Washington Press Club Foundation
Frances L. Murphy:
Interview #4 (pp. 96-115)
July 17, 1992 in Washington, D.C.
Fern Ingersoll, Interviewer

Go to Session One | Session Two | Session Three | Session Five | Session Six
Index | Cover | Home
Page 96

[Begin Tape 1, Side A]

Ingersoll: So we took your life up to about 1973, I think, and you had been the head of the board of directors of the Afro, you'd been making a lot of talks, you had done some important foreign tours, and then there seems to have been quite a change in your life by 1975. You married again, Charles Campbell, and then you began to teach in Buffalo.

Murphy: State University College at Buffalo.

Ingersoll: Tell me just a little bit about how that change came about, those two changes, really. What was the transition?

Murphy: As you know, I left the Afro and did some social work in between. I took a rest first and then I took a job out in Baltimore County as head of the Social Action Agencies, and I did that for a while. Charles and I had known each other for some time, and I guess one thing led to another. He came to visit. I'd been to Buffalo. Every time I'd gone to Buffalo, he had been my escort. So one thing led to another, and we got married.

Ingersoll: He had a son, didn't he, who became very much a part of your family?

Murphy: Yes. David Campbell. He had three sons, really. The oldest boy, of course, was getting ready to get married. David was very young. The in-between son, of course, had already been out of college, too, so David was the young one at home. He became very attached to me. His mother had had a heart attack and died when he was very young, and so therefore there had been nobody in that void for a long time.

Ingersoll: I understand Charles Campbell was a material control analyst for General Mills.

Murphy: That's right.

Ingersoll: Not part of the newspaper world as your first husband had been. Was that quite a different kind of life, then?

Murphy: Yes. Buffalo is a different kind of life, because it's a small town and the neighborhoods are so close and the various ethnic groups are very close. There are various groups in Buffalo, but the neighborhoods and everything are very integrated.

Charles was at General Mills, and one of the few black supervisors at General Mills, which means that his life was quite different than I had been used to, because the society was extremely integrated. It was interesting, very interesting. General Mills was the major employer in Buffalo, too, that huge plant there. So they had a tremendous impact on the city.

Page 96

Page 97

Ingersoll: How did teaching and marriage work out career-wise and life-wise compared to newspapering?

Murphy: I had been teaching all along. Remember I taught school when my children were young. I taught third grade when my children were young, and then when I received my master's degree from Johns Hopkins, I went to Morgan State University, Morgan State College then.

Ingersoll: By that time you were on your own, weren't you?

Murphy: Yes. I was head of the news bureau and I taught at Morgan. While I was at the Afro as chairman of the board, I taught at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. I always had, of course, journalism students. So it was only natural when I got to Buffalo, there are two black newspapers there, but both are family-owned, and I just happened to walk into this job at Buffalo State College.

Someone said, "Why don't you go out and see the head of the department?" I did, and he said, "Fine. When do you want to start?" [Laughter.]

Ingersoll: Oh, my goodness! [Laughter.]

Murphy: I know what happened. I met Woodie [Elwood] Wardlow, who was an editor of the Buffalo Evening News at that time. That's what it was.

Ingersoll: Is that a black press paper?

Murphy: No, that's the daily newspaper in Buffalo. Woodie Wardlow suggested I go up to Buffalo State College, because they were looking for an adjunct professor. And he asked me when I wanted to start. They were just beginning there what they called their Journalism Sequence, and evidently they had just put it together when I got to Buffalo, and they were looking for a seasoned professional. They had professors who had been in the English department, but they didn't have any real professionals who worked on a newspaper. So what they were doing at that time was trying to find adjuncts who would come in and teach courses, and here I was there ready to teach full time.

Ingersoll: You were there for about ten years, weren't you?

Murphy: Almost ten years.

Ingersoll: Through the seventies and early eighties.

Murphy: Yes. I really enjoyed that.

Ingersoll: There were a lot of interesting things you did, but looking through your scrapbooks, I think what was perhaps most interesting to me was the Urban Journalism Workshop for minority high school students that you directed. Can you tell me about that?*

* In Forum III, summer, 1980, which was the third year of the workshop, there is an article which states that the workshops started in 1978 with "a grant of $3,369 from the Newspaper Fund, Inc., and an additional grant from the Buffalo Evening News. The purpose was to give minority journalists a realistic picture of professional journalism by having them write, publish, and edit their own newspaper."
Another article in Frances Murphy's scrapbooks states that in 1977 when she attended a convention of the Association for Education in Journalism she was greatly encouraged by Thomas Engelman, executive director of the Newspaper Fund, Inc., to apply for a grant to conduct a workshop in journalism to encourage minorities to become involved in news writing. Frances Murphy Campbell wrote a proposal and took it to Elwood M. Wardlow, managing editor for administration of the
Buffalo Evening News. Wardlow made arrangements for the News to give Ms. Campbell a matching grant. The proposal then was submitted and approved by E.K. Fretwell, president of Buffalo State College. Frances Murphy Campbell's grant was later approved by the Newspaper Fund board along with fourteen other grants throughout the country. The $7,000 covered board, room, and all tuition for the students.

Page 97

Page 98

Murphy: Yes. This was a program where the Newspaper Fund of the Wall Street Journal would ask you to apply to set it up at any college. What you did was recruit high school students from your metropolitan area to come and live on campus for two weeks, where they were fully saturated with how newspapers worked, and then they published their own workshop newspaper.

You had two jobs as director of the newspaper workshop. First of all, you had to help raise money to support it, because it had to be matched. So therefore you had to get out and get a newspaper or a magazine to sponsor it. In Buffalo, we got the Buffalo Evening News, which means that they allowed the students to come into their newsroom and work. Then, of course, they assigned a couple of their senior reporters, again Woodie Wardlow, to help lecture to the students.

Then the students went all over the town covering different things, and then they came back and wrote the stories. The News published the newspaper and inserted it into its own newspaper at the end of the workshop.

Ingersoll: Was the students' newspaper the one that was called Forum III?

Murphy: That's right. Forum I, Forum II, and Forum III.

Ingersoll: The first year was Forum I.

Murphy: Then the rest. Just fantastic, the Buffalo Evening News put that much money into that workshop, because at the end, they took that Forum III and put it into all the newspapers that went out into the city, into the black areas.

Ingersoll: Forum III was a weekly newspaper?

Murphy: No, that was only put out at the end of the workshop by the students.

Ingersoll: How long was the workshop?

Murphy: I think Buffalo's must have been two weeks. I've done a couple of other workshops like that.

Ingersoll: You did one later at Howard [University], didn't you?

Murphy: Yes.

Page 98

Page 99

Ingersoll: It went on for four years, '77 through '80, at Buffalo.

Murphy: Yes, I'm sure it must have, because I remember Forum III, so that had to be the third year. That was very interesting.

Ingersoll: Whose idea was that originally?

Murphy: It's one of the things where you pick it up in a magazine, where they say, "If you're interested in doing this, apply." By that time I was head of the Journalism Sequence at Buffalo State, and I just happened to see it, and I said, "Let's apply for it. Let's see if we can get the money for it," and we did.

Ingersoll: I have the feeling that in the later eighties and now in the nineties, there is more of a stress on getting minority students into journalism. In 1977, when this started, it was rather a new idea, wasn't it?

Murphy: A very new idea. One of the hardest things we had was trying to find black reporters to come and talk, who were on dailies, because the Buffalo Evening News had very few. They had one fellow that I remember, who is in the back of my mind, and we were very disturbed, the fact that they had hired him, not that he couldn't have been trained to do the job, but they hadn't bothered to train him. I think he was on some sort of a suburban beat, where he would do like a club reporter would do. He'd pick up the church news and things like that.

In later years, they hired some of the students who had come through the workshop and who had gone on to Buffalo State College in the journalism school, and one of them I remember now, Carl Allen, I think his name is. I happened to see his name the other day on a byline on one of the stories at the Buffalo Evening News. Of course, I'm saying evening news, but it comes out in the morning now.

Ingersoll: Why do you think the Buffalo Evening News and the Wall Street Journal, for that matter, were so interested in getting minority students on newspapers at that time?

Murphy: You have to look back. We know that everything is the bottom line, how much money you make. I really believe that back in the seventies and the early eighties, they began to discover that if they didn't get people who could write the stories that would relate to the black community, they were going to lose many more readers than they had. People no longer were interested in the metropolitan newspapers as the big dailies have become. They are no longer your local newspapers. You can see that right here in Washington. If they didn't put out a special section once a week in competition with the black press, people wouldn't buy it.

You have your national and international news on television, and what you don't get, which makes the black press and the Jewish press and the Catholic press continue to print, is what goes on in your own community. So in order to do that, they have to hire some black reporters.

I'm very interested in noting the way that they were covering the Democratic national convention [June 1992]. I noticed that all the delegations are mixed. My reporter who is up there is saying to me, "You know, this is really interesting. I look at other reporters. In the days when I'd see another two or three black reporters, they'd all be from the black press. Now they're all from the white press." So it's interesting to note that they have sent a mixture of reporters to the convention because they have discovered the fact that they're not going to get the news. People (both black and white) are more comfortable when a black reporter comes up. They don't have as

Page 99

Page 100

much respect for reporters, as you know, anyhow. [Laughter.] But they're more inclined to talk to a black reporter. They have a little fear of white reporters.

Ingersoll: Fear in what respect, do you think?

Murphy: Certain newspapers have a reputation of hurting people, to put you in a bad light. People will say to me every single day, "Well, I'll tell you because I know you're going to put it in the paper right."

Ingersoll: Is this a matter of being afraid that their words will be distorted?

Murphy: That's correct.

Ingersoll: Taken out of context?

Murphy: Taken out of context and to make you look bad. So, therefore, they're a little hesitant about talking to certain reporters. Certain reporters have some awful reputations.

Ingersoll: With this minority workshop, did you have many students who applied, or did you have to go out and really recruit students?

Murphy: What we did was to send the information to the public schools and the private schools. I worked through the superintendents, and I would go to see them, and then they would circulate the material through their departments. In the early days, the English departments, now the social science departments and so forth. They would try to get to the journalism teachers in the various schools, coming down from the superintendent, we didn't go directly to the teachers. "Please find somebody to participate in this workshop." The same thing for the private schools. We would go to the archdiocese, the Catholic archdiocese, and say to the monsignor, "We need to have someone from your area, too." So we tried to get them from all the different areas. We did very well along those lines.

Ingersoll: Would minority have been defined to include any other students besides black students? Was Buffalo an area where there would have been any others, Hispanic, Asian?

Murphy: Defining minority today is different than the way it was defined originally. Now it's defined by the guidelines as set down by the federal government. In the beginning, it was strictly looking for black students. Right now, of course, when you say "minority," the workshop at Howard University right now has a mixture of everything, not necessarily blacks.

Ingersoll: Were there any particular problems that you had to cope with, with that kind of workshop? It sounds as though the funding came rather easily.

Murphy: I don't recall having any difficulty raising the funds. We had a pretty strong faculty. We would go to the usual sources, AEJ [Association for Education in Journalism], different associations. They made it easier for us to recruit from their own newspapers, magazines, and so forth. So I don't recall the funding being a problem. The businesses in town pitched in and gave money, so it wasn't just from the newspaper world.

Ingersoll: Did you have to go to these businesses?

Page 100

Page 101

Murphy: No, the department sent our letters to them, and the money would come in. I don't recall any problem.

Ingersoll: How did the university feel about having it?

Murphy: Good. Don't forget that meant you had students on the campus in the summer, in the dormitories, so at Buffalo State, they put the boys and the girls all in the same dorm, very easy to have a supervisor with them. We hired seniors in the journalism department to be the monitors, a man and a woman to be the monitors, who stayed with them all the time. So therefore it made it very easy to fill up their dormitory rooms at a time when the dormitory would be empty or fairly empty. So the university was behind it, and it was a good program.

I don't recall any problems. Normally the students we received in these programs were highly recommended by their counselors, by the journalism teachers. They had to be students who had published in the school newspaper, which means you've got students who were interested in what was going on.

Ingersoll: And who were responsible people.

Murphy: Yes. We had very, very few problems. We may have had a couple of medical problems, if I remember correctly, but no disciplinary problems. No problems like that.

Then one thing that I did very, very early, and I'm so glad, I don't know why I did it, but it was one of the things that if the student, in the beginning, didn't come with a parent, we couldn't take the student. So for the interviews, we set up interviews where a parent or a guardian had to come along with the student. Then at that time we took the parents off to the side and said to them, "Do you think your child is adult enough, mature enough, to handle this program? Do you have any misgivings about your child being away from home this early," because we took eleventh and twelfth graders.

Ingersoll: Youngsters still.

Murphy: Yes. We would ask that they withdraw their child. We only had maybe one or two withdrawals the whole time. We broke down one time and took a fifteen-year-old, something that we had said we didn't want to do, but the parents said the child was very mature, and she was extremely mature. So we did very, very well.

Ingersoll: Did you have about equal numbers of boys and girls or was there a preponderance in one direction or the other?

Murphy: In those days, we had an equal number. In fact, in some cases, it seems to me they were sort of broken down, boys and girls.

Ingersoll: Were there any that you can remember besides Carl Allen who went on in journalism and made a mark?

Murphy: I'd have to look at the book.

Ingersoll: I have the feeling that while you were at Buffalo, you became more interested in the general questions of journalism education. I say that because I noticed that someplace along in the

Page 101

Page 102

mid-seventies you gave a talk or worked on accrediting standards. This was in connection with the American Council on Education for Journalism. How did you get involved in that?

Murphy: At Buffalo State, we were new. It was a brand-new program. We wanted to be accredited, so one of the things we had to do was begin to look around and to see what changes had to be done in the faculty. Very few of them had had the kind of experience that I had had. In fact, no one had had the intense newspaper experience that I did. The early chairman of the entire department was an English teacher. It was speech and journalism together, if I recall.

Ingersoll: Communications.

Murphy: Yes, more leaning toward that. Of course, then they set up what was a Journalism Sequence. Not a department; Journalism Sequence. So in order to be accredited, there were certain things we had to do to get a journalism department. That took me to schools that had journalism departments, to bring back to Buffalo to tell them what we had to do.

Then the fight ensued of whether or not we were going to have a journalism department or were we going to remain in speech. Once journalism pulled out, and this is where all the students were applying, they [speech faculty] were afraid they'd lose their jobs. Those were the days when we were talking about cutting back on faculty, cutting out departments that were not drawing a large number of students, and so, therefore, if you put journalism, and eventually we were going to have radio, too, you put those two together, it was obvious that something had to go. So they could see down the road that there was going to be a problem.

My job, as I saw it, was to try to get us accredited so that we would remain in Buffalo State College, because there was not a journalism department at the University of Buffalo, or SUNY, as it was called. The big university did not have a journalism department, so one of the things given to Buffalo State was journalism.

Ingersoll: How did that finally work out?

Murphy: Journalism won out.

Ingersoll: It had become an accredited department?

Murphy: They were to remain the only journalism department in the SUNY system in this area, which means if you want journalism, you have to come to Buffalo State.

Ingersoll: Splendid! That happened while you were there?

Murphy: Yes. We didn't get full accreditation while I was there, but they were on their way just before I left. I assume they got it.

Ingersoll: I asked you a while ago what you thought was one of the most important things that you taught your students, and your answer at that time was the need to ask questions. How did you teach them that? How did you get them to be inquiring people?

Murphy: I guess maybe it would be a little difficult to say in a few minutes. There were always little exercises that I would give them. I'd send them on what I guess you'd call fact-finding missions, and they'd come back and say, "I couldn't find it." "But did you ask? Tell me what you should have asked so that you'll know where to go." In that way you get them to begin to think

Page 102

Page 103

before they go out the door, because I'm trying to let them understand that if they're going to find some place as a journalist, they have to ask their editor, "How do I get there?"

But the average freshman student will come in and get an assignment and you'll say, "Go to so and so," and they'll go out the door. Then they realize, "I don't know where that is!" [Laughter.] "Did she say second right or third right?" So we'd send them on those little fact-finding expeditions across campus.

Then we used to do the one that my father used to do to all of us, to all the new cub reporters. He'd tell them to go down on the second floor and find Mr. Linotype. You and I both know now linotype was a machine. You'd find out how new the person really was in the newspaper business, who didn't know there's no such thing as a Mr. Linotype. The natural question would have been, "What does he do?" You don't just go looking for somebody. "What does he do? Why should I find him?"

I think it's hard to teach curiosity, and that's what we're talking about. Many of the students who come to you in journalism school are already curious, because they've been on high school newspapers, but every now and then you'll get a good writer who decided all of a sudden, "I don't want to write a novel, I don't want to do poetry, I don't want to do essays; I want to do newspaper work." And that's the student you have to sort of teach how to ask questions. You have to train them to write a question down, like you have done. Otherwise, you don't have anything to talk about.

Ingersoll: It sounds as though you had some very interesting ways of getting them to have the inquiring mind that they needed to have to do a good job.

Murphy: There are a lot of little exercises I'm sure they still do in most journalism schools that go along those lines.

Ingersoll: I noticed that in 1977 you gave a talk, or perhaps you wrote, I'm not sure, something on, "Editorial Writers Propose Changes in Journalism Education." Do you remember doing that and what changes you felt were necessary in journalism education? Probably they were ideas that came to you as you went to these different journalism schools to bring back ideas to Buffalo.

Murphy: That sounds more like coming back from convention, where you sat in a workshop and where you listened to the guys who were talking about students they were getting from journalism schools. The usual thing is that they had too much theory and not enough practice. When we went to conventions, we would hear this over and over again. "What are you all teaching?"

It disturbed me that so many of our professors in many journalism schools, not just Buffalo State, did not have the newsroom experience. So if I said to them, "Let's go cover the White House," they didn't know where to start. So how do you teach students to cover the state legislature, to do these things, if you've never done them yourself? If you can't go into a newsroom and immediately sit down and join the reporting staff, you can't teach unless you can do that.

Of course, this was one of the things I talked about over and over again at Buffalo State and at Howard University, and many of the professionals were saying this to the schools, "We don't want students coming into our newsroom with theory. Make them work before they get here." The chairman was a speech Ph.D. and, of course, she was just interested in them doing some of the digging for theory, research, and stuff, and I was interested in getting them out

Page 103

Page 104

and covering a story and making them write every single week. So we had some different opinions on how they should be trained.

Ingersoll: A few of our women journalists from an earlier phase [of oral history interviewing], the women who got in before the Second World War, would say sometimes if they hadn't had journalism school as a background, they would go to a seasoned newsman and he'd say, "Well, we'll take you on. At least we won't have to unteach you all the things that somebody may have thought they learned in journalism school," or something like that. Was there still some of this attitude in this era of the seventies among the editors and publishers of newspapers, that journalism school almost got in the way of a good journalist, rather than forming one?

Murphy: It could be, but depending on the journalism school. I went to the University of Wisconsin. What I'm saying to you is the way I was taught, which means when you left Wisconsin, you had served on a daily newspaper, you had worked on a weekly newspaper, you'd been out there every single day covering. Yes, you got your theory, but you worked as a reporter or you worked, as my sister Ida did, as an advertising salesman, or you worked the business end. So you knew exactly what the real world was like. What I am saying to you, and what he was saying, is that there were too many journalism schools that did not follow that law. So, therefore, he'd rather they just be English majors and he'd teach them the skills.

Ingersoll: They didn't come to him thinking they were journalists, but not really journalists with experience.

Murphy: That's right.

Ingersoll: That does fit, yes. You wrote in 1976 an article on "Who Says Interns Don't Work?" I think it was based on work done by advanced reporting students. Were there people who sometimes said that interns didn't work?

Murphy: When my interns first went out in the field, people would tell them to go get the coffee, file, clean the cabinets out, and so forth. So I invited them, all the people who had agreed to take an intern into the university, to show them the course study, to explain to them that these students really needed professional training, and this was the reason why they were going. Certainly I had no objection to them going to get coffee, as long as they were going on a news story while they were getting the coffee. [Laughter.]

Then following that, because so many people had done to my interns the coffee and clerical routine, I wrote that paper. I did research of that class of what they had been able to do on the internships and how the people had treated them, as an effort to show that they really worked.

Ingersoll: At the same time, you were doing some newspaper work yourself, I understand. In 1977 you were copy editor for the Buffalo Evening News during the summer.

Murphy: Here again, Woodie Wardlow. [Laughter.] We were talking at one of the AEJ meetings, and I had said to him that I was getting so far away from actual editing. I said, "I don't think I can sit down and write a headline under pressure." He said, "Good. Come in on the copy desk during the summer." I said, "I've been away from newspaper work," and he said, "You know, I'll make a spot for you." And he did, and paid me union wages.

Page 104

Page 105

I was able to work right with Woodie. He was managing editor, the senior editor at the Buffalo Evening News, and he let me work that whole copy desk, with all those dear senior editors there, who I'm sure looked up and said, "Who is this black woman going to work on the desk and write headlines and edit copy?" Oh, I know they thought Woodie was crazy! Of course, when I sat down, they finally discovered I could write the headlines as well as they could and edit the copy. Nobody paid any attention.

Ingersoll: Did they give you a bad time in the beginning?

Murphy: I think in the beginning, because I came in with Mr. Wardlow to them. After all, he was the boss. So he said, "You're going to do so and so," and they did it.

Ingersoll: So they hardly would have dared.

Murphy: No. I'm sure from some of their reactions, because in those days, only seasoned journalists went on the copy desk.

Ingersoll: And they had no way of knowing your background.

Murphy: No, not at all. I don't think Woodie even bothered to tell them. He'd come up and say, "We're having an editorial meeting. Come on in." And they'd look up [with a look that indicated:] "What is going on here?" Of course, I'd go sit in on the editorial meeting with the publisher and everybody. Buffalo Evening News in those days had glass partitions so that you could see out into the editorial room.

Ingersoll: Partitions?

Murphy: Yes, glass partitions. So therefore the whole huge newsroom could watch what was going on at the editorial roundtable. So the first couple of days, I just think they watched, and then after that, they began to ask who I was, why I was there, and how I got there, more how I got there than anything else. I explained to them how I had met Woodie and how through him I had gotten the job at the copy desk.

Ingersoll: Would you explain to them, then, your background on the Afro?

Murphy: Yes, they wanted to see the Afro, so I'd bring in copies.

Ingersoll: So they were interested, then, in seeing copies.

Murphy: Yes.

Ingersoll: Did they know anything about the Afro?

Murphy: One person on the staff, one of the senior editors, had worked with one of our reporters during the war, so he knew some of them. Therefore, he had seen the paper before. So he was the one who said, "Oh, yes, I've seen that paper before. Bring them in and let them see what it looks like."

Ingersoll: Do you think they had much, if any, understanding of the black press generally?

Murphy: No, not in Buffalo. No. I'm sure they didn't.

Page 105

Page 106

Ingersoll: Was there a black press there?

Murphy: Yes, there are two newspapers, the Buffalo Challenger and the Buffalo Criterion. Buffalo Challenger I just had in my hand a few minutes ago, because I get it by mail. One's a tabloid and one was a broad sheet. The Buffalo Challenger is still in existence. So they were aware that there were two in their town.

Ingersoll: But didn't know a great deal about them, then?

Murphy: Don't forget, Buffalo is a small town, at that time with a small black population, so most of the people in town are Polish with Polish roots, and as some of my students would tell me, they were the first members of their families to go to college. So these students were just shocked to find that my parents had gone to college, because they were the first members of their families. They would tell me that all the time.

Ingersoll: Did any of your students at State University College at Buffalo go on to become successful journalists?

Murphy: I've heard from some of them around the country. I wish I could recall the names for you. I was on CNN [Cable News Network] one day and the calls came in from all across the country. "I was one of her students at Buffalo State College and now I'm so and so." One of my students went on to be an outstanding reporter at the Buffalo Evening News. I heard from her. She won a national prize just recently. I'm sorry I'm not very good at names.

Ingersoll: Just to know that there were people of that caliber is interesting.

Murphy: There's a young man right down here at Business World, I think it is, a business newspaper they put out. They're all over the country.

Ingersoll: Then you were advisor for the Society of Professional Journalists at one point.

Murphy: Sigma Delta Chi.

Ingersoll: And there was a Frankie Award that was given, wasn't there? Tell me about that.

Murphy: The students got together a surprise at the final banquet of the Society of Professional Journalists, Sigma Delta Chi, and the highest award they gave that year, they named it after me and they called it the Frankie Award.

Ingersoll: That must have been a very nice thing.

Murphy: It was. It was something they did on their own. I didn't know anything about it, yet I was their advisor. But they had decided they were going to name one of the awards after me.

Ingersoll: Then you were doing quite a bit of writing, yourself, while you were teaching, weren't you?

Murphy: Yes, enjoying that, too. I was doing editorials for the Afro and I was writing papers for various different things.

Page 106

Page 107

Ingersoll: At the same time, you were on the national board of directors of the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], I understand.

Murphy: Right.

Ingersoll: That inspired quite a bit of your writing, I had the feeling as I looked through some of your things.

Murphy: Yes, it did. I was traveling, going to board meetings, and the NAACP national board met all over the country as well as at their national conventions. So I was traveling quite a bit there as a representative of the Buffalo chapter. So I did quite a bit of writing, because that kept me up with just what was going on in the civil rights front, and I was able to do a lot of writing because of that.

Ingersoll: There were a couple that I thought were particularly interesting. In 1983, you wrote an article about the NAACP lashing out at the Reagan budget. That seemed to be one of the very important points at that time.

Murphy: Was that the time when the congressional black caucus had its own budget? They were trying to get their own budget through, and they were comparing that budget to the Reagan budget.

Ingersoll: Yes.

Murphy: Child care, things like that.

Ingersoll: That the Reaganites were just neglecting, really.

Murphy: That's right.

Ingersoll: Did you ever get the feeling that this sort of editorial had an effect in the wider world? Did you get responses at all?

Murphy: Let me say that many times when you do editorials like that, you get the kind of response from other newspapers, that they will pick it up and print it, especially in the black press. They'll print other stories from other editors and run those. So, therefore, an editorial or news story would get wide readership not only in our newspaper, but in other newspapers across the country.

Ingersoll: Black press and other press?

Murphy: Yes. They will pick it up and mention it. So I'm amazed every now and then when I pick up and see some of my wording that I know is just mine that appears in USA Today or something like that. I say, "There can't be two people in the country saying that in the same way." [Laughter.] Many times they'll give me credit or they'll say it's from the Washington Afro-American, or sometimes they won't.

Ingersoll: How about the Washington Post? Has it picked up your editorials?

Murphy: Not that I know of. What they will do, what they've done many times, is have a student write a story and send it in. Then you'll see that story in the Post under somebody else's byline.

Page 107

Page 108

The students have complained about that. "That's my story," or, "That was my interview," or, "This was the whole thing that I had." They may add a paragraph or two to it, but they say, "That was my story." You say to yourself, "Of course this could happen. A person could have said the same thing." And the student will say, "Not the same way." But their competition on a paper like that is so fierce, that anything they see, they'll grab.

Ingersoll: These student writings, would they be something that would come through the Afro or in some other way?

Murphy: In this instance I was referring to students at Howard, and they were writing for their own newspapers, the Community News or the Hilltop, their own student newspapers. Because they have such limited circulation and they're really not all that copyrighted, other people may be free to use them as you would use a news release. Many times we have called the reporters and said, "Why didn't you give them credit? Why didn't you say you got it from the Hilltop?"

Ingersoll: It would mean so much to a young student.

Murphy: We have called reporters and told them that. "You know that was her story. Why didn't you give her credit for it?"

Ingersoll: Do they ever seem at all sorry for having—

Murphy: Oh, they'll deny it. "No, no, no. I did that on my own."

Ingersoll: And no way of proving it one way or the other when you have somebody who's strong and somebody who is weaker.

Murphy: The student will say, "That's mine," or the student will come to me with the paper that they've done and say, "Look. This is my paper, and this is what appeared here."

Ingersoll: There were several other interesting stories around that time. There was one on the NAACP controversy between Margaret Bush Wilson and Benjamin Hooks. Was that a particularly important issue to you?*

Murphy: I would say that was the most important issue that has hit the NAACP in the last twenty years. This was the biggest fight that I had been involved in. Even though Margaret Bush Wilson lost that fight, I think that it changed the NAACP's image of women. Up until that point, the NAACP board was heavy with southern "gentlemen." You know, "You ladies don't know what you're talking about. We'll listen to you," but they would go on and get off to the side and caucus against you. I say that even though Margaret—"Maggie," as we called her—lost that fight, she taught them a lesson.

Since that time we have seen the NAACP move from its "no women inside our closed sessions" to more than open, where women are now moving in as they're doing in other large organizations, taking their seats, even though they're on the board, also in the caucuses, and so forth.

* In the Afro-American newspapers, June 1, 1983, Frances Murphy has an article "NAACP Controversy: the Inside Story." In it Ms. Murphy explained the intricacies of the controversy. Margaret Bush Wilson, NAACP board chairman, suspended executive director Benjamin Hooks. Ms. Murphy voted "no" to a motion censoring Ms. Wilson.

Page 108

Page 109

They've been heard and are being respected for their views. So somebody had to start the fight. She started that fight.

[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]

Ingersoll: What specifically was the lesson that Margaret Bush Wilson taught them?

Murphy: I think Margaret Bush Wilson taught the NAACP, the national board, that you need to listen to the people who are paying the dues, and I think they took a good look at the fact that half of who's paying dues in the NAACP are women. When you get down to the basic chapters around the country, there are women out there who are doing all the work. Certainly the men are there, but a lot of women are signing up, doing the volunteer work, carrying those banners and marching and so forth.

All she said was that she felt very, very strongly that there should be term limits for board members, that she was opposed to paying, someone as head of a volunteer organization, $100,000-some dollars a year, and that she wanted everything out in the open. She did not feel that there should be a caucus within a civil rights group, that the men were getting together and caucusing and coming in and saying, "This is what we thirty have done out of the sixty-some members of the board," and they would have control. She felt that wasn't fair. It was an unfortunate fight, but it had to be fought.

Ingersoll: She lost the battle, but won a point.

Murphy: I think she won her point. She was chairman of the board and she lost her seat on the board. I supported Margaret Bush Wilson on that, and I did not run for reelection. I had run at large, which means I had run nationwide. But when Margaret lost her seat, I assumed that there were too many people out there to fight at large. I may have been able to run in my region, but I didn't feel that I could run at large, and I decided not to run again for reelection.

Ingersoll: Then another editorial that you wrote at that time in the Buffalo Challenger was something called "Election Forum: Should a Black Run in '84?" [August 3, 1983] That sounds interesting to me. The subheadline of that was "We Sure Can't Win if We Don't Run." Remember that one?

Murphy: Oh, yes. That had run in the Afro. Here again, an example of an editorial being picked up at both places. As many black papers do, we exchange. This was on Jesse Jackson's campaign, and there was a lot of discussion about whether or not he should run. The editorial took the stand that he's qualified, he meets all of the qualifications; why not?

Ingersoll: Has it been one of your objectives through time to try to get more blacks out there as candidates, more than in this one particular time?

Murphy: I think what we were trying to do then, as we do now, is try to convince people that there are very few qualifications for running for office, that you have to be a certain age, you have to be a citizen, a resident—period—and that you've got to get out there and run. More and more people are realizing that. They used to think that you had to have this and that and the other to run. What we were trying to say in the editorial is that he has the right to run as anybody else. That's your right. Whether or not you take this right and turn it into the privilege it's supposed to be is something else again. You've got to get out and run. If you don't win, someone else will come along and win.

Page 109

Page 110

Ingersoll: Has this been one of the Afro's objectives?

Murphy: Yes, to get people to run for office; get them to register, get them to vote, and then get them to run for office. More and more we're seeing this all over the country, that people are realizing that there is power in every single community, and that that community has the right to select a candidate out of its community to run.

Ingersoll: I know very early in the Afro, they were trying to get people to register and vote. Is the running for office a comparatively recent effort on the part of the Afro?

Murphy: It's hard to say recent, because some of the earlier papers—I think my grandfather talked about, "You've got to run for office." I see my father talking about running in some of the editorials I've seen where he's talked about the fact, "Don't just run in one party; run in both parties. Don't let them take you for granted. You've got to run here, there. Run Independent or run Democrat." So it's something that through the years I think we've talked about.

Ingersoll: I think it's so interesting the way you've been looking back at the Afros of the past in order to get ideas for the present and the future.

Murphy: Don't forget now, we're getting ready to celebrate our centennial.

Ingersoll: When does that come about?

Murphy: August the fifteenth of this year, 100 years. We've been looking back because we're going to put out a 100-page newspaper on August the fifteenth. It will be dated August the fifteenth. That made us all go back into the whole stack, so we've been back in the Washington office, back for 100 years, to select pages from the old days that we're going to put in this 100-page edition.

Ingersoll: A treasure!

Murphy: I think it's five dollars. Then, of course, Diahann Carroll is going to be the feature artist at the Kennedy Center, and I must give you an invitation to Afro's one hundredth anniversary scholarship benefit gala.

Ingersoll: How very nice.

Murphy: The tickets are expensive. It's just interesting. This is going to be our hundredth anniversary. For the first time that I can remember, even the president [George Bush] said he wants to attend. He might attend.

Ingersoll: That would be a wonderful thing.

So we might go on, then, to your present work on the Afro after your work in Buffalo along in the eighties. Then you came to Washington and taught at Howard. How did that happen?

Murphy: I was the senior professor [at State University College at Buffalo]. I was head of Sequence, and it was time for sabbatical leave. I had gotten my tenure, and I thought about going on sabbatical and how I'd like to get away and look at my father's papers. I knew that there had to

Page 110

Page 111

be a lot of his papers at the Afro, and I was afraid that no one was paying any attention, so I requested sabbatical, never dreaming I was going to get it, and got it.

So I went to see Bruce Johnstone, our president, and he approved it. So I really came to Washington to work at Howard as an adjunct professor, to do my research. As soon as I got here, I went over to the Afro and went through all those little odds and ends and found ninety-five boxes of my father's letters.

Ingersoll: That must have been quite an experience.

Murphy: Then I moved all of those letters to Howard University, all ninety-five boxes, and deposited them there under an agreement with Howard that we would have first access to them and control of them until such time as the family was ready to turn them over to Howard.*

In these letters are some of the most fantastic letters you ever want to see, from every president you can imagine, from every senator, from the Booker T. Washingtons, the Paul Laurence Dunbars, and the Malcolm Xs, anybody you can think of. In those days, they didn't have the kinds of communication we have today, so people wrote letters. So, therefore, he not only has the letters that people wrote him, but attached to each letter is his answer to those persons. Therefore, you have both. You have the letter that the person wrote him and his response to the letter that they sent. It's just absolutely beautiful. I keep saying that I need to settle down and finish this book, but it looks like there's just been so much to do.

Ingersoll: Ninety-five boxes!

Murphy: Ninety-five boxes of letters that you cannot imagine, going back to all the forty-nine years he was head of the Afro newspapers. It looked like he saved every little piece of paper.

Ingersoll: How did you feel when you came on those boxes and maybe opened the first or the second one?

Murphy: When I opened the first ones, I said to myself, "This can't be." I found his love letters between my mother and himself back in 1915, 1916, where he had put them neatly in a scrapbook. Then I came across letters that he had written to his father when he was at Harvard, back and forth, about how cold it was, how he needed more money for coal, what the Harvard Yard looked like, and he could hear the chimes, he'd been here and here, he'd heard Vincent Peale that morning and so forth.

After I got out of that, then I began to get into the other boxes, and it was just fantastic. So right this minute, these thousands and thousands of letters are sitting at Howard University, waiting either for us to move them or to find a grant to get them sorted and catalogued. Howard has put some of them into the preserving folders, but they haven't gone through all the boxes yet.

Ingersoll: What's the relationship between the Howard Afro-American Archives and the Bowie State Archives?

Murphy: I moved my father's papers to Howard, so they have the bulk of his personal letters, the letters that were in his office that his secretary had and so forth, and his business files.

* As of 1992, these letters were not open to anyone except members of the Murphy family. [Ed.]

Page 111

Page 112

I have his personal files here at the house. The Howard University Hall of Fame has deposits by newspapers from all over the country, and in that depository are papers from my cousin George B. Murphy. They have some papers from Art [Arthur] Carter, who at one time was editor of the Washington Afro-American. They have other papers like that, but they must have papers from about thirty, forty, fifty black newspapers from across the country. The Carl Murphy collection is separate from those, because I have them deposited there, but I have not given it to them (Howard).

Ingersoll: There are some papers from the Afro at Bowie State, too?

Murphy: At Bowie State you will find the Afro-American Archives, the actual archives. This is everything that involves anybody except Carl Murphy's papers. Whatever was left there was a massive file. They have all the pictures, all the clippings, all those old heavy metal casts. They have all the cartoons, they have all the files dating back to 1895. When I say all the pictures, if you could imagine all the pictures of the early days, like the first black millionaire Maggie Laura Walker, they have her whole life, and then they have all of the files that were in our so-called morgue, the library, now at Bowie. So everything connected to anything that you would keep, any picture that you had in your office, you picked it up and sent it to Bowie. That's what Bowie has now. If they ever complete that file, it will be the greatest historical collection of documents you can ever find anywhere.

Ingersoll: It would be very good if they could get funding to finish that.

Murphy: Yes. They have begun to catalog, but they're nowhere near what you need.

Ingersoll: A very expensive business. When I did some research there in preparation for these interviews, I was told that that was one of the problems, the funding to do that kind of thing.

Murphy: Yes.

Ingersoll: Then it seems that you had a very interesting and successful time teaching at Howard. You began as a visiting professor in '85 and then became an associate professor from '85 to '91. I understand that there was a letter from the dean of the School of Communication, Orlando Taylor, in 1988, in which he said, "This letter is to express my sincere congratulations to you for having received the highest student evaluation ratings among faculty in your department." That was the highest out of some sixteen, with ratings on knowledge and ability to convey knowledge, organization, and atmosphere.

Murphy: That was very nice, yes.

Ingersoll: These were ratings that the students then made of their professors.

Murphy: What they do at Howard University is they have three different kinds of evaluations. One is done by the students, which means, unannounced, they come in the classroom and ask you to leave. Then they hand out computerized forms to your students, who then rate you. Then they ask you to return to your classroom and then they give you a sealed envelope to sign, to let you know that you have been rated. They don't let you see what the rating is, but you sign the sealed envelope to say that, yes, you've been rated. Then they used to post them in the hallway, but I think the last couple of years the faculty raised so much Cain, they stopped posting them.

Ingersoll: What was the situation at Howard? Was that like or unlike Buffalo in terms of other faculty members with the kinds of experience that you had had?

Page 112

Page 113

Murphy: Howard was quite different, because when I arrived, there were other faculty members there who had also been at the Afro. There was Raymond Boone, who had been the editor of the Richmond Afro-American, and had come into the Baltimore home office, as we call it, where he had been a managing editor. He was there. Leaving right ahead of me was Larry Still, who had had a wealth of experience in the newspaper business. There was another gentleman there and he had been a former editor at the Afro-American newspapers.

So there were people there who had been in the newspaper work, who had gone on from the Afro to other things in the newspaper world, and who had come into teaching. They knew exactly what it was like to work in the real world, so the students got some really good training. The same thing in broadcasting. They had people who had been on the air, who had been tops in their field, and they were teaching in the broadcasting field. Over in the television end, I didn't know too much about that, but in the others I did.

Ingersoll: Did many of your students do internships on the Afro?

Murphy: Yes. Most of my students wrote for all of the different newspapers in the area, except the white dailies, under the excuse that they couldn't write for the white dailies because they had a union shop. But they could work for all the other newspapers. We were very fortunate in being able to get them to get out every single week and get their stories published. We had two student newspapers, the Hilltop and the Community News. The Community News was the laboratory newspaper. In ten pages, it's hard to get too many stories in. So, therefore, they had to search for other places and they had to publish or they perished.

Ingersoll: When you exclude the white dailies, this would leave, then, the black press, the Jewish press.

Murphy: Any of the ethnic press. There were quite a few of them that the students had contact with.

Ingersoll: How about the county weekly presses?

Murphy: Yes, if they lived in that area, they tended to want to write for their own local newspapers. In fact, they would call and ask to have a student to write something for them.

Ingersoll: So they did get some pretty good experience.

Murphy: Very good experience.

Ingersoll: Do you think that the union stipulation was just an excuse, or was that true?

Murphy: No, I think it's true. Having come out of a union shop up in Buffalo, they're very stringent about their rules. They did hire them as interns during the summer, and USA Today, if I remember correctly, took a couple of interns. I think the Post took a couple of them, hired them and paid them the regular union wages as interns. But as for them being able to just walk in with a story, that didn't happen.

Ingersoll: Instead, their stories were taken sometimes.

Murphy: That's correct.

Page 113

Page 114

Ingersoll: Then you directed another urban journalism workshop for minority high school students. In what ways was this different, doing it at Howard, from doing it in Buffalo? Different place and time, I guess, wasn't it?

Murphy: Different place and different in the way it was done, and different in emphasis. USA Today wanted a different kind of impact.

Ingersoll: Were they the ones who sponsored the workshop at Howard?

Murphy: Yes, they printed it and they assigned their own staff to work with the students. You had more of a hands-on from the dailies than you did from the one in Buffalo. In Buffalo, I had complete control of it, even though I was working with the Buffalo Evening News at the time. Woodie Wardlow said, "Go ahead. You know what you're doing. If you need my help, call on me." At USA Today, it was just the opposite. "We want to run this, and you just get the students and you come on in, and we'll do it this way." The students got very good training. They were able to learn how to use the computers at USA Today, because their computers were much more advanced than the ones we had. They would do pagination and all the other things, and they learned how to get those into the system there at USA Today.

So I would say that they got a tremendous amount of experience, and it was just different in the way they did things, whereas at Buffalo State, we invited people in to talk to them, and they'd write a news story about it. Then you'd select the best news story and put it in the paper. At USA Today, they wanted them to go out on regular assignments. That's the kind of story they printed. So the emphasis was different, but I think they enjoyed it.

Ingersoll: Was there anybody particularly at USA Today who was a spearhead of all of this, the way Woodie Wardlow had been on the Buffalo Evening News?

Murphy: I can see her face just as clearly, because when I left, she came in as an adjunct professor at Howard. She was the one who was assigned to work directly with the workshop. When she left USA Today, she came to Howard.

Ingersoll: Then you went back on the board of directors of the Afro-American from '85 to '87. How was that different in experience from the past experience?

Murphy: At that time, '85 to '87, it seems to me that my oldest daughter was working there at the Afro, too, and the young people had come in. Let me just say that when you have a younger generation, you sort of have to sit back with pride and watch them operate. Even though you're not in the driver's seat, you have a different appreciation of the way they see things and the way you see them. Remember now, times are different, technology is different, even though the news is the same, in the way you handle it and the way you think. We had in my day, a huge newsroom, a huge production staff, and so forth, and here they're putting out a paper with five people as a production staff in a room of computers. So the whole thinking is different. In my day they were talking about unionizing the shop; now they're down to maybe two or three union members. Everything is different. No hot type.

Ingersoll: While you were on the board [in the mid-eighties], had things gone at all in the direction that you had hoped they would go at that earlier era, and felt frustrated when they didn't?

Page 114

Page 115

Murphy: I think you come back a little more seasoned. You understand that there are certain things that are not going to get done.

Ingersoll: So you and the situation had changed.

Murphy: You grow. You want to save lost opportunities, but I'm the type of person, if I can't do anything about it, why worry about it? There's nothing I can do about any of it now, so the only thing we can do is move ahead. You can sit there and regret all you want to, but there's no point in that. You're not going to get anywhere. So I can't go back to those twenty years ago or twenty-five years ago, so the Afro is just going to have to pick up from where it is and move on.

Ingersoll: Maybe we will wait until next time, if it's all right with you, to go on and talk about your present career as publisher of the Washington Afro, and the relationship with your daughter, who is president of the Afro. Will that be all right with you?

Murphy: Fine.

Page 115

Go to Session One | Session Two | Session Three | Session Five | Session Six
Index | Cover | Home

© 1993, Washington Press Club Foundation.
Washington, DC. All Rights Reserved.