home to family. Dad was there. It's not like it is today, only a few Murphys at the plant now. Almost everybody there was a relative, on the production floor, everything. So you came in in the summertime and you really enjoyed it. He gave me an opportunity to do everything. I imagine one summer I worked in the library, then another summer I must have worked on the production floor, worked in his office to arrange some things for him. Then I think in my final summer I must have worked in the city department.
Ingersoll: Were you paid during those summers?
Murphy: Oh, sure. They gave me a little bit of something. I mean, after all, he expected you to save your money. That was your spending money for college. So he expected you to save some of your money. Dad was very practical about saving, because he had taught us to save from the time we were in elementary school. We used to have savings clubs in elementary school.
* See the oral history of Lucile Bluford, now editor and publisher of the Kansas City Call, in this series. In Ms. Bluford's case, the national organization of Theta Sigma Phi, which later became Women in Communications, turned her down, although the University of Kansas chapter wanted her.
So from the time I can remember, I had a bank account. Therefore, you were always told to pay yourself first, so I always saved part of my salary. I just do it automatically. I don't even think about it. It's just a matter of course that whatever I get, part of it's going into the bank and the rest of it is mine. But I have always paid myself first. Having three children to raise and being a divorcée, it's been my lifesaver, because I've been able to put my kids through college, all three of them. The last one who went through, she went strictly on savings and salary, so it's just been what we were taught to do very, very early. He didn't believe in spending everything you had, and he didn't care what it was. That paid off.
Ingersoll: Those summers, which were also summers that were during the war, were those summers when the Mosquito Patrol that you mentioned to me went to work together?
Murphy: Yes, that was the time. By the time I got out of college, that was '44. The war had been going on for a couple of years and there were very few men left. So we came in on that Afro copy desk. I can remember one of my high school classmates who had been my very good friend also joined us. Maethelda Morris, her name was then. She joined us. She was a reporter. My sister Bettye was there, my cousin Elizabeth [Murphy Oliver]. We became just the Mosquito Patrol. We did a lot of volunteer work and we worked at the Afro. Those were—I hate to say good years, but they were. They were very fun years. We worked in the USO and did all the different things that everybody else was doing during the war.
Ingersoll: How did you get that name, Mosquito Patrol?
Murphy: I don't know who gave it that name, talking about the little mosquitos up there. We were all little people. We didn't weigh but so much. I don't know who gave us the name of Mosquito Patrol, but they sure did. That really went on a good year or so before the war ended and the men started coming home.
Ingersoll: So the Mosquito Patrol was really a group of relatives, women?
Murphy: No, a group of reporters, not necessarily relatives. My memory is there were four or five of us. One of my high school classmates, Maethelda, was among the Mosquito Patrol. One of my classmates from Wisconsin was a member, Audrey Weaver, who came back to us to Baltimore after graduating from Wisconsin. I don't remember whether my sister—I'm sure Carlita must have been there. No, no, Carlita married during the war and went to Buffalo.
I'm trying to think who else was on that city desk at that time. This was the editorial department at that time, because all the men had gone. They'd all been sent either overseas by the Afro as war correspondents, like my sister Bettye was sent overseas to England, or they were drafted in the army or the navy or the marines.
Ingersoll: So you were a rather tight group who worked to get the newspaper out, as well as doing some of these other things like USO together.
Murphy: Yes, we did a lot of things with the USO. We did a lot of things at Provident Hospital. I was a nurse's aide at Provident Hospital during those days. We had taken the course, because the hospital was so short-handed. Many of us worked at the hospital after we left the Afro at night.
Ingersoll: Maybe we should leave it at this point and then when we meet again we can go on to the years afterwards with your journalism work and your teaching.
Murphy: All right. Next time we meet, we'll do the journalism.
© 1993, Washington Press Club Foundation.
Washington, DC. All Rights Reserved.