[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Ingersoll: I'd like to talk today mostly about your teaching experience and your experience as chairman of the board of the Afro, but before we get into that, could we talk just a little bit more about your life as a mother and a wife? You said rather laughingly to me, off the tape, and too modestly, I think, "Of course, you realize, Fern, there were years when I wasn't doing very much; I was having babies." But at the same time, as we talked about what you were doing in those years, it seemed as though there was a lot. You told me that you did have a lot of help from a very close-knit family. You told me about how your son had your father looking after him during some difficult years.
But is there anything else you can say about what it was like during those years to be, as I understand it, working, studying, writing, and having young children?
Murphy: Looking back, you ask yourself the question, "How did you do it?" But while you're doing it, it doesn't seem like that much. I came up in a large family of five girls. My father had a huge family, four brothers and five sisters. So there were lots of cousins around, lots of people around, and I just, I guess, didn't think too much about the fact that I was working, having children. There was always my mother and dad, who were extremely helpful, very close. In fact, as a matter of habit, we talked to my mother every single day, just a matter of picking up the phone. If she didn't hear from all five of her girls, she'd call and find out what was wrong with you. It was a matter that you called her every day. With my father, of course, you waited for him to call, because he was so busy.
And then the in-laws. My first husband's sister, Iona [Collins], we called her Aunt Sis, was extremely close to the children. She had adopted a little girl, but my children were the only Wood grandchildren, which means that out of a family of four, and the only Wood blood was in my children. They were the godfathers, the godmothers to my children, and they frequently just came by the house to see what the children were doing, would come by and pick them up.
Then I had, as I say, my sisters, and wherever their children went, my children went. If somebody was going to the circus, you wouldn't think of just taking your children; you called up and said, "Who else wants to go to the circus?" So it was that kind of family relationship that made life very easy for you. If you were in school, they knew you were in school, so they'd call up and say, "What are you going to do with the children this weekend? I know you want to study. Can I take them? We're going on a picnic."
In those days, even when the children were little, they went to the Little School, which was run by my sister-in-law Iona Collins. During the summer, they went to Little Folks Camp for children from two to, I imagine, six years old. This was run by Dr. T.J. Woolridge in town. There was a big farm owned by the doctor, whose daughter, Grace "Splash" Burkett, was a schoolteacher, who during the summer collected all the children. I imagine we paid fairly well for it. She kept them most of the summer, Little Folks Camp.
Ingersoll: Was that in the Baltimore vicinity?
Murphy: Yes, it was down off the highway. I'd have to look and see where it was, but I remember it was down off the highway. My inclination is Frederick, Maryland, somewhere in that vicinity. I don't exactly remember where, but was close by, one of those things where you took the children. Then because they were so young, she had a restriction that parents couldn't come except on visitors' days, because she was afraid the children would want to come home with you. But when you pulled to camp up off the highway, there was a great big driveway. Once you got at the top of the driveway, your children got out of the car, and they didn't even look back, didn't say goodbye; they were gone. [Laughter.] So that was the kind of support we had in those days, and it made life a whole lot easier.
Ingersoll: In 1964, you remarried to Clarence Henderson. Could you tell me a little bit about that and about him?
Murphy: All three of my husbands were just delightful men. Clarence was someone I grew up with, and through junior high school, someone I had known, just like my first husband, and someone whose wife had died. He was very close to my father, because he has a gorgeous voice. My father loved music, so many of the programs that you might see in my scrapbook, the soloist may have been Clarence Henderson. He was director of the choir at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, where my aunt, who I'm named for, Frances Murphy, was a member of whatever the ruling order in the Presbyterian Church is. In our earlier days, really young days, she was one of the people who insisted on the great music and so forth. Then when he took over at Madison Avenue, we'd go by and hear the music, especially at Christmastime. So the fact that we grew up together, we'd known each other a long time. At that point in my life, Clarence was somebody who was really needed, and he was extremely helpful.
Ingersoll: Did he have any children of his own?
Murphy: He had one son named Bruce, who today is traveling all over the world with a symphony orchestra. I know he studied abroad and he went to Julliard. He's just an outstanding young man.
Ingersoll: Did that mean that you also had the challenge of putting two families together?
Murphy: Not necessarily, I guess, a challenge, because when you have three children like I had, Toni and Jimmy and Sue, and then Bruce comes along, Jimmy was so glad to have a brother with those two girls, that he embraced Bruce immediately. So it made life a whole lot easier. It may have been different if they'd been all girls or something, but in this case, here's a boy in the family with a mother, whose father is there, but he's close to his uncles and his grandfather and so forth. Then here comes Bruce, a younger brother, and Jimmy and Bruce hit it off just fine. In fact, whenever you saw Jimmy, you knew he had Bruce right along. If he was going to baseball, Bruce was going, too.
Ingersoll: Were they about the same age?
Murphy: Jimmy must have been five or six years older. Bruce was nearer the youngest child, Susan's age. So Bruce was the little brother who was dragged along with the big brother all the time. [Laughter.] So there was very little conflict there because of the makeup of the family. That made it two boys and two girls, so it made it a lot easier.
Ingersoll: What was Clarence Henderson's work?
Murphy: At that time he was supervisor of music in the public schools. He moved on to vice principal. I think he eventually went up to principal.
Ingersoll: He didn't come from a newspaper background like yourself. Was he able to understand the demands of newspaper life? Of course, at that time you were teaching.
Murphy: I was teaching. He was teaching, too.
Ingersoll: So you did have that in common.
Murphy: He was known in the family. That's what I was trying to let you know. The church where he was choir director, there were three branches of the Murphy family in that church. The George B. Murphy family went to that church, the John Olivers went to that church, and my Aunt Frank went to that church. So he was known in the family. My father, of course, knew him because of his music. So therefore he had connections in the family, so he was no stranger to the family.
Ingersoll: To go on to your teaching years, what do you feel was your most important contribution to journalism education during the years when you were teaching?
Murphy: It's interesting you would ask me that question, because I was looking at some of my evaluations the other day. [Laughter.] At Buffalo State College, I was head of the journalism sequence, and I was the only black faculty member there. Those were very interesting days, because I think the evaluation I got from the students was, "She's fair. She's tough, but she's fair." Over and over again, those are the kinds of evaluations I got.
I demanded a lot. I had come from the University of Wisconsin, where we had a daily newspaper, so, therefore, you were expected in journalism school to produce. When I got to the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, and at Buffalo State and at Howard [University], they had weekly newspapers. The journalism students weren't pushed as much as we had been pushed in our days, so I expected much more than they had been expecting to do. The students would see the course outline and then would try to avoid me. [Laughter.]
At Howard University the department head, Dr. Lawrence Kaggwa, decided that I would teach all the courses in news reporting and writing so that every student would have to come my way. [Laughter.] Those were the years that I got the top rating of all the professors.
Ingersoll: I noticed that in the scrapbook, yes.
Murphy: They had to come my way, so I guess they finally gave up and decided, "Oh, well, we'll go on and take it." But those were good years.
I guess the greatest joy I have right now is that when something happens, I get calls from all over the country from my students who are calling me, and they'll begin by, "Let me thank you, first of all, for making me do what I had to do. I am now head of so and so. I'm calling to get your comment on so and so." This has happened just religiously. So they're all over the world from the three colleges now, in good jobs, doing well, and I'm so proud of them.
Ingersoll: You said you were the only black faculty member in the journalism department at Buffalo State College. Did that give you any problem?
Murphy: Maybe it should have, but I guess my attitude was that I had a job to do, they gave me the job. I was extremely fortunate in the fact that the president of the college was Dr. Bruce Johnstone. Dr. Johnstone is now chancellor of the entire SUNY system in New York. He was at Buffalo State College then. Bruce and I hit it off right away, so much so that he'd come on the campus and have breakfast with the students. He'd see me go into class and say, "Bring your students over and we'll all have breakfast together this morning," or we'd walk together. With that kind of relationship, it would be pretty hard to cross me, I think. But he was that way to every faculty member, very, very close and hard working. His wife was lovely. They used to give such lovely receptions, and everybody would go, something I can't say on the other campuses where I worked. This was a campus where everybody went to faculty meetings, and even though we were a union campus, it was extremely tight knit. And then I had a sister there in Buffalo, whose husband had been a former city councilman.
Ingersoll: Which sister was that?
Murphy: That would be Carlita Jones. Her husband Leland had been a city councilman. So therefore the family was known in Buffalo, so I wasn't a stranger to the campus. It was strange to me, but as far as who I was and so forth, they all knew.
I would say ninety-nine percent of that faculty was a great faculty. I ran against one or two, who are now retired. The students were great and the faculty was great. The only people I had problems with were the parents. It was interesting, trying to watch the students maneuver their parents at graduation to come and speak to me. We would laugh about it. We'd talk about it. Some of the students who since that time have come back say, "Remember my mother did so and so?" And how sorry she was afterwards. But on the whole, Buffalo was good days.
Then you have to remember that Buffalo is so cold! When it snows, if you don't have friends—we lived on Deerfield Avenue, and the block was racially mixed. Many were from Poland. But you got to know your neighbors, because if it snowed, you were snowed in. Snow was all the way up to my back porch, which means that I'd make an effort to get out, or I'd send the kids and my stepson out to make sure the older neighbors were okay. Everybody did the same thing. "Do you have milk? Do you have bread? Do you have coffee?" and so forth. Then my husband would get out with the snowblower and clean off everybody's sidewalk. The men in the block did that for everybody. They'd all get out at the same time. So if you didn't get along with your neighbors in that kind of country, you were in bad shape.
Ingersoll: Let's go back to 1964 to '71, Morgan State. What was that experience like?
Murphy: I came into a situation to Morgan, where my father was chairman of the board of trustees. I was teaching elementary school, and the job of public relations director opened up at Morgan. I had just received my master's from Johns Hopkins. He felt that I should get back into the field. The children were older at that point. He said to me, "Why don't you go to Morgan and teach and do public relations?" I wasn't particularly interested, and then my stepmother, Lillian Parrott Murphy, said, "I think it would be good for you. Come on and go anyhow. Try it out."
I wrote to the board of education, requesting leave to do the Morgan job, and they turned it down. They said, "If you want to go to Morgan, you'll have to resign." So I must have resigned about 1964, and then went on to take the Morgan job.
That was a great job! That was just wonderful. My office was right across the hall from Dr. Martin Jenkins, the president, and even though Dr. Stewart Brooks was my immediate
supervisor, you would not have known it, because I dealt directly with Dr. Jenkins, who was a very good friend of my father's. In fact, they were the kind of buddies that they'd get in the room and fuss and fight like brothers and come out shaking each other's hand, because my dad was chairman of the board, and Dr. Jenkins was president of the college.
I got a chance to do a lot of traveling. I got a chance to participate in some of the award-winning things and win some awards for some of the work I had done at Morgan. Then I was allowed to teach. I got a tenure rank, which was a big surprise to me, because I didn't realize that public relations people would be given tenure, which means if I ever had left public relations, I'd always have tenure. So I got tenure rank as teaching my news reporting class, and the only reason why I taught that class was because I was supervisor of the student newspaper, the Spokesman. So all of the students worked on the Spokesman.
So those were great years. My niece, Rev. Vashti McKenzie, who is a minister now, came through my class, as did my nephew Roger Matthews. A lot of my friends' children took my class, worked hard, fussed, but worked hard, very, very hard. Then it gave me a relationship with the Afro, because the students not only wrote for the Spokesman, but wrote for the Afro, and many of them went on to intern at the Afro.
Ingersoll: I noticed a paper that you had done, I think from this period, called "A Day with the Pros."
Ingersoll: Was that based on this period?
Murphy: That's this period. This was one of these programs that I had in my class, where I would call around to all the professionals and assign a student to follow the professional for the whole day. The students loved it, because there were some in the classroom who didn't want to go into print journalism; they wanted to go into television or radio. So it gave them an opportunity to meet the people that they wanted to, and interview them, then come back and write a paper. They spent a whole day with them. Many times when they went for a day, they stayed as interns. People would say, "Oh, come on back. Let's see if we can't keep you for a whole summer," and that was great for them. Those were really nice days.
Ingersoll: It gave them a chance really to see what the work was like, not as they thought it might be like.
Murphy: Yes. That was great.
Ingersoll: So you were teaching English, and you were director of the news bureau.
Murphy: In those days, Morgan didn't have a journalism department, so he (Dr. Jenkins) housed the journalism courses in the English department. Therefore, I was assistant professor of English, I guess, and I taught the one course.
Ingersoll: Then it was also during that period that at the Nineteenth Annual Women's Dinner you gave a talk on "One Woman, Eight Men." I saw that title, but I did not see the script of the talk. I wondered what experience this might have related to. Does that come to your mind at all?
Murphy: No. "One Woman, Eight Men." Where would I have been?*
Ingersoll: It was at Morgan State College for maybe women faculty. I'm not sure. It doesn't matter. Maybe we can pick that up later. I just thought it might bring something to your mind.
I guess it was during this same period of time that you were keynote speaker at a birthday testimonial dinner for Dr. Ralph Abernathy of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Murphy: Yes, I remember that.
Ingersoll: Your talk was entitled, "Critical Times, Critical Choices."
Murphy: I remember that.
Ingersoll: Was this part of the whole civil rights thrust of the time?
Murphy: Yes. During this time, I got a lot of invitations to speak, like I do now, but I just don't take them now. But during this time in my younger days, I would go and speak quite a bit around the country. I remember he must have signed a picture for me. I must have the speech somewhere, but the details of it I don't know. I do remember Dr. Ralph Abernathy had been one of my father's friends, and he had asked that I come speak at this birthday party. That was Philadelphia, wasn't it?
Ingersoll: Yes, that's right. Could you say what you learned from that Morgan State experience that you then carried on into your later teaching years?
Murphy: I think what you learn when you teach at a black school like that, you get a lot of self-confidence. One of the things that has disturbed me about my own education was that I left high school and went away to Wisconsin, which I didn't like because of the prejudice. Then you come back to a school and you're one on one with tremendous faculty members who have their Ph.D.s from all the top universities around the world, and then you get a chance to get rid of the race problem altogether. There's no race involved. It's sort of a leveling, where you get in, you teach, you don't even think about race, and that's the kind of experience that every child should have, one that you'd have to just be your own self, either you make it on your own (or you don't) and there's no excuse about race or money or anything. That's what Morgan did to me.
I came in with a different background than many other people because of my own family background, but once there, the leveling was absolutely amazing. Then you learn at a school like Morgan to take a child at face value and take that child from where he is to where he wants to go, and he can never look at you and say, "Oh, you did that because I'm black." Martin Jenkins, the president who you heard me say whom I admired so much, would tell every freshman class that came in, "I want you to shake hands with the person next to you. This is hello and goodbye. Those of you who want to make it, it's going to be hello. Those of you who think that the world owes you something, it's goodbye." [Laughter.] And I used to enjoy listening to him give that speech.
* I had left Morgan and was chairman of the board at the Afro. The talk at the Morgan State College Nineteenth Annual Women's Dinner on March 14, 1975, refers to my position on the nine-member Board of Trustees of the Maryland State Colleges with eight men.
His second thing was "second mile." Everybody, he said, had to go a second mile to make it. He didn't care what color you were. If you didn't go that second mile, you weren't going to make it. If you didn't give more than what the average person gave, you weren't going to make it.
So I think if I didn't learn anything else from Morgan, those are the two things I remember. Not that I hadn't learned them before when I was younger, under my own father and mother, but it's good to have it reinforced, especially in a situation where you see it really working. Morgan has a slogan that says, "Morgan State is a place to be somebody." You don't forget that too often, either. That sticks in your mind. So I have to say that there's a lot of discussion today about whether black colleges are necessary, Jewish colleges are necessary, Catholic colleges are necessary, but my experience has been that unless they are there for people who feel left out, you're going to have a lot of kids not making it. That's why so many of them are dropping out of the system today, because they just feel alone. There's just so much against them.
Ingersoll: And you feel there's a better chance of their making it when they can be in an environment where they're just thought of as people rather than—
Murphy: Yes. Once you get that self-confidence. I look at my two oldest children, the one who's an orthopedic surgeon in California and the one who now heads the Afro. Both of them went from integrated high schools to Morgan State. Once they got into Morgan State, they shined. It was just gorgeous to watch them bloom. Then when my son went on to the University of California at Irvine, which you and I both know is the worst place a black kid can go, he was fully confident that he knew what he could do. There wasn't anything anybody could say to him. He knew that he was as good as anybody out there, that he was going to make the same good grades he made in college, and nothing bothered him. So he was at the top of his class at Irvine. Everybody said, "How can this black boy come out here with all this prejudice in Orange County?" Because he felt like he was somebody.
Same thing with my daughter Toni. She went on to Johns Hopkins, she went on to the University of Baltimore, and she maintained the top honor grade because she had that background, whereas Susan, who insisted on following me to Wisconsin, hit that prejudice like I did earlier, and she had to struggle to make it, which was sad to see, because she was so outgoing. Like I did, she lost those four years, where she could have been in every group and doing all the things she should have done that her sister and brother did at Morgan, because at Morgan there wasn't a group that they didn't touch and join and become part of.
So I think, though, that it's extremely important at that age that they discover their strengths, and then they can do anything in life.
Ingersoll: That's so interesting. In 1971, you became publisher and chief executive officer of the whole Afro-American chain, didn't you?
Murphy: Yes, those were interesting years.
Ingersoll: How was it decided that you would be the one to take this position? Your father had died in 1967, hadn't he?
Murphy: Yes. John [Murphy] III, my cousin, took over the paper. I don't like to be unkind to him, but John was a very easygoing young man who worked very hard, but had no foresight. I really don't know how the family turned to me. I don't remember the details, but I remember a
Page 75 delegation coming. I was on the board of directors at the time. I would tear John apart at the board meetings. Oh, he discouraged me so. I finally decided, when the delegation came, they persuaded me, "Come on and try it. See if we can't pull it back together again." The Afro was in trouble, but there were things that could be done at that point.
Ingersoll: In trouble in what way?
Murphy: Financially. They were coming into a period where expansion was needed, and if we didn't get the new press, if we didn't retool, they were going to have trouble.
Ingersoll: Times like that, you either have to go ahead or you're going to go back.
Murphy: So I told them that I would come and try to convince the family that we would go ahead. I gave myself two or three years in which to do it. At the end of that time, I quit in absolute disgust, because I didn't see myself going anyplace. We had put the Afro back on solid footing, we were making money, we were doing very well, but my common sense told me that if they did not put that money into retooling, we were going to be in trouble. I hate to say that we did get to that point and what we should have done is what I said, but that's neither here nor there. I blame my own failures for not being able to pull that family together. I was dealing with all the people in my generation, and I think, as my father would have said, I was a little too cocky. I needed to have dealt with them a little more gently, a little more tenderly, I guess.
If I had the same respect I have today for the leadership of the company, I think I would have made it. But, unfortunately, those were not very good shining years for me, because, as I look back now, I see that I could have turned them around with a little more finesse, a little more compromise, not being so dull-eared as I was, and getting just so fed up and disgusted. Unfortunately, in many families, as [described in] books I've read, you find that this is the generation where you have the trouble. The first two generations seem to get along with flying colors, and the third generation comes along that has had all the privileges that everybody has worked for, and then the next generation comes and salvages it. So my generation, and I'm the youngest alive now of my generation, was an absolute disaster, an absolute disaster for the company.
So I think what we have now are young minds who are dealing [with the problems]. My daughter is an extremely beautiful diplomat. I'm ranting and raving, and she's saying, "I think we can do it the other way. Just be quiet. This is nicer. I don't see any reason why you need to get that upset about that. Let's look at it tomorrow." If I had learned what she has learned, I'd have been able to do it. I look back at the financial reports and so forth during my tenure, and they were just tremendous.
Ingersoll: Yes, I read in one of the notes that between 1970-71, that fiscal year when you started, it was $2.3 million. When you finished, 1973-74, it was $4 million. So something positive happened.
Murphy: I'm older now and I look back. It's just a shame I didn't have the patience to hang in there and bang heads. But I didn't, so nothing's going to change that now.
Ingersoll: But you learned, it seems, from the experience.
Murphy: I think you learn that compromise is extremely important in huge families, and we are a big family. We are a fighting family. We're dealing with everybody who is somebody.
In fact, as I look at my own generation and look at my own children's generation, there's nobody in that generation who hasn't been to college. My father had sixteen or eighteen grandchildren, and everybody went to college. In my generation, everybody went to college, not just here, but all around the country. So I think what we have to understand now is that the business heads, the calmer heads will take over and run the company and hopefully bring it back the way it was. It just needs to go back to where it was under my tenure.
Ingersoll: Do you have any sense that there was any reluctance in choosing you, as a woman, for that position, or any difficulties that were caused because you were a woman in that position?
Murphy: I can think of my cousins bristling when I talked with them.
Ingersoll: Your male cousins?
Murphy: My male cousins. I had, unfortunately, my father's attitude, "Take it or leave it." I was very harsh. I look back at some of my memos to them, the way I spoke to them, I wanted more from them and I didn't get it. I am a workaholic, and I recognize that now. I didn't recognize it then, but I recognize it now. So, therefore, it would be nothing for me to work all day and come home, straighten out the children and so forth, and then stay up half the night working on a report or trying to figure out how to operate a piece of machinery so when I went in the next day, if it wasn't working right, I'd tell them, "Wait a minute. This lever's okay." I didn't want to have anything in the office that I couldn't operate. I wanted that same kind of—
Murphy: Yes. From them. But I didn't get it, and I didn't have much patience because I didn't get it. After all, I felt this was their livelihood, what they had to pass down to their children, and I didn't understand the need to run off on weekends to parties and so forth. I liked a party like anybody else, but when there was a job to be done, I expected them on Saturday morning to be up like me at seven o'clock and go down there and find out what was wrong, you know. If the press didn't operate, I wanted to know why. "Let's take it apart and look at it." [Laughter.] I think my impatience with their desire to do other things may have hurt.
Ingersoll: There were almost no women in the mainstream press of those days who had this kind of position. How would you account for the difference?
Murphy: I think you have to understand that there were, but they weren't here. There was somebody down in Louisville whose family had owned a newspaper, who had taken over from her husband.
Ingersoll: That's right. I hadn't thought of that. That's true. When it was within a family situation, it was somewhat different.
Murphy: I don't know when Katherine Graham took over. She took over from her husband.
Ingersoll: That's true.
Murphy: So if it was a family thing, it was not unusual for the woman to move on up, because that's where the stock was. That's where the control was.
Ingersoll: That's right. I noticed in your scrapbooks that there was a letter of March 24, 1971 from a man called Kenneth Wilson.
Murphy: Kenneth O. Wilson, yes.
Ingersoll: There was an interesting quote in there that I thought maybe you could expand on a little bit. It was, "I was greatly impressed with the poise which you displayed during the meeting that you called Wednesday morning. Your friendly but firm posture regarding the obvious new guidelines for all people at the Afro-American certainly was an inspiration to me. I believe that our staff employees here have been longing for the kind of leadership that you have displayed, and I know you will exhibit the kind of leadership capabilities that will turn our people around from a state of frustration to a new era of hope and achievement."
Murphy: Was that '71?
Ingersoll: 1971, just at the beginning of your tenure. Was he a member of the staff?
Murphy: Vice president of advertising.
Ingersoll: He wasn't a family member, was he?
Murphy: No. Kenneth had come in from Johnson Publications, and is mentioned in that book, too, John Johnson's book*, where he talks about the people that he stole from us, and, in turn, he gave us Kenneth Wilson. [Laughter.]
Ken was a tremendous PR man. I don't remember his title, but right now he's head of the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, which means he's director of that whole Baltimore Inner Harbor. He was our advertising manager, and he did a tremendous job while he was there. He stepped on a lot of toes, too.
What I did when I went into the office was demand that everyone, no matter whether you were switchboard operator or the janitor, that you give first-class service. If you didn't, I'd find somebody else to do your job for you, which means people who have coffee breakfasts in the morning, personal telephone calls, ignoring people who come in at the counter, those kinds of things were not needed at the Afro. I set up a system of employee evaluation, and evaluated every single employee. I did those kinds of things, took a hard look at the paper, which we're all doing again, at the sloppiness and so forth, little things that had run rampant under John. Not that he wasn't a good man; he was just so busy being friends, he didn't want to be a boss. That's all there was to it.
I cleaned up the place. I like white paint, and I painted everything. [Laughter.] I don't care if it's old or not, just like my back fence, old as it could be, but a beautiful coat of paint on it makes it look like it's brand new. From the front to the back, we cleaned house. That's what he was talking about. We cleaned house, too.
Ingersoll: I also noticed that in 1971 you did an annual report from the chairman of the board to the stockholders. There seemed to be quite a lot of emphasis there on future projections about the fourth generation, which would be your children's generation.
* John Johnson, Succeeding Against the Odds.
Murphy: Remember I said to you that when I took over, I took over with the understanding there would be something left for the fourth generation. This third generation was sitting there, making money, collecting dividends, but they were putting nothing aside for the future. They were assuming that all that equipment that we had there, which had been purchased during my father's time, would be there ten or fifteen years. I'm telling them, "No, you're going to have to begin to buy new stuff." And they're saying to me, "We don't want to plan. We're doing fine. Give me my dividend and let me alone. Everything's just fine." So that's what I was looking forward to; I was looking forward to these times right now. I could see that if we didn't do certain things then, that all that cushion that my father had left us would be gone. They didn't want to listen.
Ingersoll: It was also during that period that eleven directors under the age of thirty were named. Was that part of your inspiration?
Murphy: That was part of my plan to move out my generation, let them retire. My Uncle John [Murphy II] and Uncle Arnett [Murphy], God rest their souls, were at the point where they were good to listen to, but I didn't have time to listen to them for an hour at a board of directors meeting. I loved them dearly. It was an effort to get them to move aside and designate other people to take their places.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Ingersoll: That was really a fight.
Murphy: That was the fight. I had really forgotten about that. When my father died, he was in the process of trying to get his brothers to step down. Of course, John III wouldn't have dared even touch it, because you have to remember that John III was the son of Dan [Daniel Thomas Howard Murphy, Sr.], who was the son who died the same year my grandfather died, which means that his father had been dead for some time. Therefore, he did not have the stock or the clout that we in the Carl Murphy family had, because through the years my father had purchased everybody else's stock. So we in the Carl Murphy family had finally ended up with about a third of all the stock, which means that we had more at stake than the others, and maybe that's why I was pushing so hard.
My Uncle Arnett, the youngest brother, also had quite a bit. Uncle John had sold quite a bit of his. So my job was to bind with my cousin Arnetta [Lottier], who was his youngest daughter and near my same age, and try to get her to come along with me. The two of us, therefore, would be able to control the company. We did very, very well for a while. We were able to move her father off, moved Uncle John off, and got, as you know, some new people on the board. We did very well up until that third year. I really don't know what turned her against the idea. We were going to go public and go onto the stock exchange, and that's how we were going to finance the expansion. I don't know what happened, but when we came up with the vote, I didn't win. That's when I left, because I could see it.
Ingersoll: At that point, you were reelected if you had wanted to go on.
Murphy: That's correct.
Ingersoll: But you stepped back, is that right?
Murphy: Yes. [Sighing and laughing.] I say that that way, because I've been distressed about it. Not that I would have changed my life, but now that it has happened, I can see the stress I caused in the family (that I haven't been proud of), I realize that there was no one else at that point to lead, and I should have stayed there and tried to turn it around. It made all the difference in the lives of my two older sisters, and I regret that. I regret that very much. It made very little in my life, because, after all, I had a master's degree from Hopkins. I could go anywhere and get a job; it didn't make any difference. But it made a difference to them because they didn't have that same education.
Ingersoll: There were a couple of other points in that 1971 annual report that I thought we might talk about. It seemed to me that at the same time that you were looking toward this fourth generation, you also had eyes on the older members, because there was a point about concern for these older members. You made the point that family members who lived beyond their forties often lived to seventy-five and more than that. This probably then was a pension issue, wasn't it?
Murphy: Yes, setting up the pensions and trying to make sure that they had a decent retirement.
Ingersoll: They hadn't had that before?
Murphy: Yes, they did, but what they had done was that they didn't fund it at the level that I wanted it to be funded. In my father's time, a dollar was a dollar. The inflation came in, so therefore what he was funding at what he thought was good, which would have been if it hadn't been for the changes in the economy, [wasn't enough]. They didn't want to understand what I was trying to say to them, that you've got to double what's there.
Ingersoll: To have the same buying power.
Murphy: To have the same buying power. I got some support for it, but not as much as I should have had to push it. Even now they say, "Oh, we wish we'd listened," because look at the inflation now. The dollar is only a third. But it was there. He had started a beautiful pension plan, a lovely pension plan, but I wanted to change it. I wanted to change the company. I wanted to go with one that looked down to the future and that would invest things just a little differently so that they would have much more return. I'd been doing that in my own life. I wouldn't be able to be here if I hadn't. I just wanted them to do the same kind of things that I was doing personally.
Ingersoll: This probably means that you were able to see things that other people of your own generation couldn't see. Why was this?
Murphy: Here again, when you're very, very comfortable, it's hard to grasp some of the things that people are saying to you. Here you're working every day and getting a salary, your dividends are coming in, and things look awfully good. Here I come along and say, "Let's cut back a little on this that you're getting. Let's put some of it over here." You're looking at your budget, saying, "If I lose this bit, I might not be able to take that trip to Europe this year." Then you've got three kids maybe coming along who are going to college or wherever, and it's hard to sell people on that.
In normal companies where you don't have families to deal with, the head of the company will go on and do this. He'll sell it to his board, which is ten-to-one made up of a lot of businesspeople. But in a company where you're dealing with twenty-five and thirty family members, it's hard.
Ingersoll: Much more difficult.
Murphy: Yes, much more difficult. That's why I blame myself. It could have been done. I just blame myself. I see it now, because now anything I say, they all do.
Ingersoll: But how much easier it is to see one's own behavior in hindsight.
Ingersoll: A third point that came up in this annual report concerned loans from the company to members. What was involved there?
Murphy: That must have been employees' loans. We had a system where an employee could borrow from the company. Many times, even today, blacks cannot get loans, so, therefore, if you needed money for hospital, anything at all, you could come to the company and borrow that money at a real one percent, two percent, whatever it was, interest rate, and we would take it out of your salary. I wanted them to evidently raise the limit on it. It may have been at that time one-hundred dollars. I was looking at some people who may have needed five-hundred. I'm saying, if they're at a certain salary level, I don't see why they can't, because they could afford to have it taken out. Then I wanted to put limits on it, that if you have a certain limit, then that's all. I'm just thinking about this because we've just talked about it again, and I wanted them to have certain limits. I think it was a change of the employee fund that you may be thinking about there.
Ingersoll: So there would be both perhaps a raising of a lower limit at the same time you perhaps put a lid on the very highest.
Murphy: The other thing that I was talking about was a loan for the new press. I was pushing for a new press. I don't remember if this was the time or not, but I wanted a new press. I wanted them not to just borrow to pay for the press; I wanted to make sure there was a built-in insurance that if something went wrong, the maintenance was there. I wanted enough money to cover the maintenance contract. That was just the beginning of the time when they were doing this in automobiles. I'd evidently bought a new car, and the man had sold this maintenance. I'm saying, "Gee, let's put maintenance on the press."
So the loan that they wanted to do would not have covered installation, maintenance, and everything. I felt if they made the loan large enough to cover the actual capital outlay, then it would be easier to pay it back. I don't remember if that's the time or not, but basically in the back of my mind I remember a couple of fights that we had. That may have been what you're talking about.
Ingersoll: That's interesting. So what happened with the press? Did they get the new press?
Ingersoll: I remember with the black newspaper, [Kansas City] Call, the time when they moved from an old-style press to a new press. It was a very big, important time.
Murphy: Yes. If we had gotten a new press then, we would not have had the trouble we had later in the late eighties and the nineties. That was the time to buy the new press. Now you can't buy
it for that. Those are decisions that families make, and you have to live with those kinds of decisions. You teach by that. Maybe we'll be strong as a family because of that. I don't know.
Ingersoll: The fourth and last point in the annual report was a union question. It concerned a contract between the Afro-American and the United Paperworkers International Union. Was that an AFL-CIO kind of thing?
Murphy: I'm sure it was.
Ingersoll: Their contract was to be up November 17, 1973, which would have been two years beyond the time of this annual report. Was that a difficulty, again, that you saw down the road?
Murphy: It may have been, because whatever the union contract called for, I would give to all the employees, as my father had done before. If the union for the second floor, as we call it, the production floor, got a certain percentage as a raise, then it went [to all employees]. So evidently I was looking down the road at wherever they were at this point and the next two raises that would come in their contract, and trying to prepare us to begin negotiations now. As I do now, I saw no reason to wait. You begin your negotiations before the contract ends. When the end comes, it's simply a matter of signing the contract.
I learned under my father very early that in order to do the union negotiations, you do it while they're satisfied. Too many companies wait till the contract is out, when you don't have a contract at all. But if you've got a contract, you can always get a contact, at least before they even get to that point. I'm not too sure that's what you're talking about, but looking back at some of the papers the other night on the Afro, getting ready for the hundredth anniversary, some of those things came up. That's why I'm so familiar with them.
Ingersoll: Isn't it interesting that some of the very problems that you're facing now have roots back here twenty years ago.
Murphy: Same thing I said to my daughter the other day. "Get that union contract on the table now." She was saying, "Let's look back and see what we're doing." That's why I'm so familiar with that. Things don't change too much in business.
Ingersoll: It does seem that way.
I think it was during this period of time, around 1973, while you were CEO, that the new magazine, Dawn, came out. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Murphy: Dawn was my idea. Here again, Kenneth Wilson was vice president of advertising. We were at a meeting, talking about a way to improve advertising revenue, and we were trying to think of something that we didn't have. For years we had had our own little magazine in our newspaper, but not a slick, that could be offered to other newspapers. So what we did was said, "Let's try it." Many of the advertisers said, "That's great that you cover the eastern seaboard, but I want to reach black audiences all around the country."
So we went to some of the large companies to see if they were interested in advertising in what we thought would be inserted in black newspapers across the country. To our surprise, a lot of them said yes. We set the price based on half a million readers, and Dawn took off. That was the beginning of it. You just never know.
Ingersoll: Is it still published today?
Murphy: Yes, inserted in I don't remember how many newspapers around the country.
Ingersoll: I think it was also during that period that the new program for newspapers in the classrooms was instigated.
Murphy: Newspapers in the classroom, yes. This was headed by my cousin Arnetta as a way to get her interested in the paper again. Arnetta is my age. She got married out of high school, if I remember correctly, a very, very bright young woman. Her husband had worked at the company for a long time in the business department, but I don't think she had ever worked at the paper. She had this great idea about a newspaper in the classroom. I don't remember if it was Arnetta or my sister Ida. I think it was my sister Ida's program.
Anyhow, they worked out a program where they had the Afro being used as part of the classroom. Children learn numbers if they have to go to market, so the simple thing is to take the market list of the Afro and let them prepare a market list. They're more inclined to add up what they see as prices there than they are if you just give them some numbers. In order to know how to vote, there's usually a story there, so they teach right from the story. They read the story. "What does that mean to you?" So these are the kinds of things she did. I think that was Ida Peters' program. There was a later newspaper in the classroom that came along under Arnetta Lottier, called Prospect. Newspaper in the classroom, I think, was Ida Peters'.
Ingersoll: Then the Clean Block Campaign was something carried on from before?
Murphy: My Aunt Frank, the lady I'm named for, the maiden aunt, the one who didn't have any children or got married, she was a schoolteacher. There's a building at Coppin State College named for her. She was head of the laboratory school. She decided that she wanted her teachers to be involved in civic work. It was called the Normal School in those days. So back in the thirties, she went to my father with this idea of having a Clean Block campaign, something for the children to do during the summer. So Aunt Frank decided that the way to do this was just before school closed, right around this time of the year in May, that she'd have all of her teachers sign up their children to work during the summer in their blocks, cleaning up their blocks.
My Aunt Frank had a Model T Ford, and she went around the city and visited all the blocks and would tell the children to scrub their steps and sweep the streets and pick up the trash. That is a tremendous program today. Baltimore still has it. Just a beautiful program. She started just like that. They would say, "Here comes Miss Frank!" She'd get out of her car and would inspect the block, and the people would feed her. I guess when I got out of college, she decided I should assist here. [Laughter.] So for one year I think I assisted her, and then they asked me to take it over for a while. I think I may have done it a year or so. I don't remember how often.
Ingersoll: So this was probably particularly important to you as CEO at the time, to be sure that this was supported.
Murphy: Yes, 10,000 children doing this a summer. It was a huge program and still is, where you hold meetings every week. These people bring their children to a meeting every single week, the block captains and all the children and parents and everybody, they come to this meeting. If you come to a meeting, you had to be clean. She talked about your hair being combed early in the morning. "Don't let me come in the block and see curlers." [Laughter.] Oh, Aunt Frank was wonderful.
Ingersoll: What part would the newspaper, though, play in all of this? Would there be something in print about it?
Murphy: Oh, every single week once the campaign started. Then, don't forget, there had to be prizes. So the city of Baltimore would give a couple of thousand dollars, and Afro readers would contribute a hundred dollars, twenty-five dollars, and they'd have prizes for the best blocks. A lot of prizes, a lot of money prizes, and then the children would have block parties with the prizes. Then she gave away certificates and she'd give away theater passes, paints and seeds and anything you can imagine to keep things clean, Aunt Frank was able to get out of merchants. She'd go around to the merchants and tell them what she wanted, and they'd see her coming and just put it out there and say, "Here she comes." [Laughter.] After she had told them the first couple of times what she wanted, then the next couple of years there was no problem; they just gave it to her.
But she had a way about her of getting everybody involved. There are pictures in the Afro files with Aunt Frank and the mayor, the governor, senators, and so forth. You have to remember now, those were the days when everybody was white. So she was working with these folks, Theodore McKeldin and those people. No, Theodore McKeldin is my day. She was working with them back in those days when everybody in the city council must have been white, everybody in the governor's office must have been white, the mayor and everybody. (Today, the program is conducted by my sister Ida Peters.)
Ingersoll: She could bring them together no matter what.
Murphy: She brought them together and got the money and got the children out there working and got her teachers involved. In the Normal School, they all knew her, because, of course, all the black teachers in the city had to come out of Coppin. Therefore, they all knew her. That's how she started Clean Block. It was a beautiful program.
Ingersoll: I understand that there was a Mrs. Santa program. Was that something you began?
Murphy: That was Ida's program. I don't know how Mrs. Santa started, but this is a program where she collects food and clothing and toys and money, and people write in letters saying what they need, and she puts a number on the letter, no names. Then readers call in and adopt a family by number. Those who are not adopted, she gives clothing and toys. Then with the money sent in by readers, she buys bags of food from whatever big chain was advertising with the Afro at the time—Giant, Safeway, etc.
The National Guard delivers all this food and clothing on Christmas Eve. Ida has volunteers who also hand out clothing, toys, and food. That is the Mrs. Santa program, and it still goes on today.
Ingersoll: In those days, would this giving and getting and volunteering all be within the black community, or would there be any white people who also participated?
Murphy: It would depend on where you lived. I don't recall too many white families coming in, although if you were one of those people who lived within the black neighborhood, you came in and you got help along with everybody else. Anybody who came in was helped.
Ingersoll: You said it still goes on today. Is there any difference in the integration or lack of integration, do you think, from that seventies period to now?
Murphy: I don't know, because I haven't been involved in Mrs. Santa over in Baltimore. We don't have it in Washington. I really haven't been involved, so I really wouldn't know.
Ingersoll: Has Ida stayed involved during the years?
Murphy: She's been involved. I think she came back last year to handle Mrs. Santa, yes, but I think she's been involved off and on almost all through the years that there's been a Mrs. Santa.
Ingersoll: I notice that a lot of other things were going on for you during those years that you were CEO. From your scrapbooks I saw that in 1970 you were taking a course in accounting at Morgan State College.
Murphy: That sounds like something I'd do. I love to go back to school. If I wasn't teaching, or if I was teaching, if it was a chance to do something that I wasn't sure of how to do, I might go and get a course in it. Accounting was something I was extremely interested in. I'd go into the business department, and I didn't understand the ledgers and all that, so I took a course so I would understand it.
Ingersoll: Then in 1975 you took a course in law at the University of Maryland.
Murphy: We had been involved in this family suit, and so many things have happened. After that, of course, I mistrusted all attorneys. I guess if anybody's had a big suit like that, eventually you lose faith in attorneys. I was determined to find out a little bit more about the law. They offered this course at the University of Maryland, so I decided to take it.
Ingersoll: Could you tell me a little bit more about that family suit?
Murphy: Yes. We, as you heard me say, were real disturbed about the fact that my generation didn't want to move. Therefore, we went into court to break the trust.
Ingersoll: "We" meant—
Murphy: The Carl Murphy family. We owned thirty-three percent of the stock, and as long as we were in this trust with all these other people, they were controlling the company. We only had one seat as a trustee, and they could outvote us. There were four trustees. We felt if we broke the trust we'd have a better chance of trying to get control of the company and then take it forward.
We won the suit, but the decision didn't come down until after this trust would have been over anyhow. By that time, we had angered so many people that they formed a trust against us. That's life for you. That's how John III and them got control of the company after I left. As I say, I'm looking back now. But who was to say? They did so poorly that eventually their own trust went down the drain. They formed one against us and got control of the company. Those were the bad years for the Afro. In 1986, we were able to now form a different kind of trust, and the Carl Murphy family, with the John Oliver family, with the George B. Murphy family, we now have a trust which is controlling the company, which is moving the company back to the position the way it used to be. But in those years with the trust that they had formed, it was an absolute disaster. Absolute disaster.
So we're trying to pull out of that, those years, and we are all good friends, all family members. We just had to recognize the fact that some of us can work at the Afro and some of us can't. It's just that simple.
Ingersoll: "Some of us can and some of us can't" because of the financial situation or because of the talent of the people?
Murphy: Talent, yes.
Ingersoll: Or some other reasons?
Murphy: No. I think what the young people have done today is they have moved ahead in their generation. There's no member of my generation on the board of directors, which I have no problem with at all. The only person in my generation in a top-ranking position is myself. The young people are now in complete control, and they are moving ahead into new technology, into taking the paper ahead.
In fact, if my father came back today, he wouldn't recognize his office, because where there used to be people working on three floors, 100-and-some employees in Baltimore, we can put out that paper with less than one percent of the personnel that he had because of computers. So we've gone to desktop publishing. We no longer use the old press, so that whole area in the back is just empty. Where they used to have the linotype machines and all those different things, it's gone. Everything is paste-up in a room no bigger than maybe this and my bathroom, people standing up at the art boards pasting up, and a computer which does a half-page at a time.
Ingersoll: How different.
Murphy: Things are different. But this is the technology that we should have had ten years ago.
Ingersoll: This is the kind of technology that the third generation wouldn't move on to?
Murphy: Yes. You say "computer" and they freeze. So one of the things is coming into the computer age, and not just with the technology itself, but being able to think that way, because things are different. I don't know what else to say. Just like checkbooks. I say to people, "My goodness, you stay home and pay bills!" [They answer:] "I want to do that. The bank might get them all messed up!" [Laughter.] But it's your mind and where you are in your thinking of things. Things are just different today.
Ingersoll: Speaking of computers, I read something else that you wrote, that you felt very at home with computers, behind a computer. Does that set you apart, at least from the others of your generation?
Murphy: Yes, I guess because if I don't know it, I'll go take a course and learn how. It was just so fortunate that after I left the Afro and went on to Buffalo State College, I walked in to Bruce Johnstone, who said to me, "Hey, let's computerize the journalism department." He said, "I know you're going to have a whole lot of flak, but let's do it anyhow." We got our heads together. Bruce said, "I know what we're going to do. We're going to make everybody on this campus learn computers." So he set up voluntary courses, and then those who didn't take them, the next semester he said, "All faculty members will. And we will get rid of the typewriters and the journalism pads." [Laughter.] That's what's happened. We all went to class.
It was just fortunate that I was in a school, at a place with a person who just made up his mind that everything was going to be computerized. He computerized that entire campus from registration to the journalism department, to the business department, to the library, to everything
you could think about. Bruce Johnstone went head on. He was determined. I look back on it, and I was just fortunate to be at Buffalo State at that time.
Ingersoll: You think, then, that his influence on you was probably crucial at that point?
Murphy: Oh, yes, because computers then became, to me, friends. I wrote the manual for students at Buffalo State College. In those days, you'd have somebody who would come in and teach you how to use it, and they didn't have people coming back and forth to help you. You and I both know computers will go down in a minute. You don't know why; they just go down. Therefore, I wrote a little manual for the students. I was just fortunate. I had a room full of computers, and I'd bring all my friends in and teach them, my sisters, her clubs, and everything. [Laughter.] I can see my sister now in Buffalo bringing her club members into my journalism lab at Buff State, teaching them how to use computers. Now, of course, they all have computers.
Ingersoll: During the years that you were CEO, you also did a number of interesting things, international trips. There was the one in 1972 to Sweden, when you lectured in Stockholm and Vasteras and Karlstad for the U.S. Information Agency. That was part of its Black Editors Communication Program.
Ingersoll: Do you have any idea how you were selected to be part of that?
Murphy: No idea at all. I got a letter from the State Department asking if I'd like to go over to Sweden. It must have been during the time when there was some racial turmoil going on.
Ingersoll: In this country?
Ingersoll: In Sweden.
Murphy: Yes. It must have been going on among either our personnel over there or—unfortunately, I don't remember exactly what was going on, but this was something where they wanted to show black Americans in a different light. They must have asked a couple of editors who would like to go, and my memory is they sent three or four of us to different countries, Sweden for me because Brud [Jerome] Holland was over there as ambassador. He's dead now. He was ambassador from the United States to Sweden. One of my high school classmates was in Norway, Sunny [Ernest] Goodman. Sunny's still alive today, former public relations director of Howard University. He was over there. He was from my high school. There were a couple of other people I knew who were in that theater.
Then they offered me the opportunity to take my daughter with me, because I hesitated, because she must have been a senior in high school.
Ingersoll: This was your youngest one.
Murphy: Susan. I said I didn't think I could leave her at this time, because that was just at a crucial time. They said, "Take her out of school and take her with you." [Laughter.] So with that kind of incentive, I said yes. So I took Susan with me to Sweden. It turned out that it was the best thing I could have done, because she got an opportunity to talk to the students. I didn't call it lecturing,
but she went to some of the colleges and some of the high schools and talked to some of them with her strictly American "I don't care" attitude. "This is what we do," you know. I'm following the script that's laid down by the State Department and Susan's off doing her own thing. It was really good for both of us.
Ingersoll: What were the groups that you spoke to? She spoke at the colleges and high schools. Were those also your audiences?
Murphy: No. In many instances they were usually the heads of the cities that I went to or usually the strictly diplomatic channels. I spoke to the heads of everybody who was there, the heads of women's clubs, some church groups, but these must have been the regular formal diplomatic things that you usually go to. I had the briefings every morning that came in by Western Union in those days, not faxed. I would sit down with the State Department people over there and talk. I had a guide who took me from place to place. Whereas in Susan's case, I think maybe one of the wives of one of the people just went along with her. Usually the whole shebang, the whole corps went with me.
Ingersoll: I noticed that some of your subjects were "Race and Human Relations in U.S. Urban Centers," "The Role of Black Women in the Black Community," and "The Role of the Black Press." Do any of those bring back any particular memories of why you chose those topics, what response you got?
Murphy: I think they must have chosen the topics, and I think in the early interviews they asked you what you were doing and how you related to the groups in the United States, the kinds of experiences you had. They were trying to find someone who had had experiences in both areas as far as race relations were concerned.
Ingersoll: Both white and black?
Murphy: Yes. I think the topics were set. As I look back on it, the reasons we must have been going is because there must have been some turmoil going on here in this country in race relations. This was right after the sixties. So I imagine that they were trying to put a different face on America. That's during the time they gave us the "ugly American" label, so the State Department was trying to change that.
Ingersoll: Then I noticed that during the tour you also taped a radio show called "Schools of the Air" about black newspapers in the United States.
Murphy: Yes. That was strictly a straight historical thing on the Afro. They didn't realize there were 100-and-some black newspapers in the United States, and the State Department had sent over the copies of most of the larger black newspapers, not just the Afro, but the Philadelphia newspaper Tribune, all the different ones from around the country. So it was very easy to tape that and talk about the various newspapers. They were surprised to see that many.
[End Tape 1, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Ingersoll: In 1973 came your trip to Russia, where I understand eight publishers visited two of the republics of Russia at that time. Could you tell me a little bit about that?
Murphy: We went to the Soviet Union, and my cousin George B. Murphy, who had been editor of the Washington Afro-American for many years and who had had a lot of contact with the Soviet Union,
arranged this trip through the Union of Soviet Journalists. This was supposed to have been an exchange. We were going over to the Soviet Union, and, in turn, some of their journalists were coming over to this country.
This was the kind of dream trip that will never happen again. We went into the Soviet Union and were treated like kings and queens. They checked us into a hotel. Everything was paid for by the Soviet journalists. We got VIP treatment every place we went. For instance, there were long lines at Red Square waiting to see Lenin's tomb, but they did something they don't do even for the top American diplomats coming, they took us past the line on in and so forth. We went to schools. They wanted us to see everything, and the children had been waiting for us to come. They were up at the windows. I can see them now yelling, "Here come the black Americans!" I can see all these children with perfect English, and it was just fascinating to us to see the number of people who spoke English and who talked to us on this tour.
We went from Russia and Leningrad down to Uzbekistan, and there again it was an education for us, because here in America you never see dark Russians, not dark Soviet people. To go down near the Moors and so forth, I remember the stories, you know, and to hear these people down in the southern end, here we'd been up in Leningrad and in Russia, where we were cold, and down here it looked like we'd gone to Florida. That was just wonderful to see their farms, to sit down with them and get used to not drinking the vodka and saying, "No thank you," even though it insulted them. But they would bring the water for the toast and so forth.
We met the heads of each province and we talked to a lot of people, a lot of people all over, just average working people. We'd go to the subway, something that you don't get a chance to do too often. Went to the ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet, and the circus. They took us to the circus. As I say, that was the kind of trip that I don't think anybody has really had in the Soviet Union.
I was anxious to get up to Leningrad, because I wanted to see the [Aleksandr Sergeyevich] Pushkin statue and so forth. I'd heard so much about that. Then I wanted to see the castles that they had taken over. Oh, they were just gorgeous. Oh, the wealth that must have been in that country! To see it preserved, they said some of it wasn't, but a lot of it was preserved. So it was just a trip to show us off and to show us, give us a better appreciation for the country. I'm glad we went, because we had this stilted image of the Soviet Union, and we came back with a deep respect and appreciation.
Ingersoll: Do you think it was the Soviet Union that instigated this idea or the United States?
Murphy: No, this was the Union of Soviet Journalists. They're the ones. There's no doubt in my mind that they were well supported by their government. As soon as we got into Russia, we asked to check into the U.S. Embassy, and we were denied. They did not want us to check into the U.S. Embassy.
Ingersoll: Who was "they," the U.S. or the Russians?
Murphy: The Russians, the Soviet government. They said, "No, no need for you to." So we said, "We won't do anything until we do check in." So there was a big huddle, and then finally the word came through, "Yes, let them go." So we went over to just check in, to pay our courtesy call and to let them know that we were in the country. They did not know we were there.
Ingersoll: This was all done between the Union of Soviet Journalists and the Russian government and the black publishers?
Murphy: Yes. They didn't seem to have any idea that we were there. We went on and checked in with them and told them what we were there for. They wanted to know our schedule. At that point we didn't know for sure what our schedule was going to be. We had a vague idea. They were glad we checked in, and that was it. We never understood why they didn't want us to check in, but things after that were just beautiful. We just had a lovely trip.
Ingersoll: Did you ever get any word as to why the invitation had been extended originally?
Murphy: Yes. The thought was that they wanted to make sure that the black press, at least, carried more favorable stories on the Soviet Union. They said that very clearly, that they wanted black people to understand that the stories that were appearing in the white press were not true, and that they all weren't, as we had called them, communists, reds, you know, people out to take over the United States and so forth. They felt that this was strictly propaganda, that if we came over and took a look at the real Soviet people, we'd have a better appreciation for the country, and we did.
Ingersoll: There was a series of articles. Each of you wrote an article for a series of articles.
Murphy: That's right. We wrote for all the newspapers. All the newspapers carried the articles about our trip. Then after we left, they came over to visit us, and then another group from here went over there. So there were two or three groups that followed.
Ingersoll: Has that gone on through the years or was this mostly confined to the seventies, do you think?
Murphy: I am sure it has come on down, because I think the last group went, Madeline Murphy and some of those went, and that must have been in the late eighties or so. There's been an exchange back and forth. Since the change in the country, though, I don't know if anybody's been.
Ingersoll: I remember reading that before you left for Sweden, you conducted a month-long newspaper campaign to get readers of the Afro to write to the U.S. ambassador, Jerome Holland, about life in the United States.
Murphy: We called him Brud Holland, yes.
Ingersoll: Why did you do that?
Murphy: We wanted the Afro readers involved in this trip. Since I was going, I felt very strongly that there ought to be some sort of connection, there should be something taken over to him, and we were just so delighted that so many people wrote and responded. I put it in a huge scrapbook and presented it to him at the embassy over there. Brud Holland was Sweden.
Ingersoll: That's right. That was before the Swedish trip.
Murphy: He, of course, had been at Hampton University and he was a great football player, and now was an ambassador. He came back and was a member of the New York Stock Exchange before his death, governor of the stock exchange or some big position. He was well known in our community, so therefore we wanted people to relate to him, and they did. They wrote letters to him, and it was just tremendous taking that.
Ingersoll: But you didn't have the same reason for doing anything like that, probably, when you went to Russia.
Murphy: I may not have thought about it or the trip may have come up so fast. We had a little more time on the Swedish trip. We had time to really run stories asking for letters a couple of weeks before the trip. I don't remember having that much time getting ready for the Soviet Union tour.
Ingersoll: Do you remember any of the other publishers who went with you? I was thinking particularly of the other woman, Lenora Carter.
Murphy: I remember Lenora Carter. I'm trying to remember where she's from.
Ingersoll: I think it was the Houston Forward Times.
Murphy: Yes. Here's another woman whose husband had died and she had taken over the paper. She went on the trip. We were a good balance. She's extremely outgoing, very suave, and I'm very quiet, I guess. We made a good contrast between the two of us. That was nice. John Sengstacke went along to Russia, Howard Woods.*
Ingersoll: Garth Reeves of the Miami Times.
Murphy: Garth Reeves. He's retired now. His son has taken over his paper. Sengstacke, of course, is still working.
Ingersoll: D.L. Inman of the Thomasville News in Georgia and the Tallahassee Free Press in Florida?
Murphy: He must have been the photographer along.
Ingersoll: And Dr. Carlton Goodlet.*
Murphy: Out of San Francisco.
Murphy: Carlton Goodlet now is in a wheelchair, but he's a physician who has a newspaper out there, has a couple of newspapers out there. He's quite a man.
Ingersoll: If he was a physician, too, he probably wasn't as active a publisher as some of the others.
Murphy: Yes, he is. He was into feeding the—I'm trying to remember what the world organization is called, World Organization for Food.
* John Sengstacke published the Chicago Daily Defender and Howard Woods published the St. Louis Sentinel.
*Dr. Goodlet was, at the time, president of the National Newspaper Publishers Association and publisher of the San Francisco Sun Reporter.
Ingersoll: Food and Agriculture Organization?
Murphy: It was huge, nationwide.
Murphy: Whatever it was, when we got to the Soviet Union, he was all over that continent, people calling for him, because he had been into this national food organization, and he was well known all over England and France and everything. As soon as they heard that he was over on that side, they were calling him from everyplace to come and speak and do so and so. He was trying to stay with our delegation, and the demand on him was just tremendous, because he was back and forth, back and forth. He was in a lot of things. I remember it was World Health Organization. I think it was WHO, but I thought it had something to do with food.
Ingersoll: There is the Food and Agricultural Organization, which is parallel to World Health and UNESCO [United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization].
Murphy: That would be natural for him since he was a physician. But he was very well known over there.
Ingersoll: Maybe we can find in your books the article that you wrote and we'll put it in the appendix of this whole thing.
Then during that same period when you were CEO of the Afro, you were also commissioner of the Maryland Bicentennial Commission, their Publication Committee.
Ingersoll: I understand that there is the Frances Murphy Collection on the Maryland Bicentennial that you put in the Eisenhower Library of Johns Hopkins.
Murphy: Yes, all those papers we put there.
Ingersoll: Was there anything that you feel was particularly an outstanding contribution of yours to that commission?
Murphy: I think the main thing was that we were able to let the commission see that there was a role that blacks had played in the history of the state of Maryland, and I think that was the reason Governor Marvin Mandel had put us on the commission. He was determined to make sure that all different races would be recognized during the bicentennial, and that was great, because here again it gave us an opportunity to use the Afro archives to pull in some of the history, and a lot of things that they did during that period increased people's awareness of the various areas, the Eastern Shore. You heard so much about the terrible parts of the Eastern Shore, but there was so much history that came out during that time that they finally went and dug for. The historical societies went out and brought in things. I think that was a tremendous period which really expanded the history of the state. Before, the books, as you and I both know, had been just bland, with the thought that nobody was out there but whites. But during that period we were able to, all across the state, increase the collections in the libraries, videos, and so forth. That was a good commission.
Ingersoll: Did you make any connections at that time between the Afro-American paper and what was coming out of the archives? Was there any cross-fertilization there?
Murphy: I imagine there must have been. To pinpoint it, I would have to really look, but I imagine there must have been. I can't conceive of sitting on a commission like that without doing just that.
Ingersoll: During that same period, you were also a member of the governor's commission to study the structure and governance of education of Maryland, and a member of the executive committee and chairman of the Committee on University Status for Morgan State College, which I understand was called the Rosenberg Commission. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Murphy: One of the things that we were fighting for was university status for Morgan. The University of Maryland was fighting to put Morgan under its wing. We thought that that would kill the college. At least I personally thought it would kill the college, so, therefore, I fought very hard to keep it out of the University of Maryland system. They had already swallowed up Maryland State College, which became University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, and that no longer was a historically black college. We were scared that they were going to take Coppin and do the same thing with it, and they were after Morgan.
You heard me say that my father had been head of the board of trustees. He had been on the board before he became chairman of the board. He had fought so hard to build that college once the state had taken it over from the church. It would have been a shame for that to have lost its heritage. There was a choice of putting it under the University of Maryland or making it its own stand-alone university. I fought for it and chaired that committee.
I was very fortunate that on that Rosenberg Commission was Maryland state Senator Clarence Blount, and Barbara Mikulski (now U.S. senator) was on that commission, and Enolia McMillan, head of the NAACP. We had a hard-working group to fight for Morgan. Those are the three that stand out in my mind, Blount, Barbara Mikulski, and Enolia McMillan. I wrote the final report, presented it to the governor, and he signed it. I had left by the time the bill got through the state Senate, but Clarence Blount and Barbara must have taken that bill through the Maryland Senate.
Ingersoll: So Morgan State stood as—
Murphy: Instead of staying a college, it became a university.
Ingersoll: I notice that there was your note, "As only representative of the media on this commission composed of legislators, businessmen, clergymen, and a doctor, I was often asked, in the chairman's words, to 'act as a balance wheel in some of the ticklish problems.'" Do you remember any particular times when you acted as a balance wheel? How did you do that?
Murphy: I don't know. [Laughter.] I have to be very frank with you. There were a lot of ticklish problems. The commission was made up of people from throughout the state, people who had never worked with blacks before, so, therefore, Rosenberg made me a member of the executive committee. We lived in the same complex. This was one of the new complexes put up by the guy who also built Columbia. It was right in the heart of Baltimore City, townhouses and stand-alone houses and apartment buildings (called Village of Cross Keys).
We were able to meet with all the different groups. There were a lot of problems, things that they wanted to do that I thought were wrong for black children. There were people fussing, "Don't do this," on both sides. I guess maybe he was talking about the balancing effect, that I would come in and say, "Just look at children. What would be best for the children? Let's don't think about black and white. What would be best for the children?" Usually we were able to get over those hurdles if we just looked at children.
There were a lot of people with agendas of their own. There were politicians on this commission who were looking for things that they could use to get reelected. So we had to remind them that these were things that were going to stand for years to come. I wish I could remember some specifics, but I don't.
Ingersoll: I noticed that in the seventies you wrote for a media seminar for Soviet teachers of English, and I think the seminar was given by SUNY [State University of New York]. I think it was Amherst, but Amherst is Massachusetts. Why would SUNY be there?
Murphy: Amherst, that's right.
Ingersoll: Is there an Amherst in New York, too?
Murphy: Yes, out from Buffalo.
Ingersoll: Why was this kind of a seminar given during the Cold War period?
Murphy: They were here visiting. These teachers were here in the States visiting, and they knew that I had been to the Soviet Union. They contacted the Afro, and they had told them that I was up in Buffalo, so they said they were going to SUNY and would I come over and talk to them. That's what that was. They asked me to do the seminar.
Ingersoll: In 1973 you gave a talk called "Women Ready for the Challenge," given at the first midwestern regional conference on business opportunities for women in connection with the Chicago Economic Development Corporation. I wanted to ask you about your interest, or maybe lack of interest, in the women's movement. How did the women's movement affect you in those days?
Murphy: I've said many times that black women have a different perspective on life than other people, and I don't know basically the speech—I'm sure the speech is here, because I keep all those—but basically my whole thought has been that we've been out there for so long that when people talk about different challenges, it's the same challenges we've had all our lives.
Ingersoll: When you say "out there," you mean out there in the working world?
Murphy: In the working world, for so very long. My mother's generation, of course, was an unusual generation. They went to college and came home and became housewives. But my grandmother, I'm sure, was a worker. My great-grandmother, I'm sure, must have been. I know that Grandmother [Martha Elizabeth Howard] Murphy may have worked sometimes, but didn't work the whole time because she had so many children. But the average black woman has always worked. When people are talking about standing shoulder to shoulder to men, we've always done that. So we have a different way of accepting challenges because we've been challenged for so long.
I don't know too many of my friends in my generation who are housewives. As I look at my club members [Delta Sigma Theta society] in that picture behind you, in that group of women in that club, there's only one housewife. So that's my generation. We all went to school, went away to college, and got jobs. So whether we had children or not didn't make any difference. Most of the women in my sorority, which, as you know, is a huge sorority nationwide, are women with jobs. True, most of them are professionals, because, of course, they're all college graduates, but they have jobs. They've been working from the time they came out of college. They stopped to raise their families, just like I did, but they've worked. So when you think of challenges, I assume in this speech I must have touched on that, the fact that we've had a background of facing what's here for anybody.
Ingersoll: Do you think the challenge is any different to women if they are within a generally black environment like the Afro or if they're in a more mixed environment?
Ingersoll: To them as women.
Murphy: As women. For instance, we hear a lot today about sexual harassment. I don't know anybody in my close-knit group who has ever been harassed, who has worked in the so-called black community. I'm not saying it hasn't happened; I've just never heard it discussed. Yet if I sit down with women, black women or white women, who work in federal government, who work in big companies, that's the first thing that comes up. So I'm saying to myself, "Why is this so?" I don't know. It would be interesting to see if we could find out. We were talking about this the other day. A whole bunch of us women were sitting around, and we asked the question, "Have any of you ever?" And the only persons who said yes were those who were out working beyond the black community.
But within the black community, in my world, the closest I can ever remember anybody saying anything to me that was off color, I was a nurse's aide at Provident Hospital years ago, and a young intern said something about my legs. I went home and reported it to my father, who called him on the carpet immediately. Somebody I worked with, it would have been unheard of. So I don't know.
Ingersoll: That's interesting, isn't it?
Murphy: But in the mixed world, there are a lot of people who have said so.
Ingersoll: Then you did another talk on, "Making the Media the Message," and that was to the National Black Women's Political Leadership Caucus in Washington in 1973. Do you have any particular remembrance of your inspiration for that one?
Murphy: I built on that speech a lot of times. That was the typical kind of speech that a newspaper person would give to try to show people how to use the media. So many people think about the fact that they have to advertise. Certainly we want them to pay to advertise, but so many of them are doing things that they should make sure to get to the press as straight news stories. So they're sitting up there struggling with how they can get out to the public, missing completely the main message they're supposed to take to the people, "What am I doing for you? How can I help you?" So many of them are saying, "You can help me." I'm saying, "No, no, no. That's not the way the message goes. If you can convince me that you can help me do something,
then I'm more inclined to work for you." So that's the kind of speech I've been building on over and over again.
Ingersoll: Maybe since it's such a lovely day today, we should stop and then go on the next time to more on your teaching and your current work.
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