Because this session was videotaped,
material from other sessions may be repeated here.
[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Ingersoll: Frances, last summer when you were working on that hundredth anniversary edition of the Afro, you must have taken quite a number of backward glances at the Afro and the five generations of Murphys who have put it out. Tell me, who was John Murphy, Sr.?
Murphy: He was the founder of the Afro-American newspaper, Fern, and, of course, my grandfather. He was a slave who had gone into the Civil War and came out a freed man. He did many jobs. Then when the administration changed from Republican to Democrats, he lost his job. He was a printer at that time, so he was in this printing company, and they were going out of business. They were putting the equipment for the printing plant up for auction. My grandmother, Martha Howard Murphy, had come from a family that was fairly wealthy up there in Montgomery County, and she had saved $200, despite the fact that she had ten children. So we say that she loaned her husband the money, but, of course, today we would have said it was equal sharing. He went to the auction and put the $200 down on the equipment for the Afro-American newspapers, as we know it today.
Ingersoll: Do I understand correctly that he had put out a small Sunday school newspaper before that?
Murphy: Yes. He was superintendent of the Sunday school at Bethel A.M.E. Church in Baltimore. That was the largest A.M.E. church in Baltimore, and they had what was called the Sunday School Helper. So he was really printing that already. He wanted to pull together the Sunday schools all over that area, the Baltimore metropolitan area, and the only way he could do that, of course, was to put out his own little newspaper, and that's what he did—the Sunday School Helper.
Ingersoll: Ten children, and one of them was your father Carl Murphy.
Murphy: That's right.
Ingersoll: At what point did he enter the scene of the Afro-American?
Murphy: My father was professor of German here at Howard University. My grandfather was getting a little old, of course, and he asked him to come home. My father talked it over with my mother, who, incidentally, was also a Washingtonian, and she said, "Yes, we'll go back to Baltimore." So they went to Baltimore in 1918, I think it was, and from there he started working with his father. When my grandfather died in 1922, my father took over the newspapers.
Ingersoll: I think I remember a very interesting letter among some of your things, where he said, "I think I'd better go back and help Pa and the boys."
Murphy: Pa and the boys. That would be the way they would talk among themselves. They called him Pa, and all of the boys and girls called him Pa. He felt very strongly that he needed to go home and help.
Ingersoll: His brothers and sisters were already connected with the Afro, were they, when he came in?
Murphy: In one way or the other. My aunts and uncles had all helped with the newspaper. They either wrote for the newspaper or they worked there. They had married and moved away, and many times they still worked with the newspaper. My Uncle George was principal of an elementary school in those days. John and D. Arnett, my uncles, were actually at the newspaper working. So was Dan, who was the youngest in the family. So many of the boys and girls were working at the newspaper at the time.
Ingersoll: What about your mother? Did she have any influence on the newspaper and on your father?
Murphy: A tremendous amount of influence on my father, of course. My mother, as you heard me say, was a Howard University graduate, and so when my father was teaching German at Howard, she was in his class, and that's how they met. They married after she graduated from Howard. So they were so very well read, that he leaned on her, even though she taught school here in Washington. She never taught when she moved to Baltimore. But he would expect her to keep up with the reading, so they discussed many of the issues of the day, many of the books of the day. He would come home and they would read them together and read them to us. So she had a tremendous influence on the way he thought, I imagine, and how they discussed things together. When they didn't agree, they would discuss the topic, and usually I would say in her quiet way she would persuade him that this was another way of looking at things.
Ingersoll: They had, then, a family of how many of you were there?
Murphy: Five girls, much to my father's distress. There were five girls, and he never had any boys. [Laughter.] So he treated us like boys.
Ingersoll: How did he do that?
Murphy: Well, he called us "Boy." When I was born, he wrote a little poem, talking about the fact that when the nurse came in and held me up, how he had all these girls and how he just knew this was going to be a boy.
Ingersoll: And you were the fifth?
Murphy: I was the fifth. When she held up this baby, he said, "My goodness, there's Frances L., another girl." My mother had said she wanted six children, but she decided to stop at five. She said maybe there was no hope for that boy that he wanted, so they stopped at five.
Ingersoll: Do you remember the poem that he wrote at that time?
Murphy: Yes, I do, but I can't quote it for you. I wish I could.
Ingersoll: He often wrote poems for his children and his grandchildren when they got their names, didn't he?
Murphy: Right. Not only that, but he enjoyed writing prayers, as well as poems, and he wrote words to music. Two of the very lovely songs that we sing now, "O Lord, I Need Help Today," and one of the Christmas songs, he wrote the words. William Parrott, the choirmaster at St. James Episcopal Church, wrote the music, and my dad wrote the words. He would write poems for every single thing that you can think of, and on your birthday, he would present you with a poem. He also enjoyed writing prayers, so one of the nice things that we have now is a whole book of prayers written by my father during the different times. When things came up, he'd write a prayer for it.
Ingersoll: What kind of a person was he as a father?
Murphy: I loved him dearly, as you can tell from my voice. He was very strict. He gave the appearance of being very gruff, but being the youngest, of course, I hung around him a whole lot, got taken many places where he went, and had a very deep understanding of what he was trying to do. So, therefore, I had a deep respect for him and really enjoyed being around him.
I'm reminded that one of the old employees said to me just recently, they used to call him "the breeze," because he would go past you in the plant so fast, you know, and then call you into his office and say to you that you were doing this and so on, and he didn't like to see that. So he was a very strict disciplinarian, and he was that way with the girls, except for me. [Laughter.]
Ingersoll: I remember in your papers a very scrawling note in a childish hand that I think you had taken during some meeting between your father and one of the important people of the day. Tell me a little bit more about that kind of thing.
Murphy: My dad had a big office, a nice horseshoe desk, and he would take me to the office with him and let me sit over in the corner and listen to what was going on. He expected me, even from an early age, to take notes so that afterwards we could discuss what happened and ask me, "How would you have handled that? What would you have done with that?" Here I'm seven, eight, nine years old, and he's asking me, "What did he say? What did I say in answer to him? How did I do that?" So we would analyze the meeting. I can hear myself saying many times, here now at my age, that must have been something to have me sit there, and if I moved or did anything that he didn't think I would do, he never spoke, he just looked at me. He would expect me to take notes and be able to explain what was going on. So maybe that's what you saw, one of those scrawling little notes.
Ingersoll: I understand that some of those meetings were very much concerned with the civil rights movement of the day. Was Thurgood Marshall one of the people who might have been at one of those meetings?
Murphy: Yes. Justice Marshall, of course, was a young attorney with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, NAACP, as we say. He would come into my dad's office or into the home, and they would discuss the cases that they were planning, and how they were going to handle them. My father was head of what was called the Legal Redress Committee, which means it's his responsibility to raise the money to pay for the fees and so forth, the court fees and so forth. So Thurgood and the rest of his team would come, as they would say, out to Morgan Park, to our home to sit down and discuss the cases, which ones they were going to take, how much it was going to cost, and therefore Dad had to get out and try to get that money.
If he couldn't raise it, he would give up his own money and make sure that they had the legal fees in order to file the cases.
So it was really from the early beginnings that we would hear them at home talking about it from the time they filed the cases for equal salaries for teachers in Baltimore or to get a fireman into the department or get a policeman. Remember, in coming along in the early days, we didn't even have black policemen. Or getting a black bus driver, or trying to get people to try on clothes at the department stores. These were the early suits. So young Thurgood Marshall and a lot of the other young attorneys who came along in those days, you have to remember that they worked for very small salaries or sometimes no salary at all. But somebody had to pay those fees, the court fees, and that was my dad's responsibility, to pay for the travel fees and staying overnight somewhere, because we didn't stay in hotels in those days, but they had to have food to eat and money to travel with.
Ingersoll: How would he raise that money?
Murphy: By phone, by letter, mostly by letter to friends. "I need so much money for such and such a case." Mostly through networks. Dad and Mom traveled all over the world, and they had helped a lot of people, so when things were needed, it was a network. You didn't go to the bank in those days, because banks didn't lend you money. So therefore, in order to get anything done, it had to come from the black community or from friends of other communities who were willing to help.
Ingersoll: Your sisters at home, were they involved with the Afro? Were you involved with the Afro as you were growing up?
Murphy: We all were involved from the very, very early age. My father had the idea that since we were young women who were going to inherit a newspaper in this family, that we needed to go to the office early. You heard me say he took me very early. We all went early. I look back on it now, I wish I had learned to cook and do some of those other things, but I never did. But I did learn how to run a newspaper. So he would take us to the office very early. My sister Bettye, the oldest sister, of course, went first, and she started off in high school, writing a column and serving the newspaper. She had her own newspaper route. My sister Ida came right along. Bettye was the first, of course, then she was the one who served on the school board. She was one of the first blacks on the Baltimore school board, the first to serve on many of the committees then. Then Ida came right along. My other two twin sisters, Vashti and Carlita, Carlita and Ida and myself all went to [the University of] Wisconsin, but Carlita left and married and went on to Buffalo, and the rest of us stayed in the area here. So four of us really were almost in the plant most of our lives.
Ingersoll: As a little girl, did you deliver the Afro?
Murphy: Oh, yes. I sold the Afro out in our area, which was called Morgan Park, which was near Morgan State College in those days. We lived on what was called a circle, and there were about fifty-some black families in this suburb surrounded by a little poorer class of white people on the perimeters around us.
Ingersoll: This was in Baltimore?
Murphy: This was in Baltimore, right across from Morgan State College. My dad would bring home the newspapers, and we would go out and serve the Afros in the neighborhood.
It was always fun when he went with me, because he would stop and talk to everybody. We had such interesting neighbors. W.E.B. DuBois, of course, was one of our neighbors. Faculty from Morgan State College, they all had purchased homes or built their homes in this area. These were the days when they were moving off campus. All of them used to live on campus. These were the days they had moved off campus, and they had this little circle which was called Morgan Park, where they had built their homes. So it was real interesting to walk with him. I would sell the newspaper, and, of course, he was gathering news. He was talking to everyone. My dad was head of the Building Committee at Morgan State College and later the chairman of the board. So really they were talking to what would have been their boss, because he was chairman of the board of trustees at Morgan State College. So it was really fun to serve papers in those days with him.
My mother would go along with me every now and then, but she would get waylaid by her friends who were looking for a fourth at bridge or something along that line, and she'd tell me, "Okay, come on back and pick me up when you finish the circle." But those were nice days. I got a chance to either be with one or the other by myself. When you're in a big family, that's a rarity that you get your mother or dad off by yourself.
Ingersoll: Do you think there was ever much disagreement between your mother and father, your father wanting you to be boys, and your mother perhaps wanting you to be ladies?
Murphy: Gentleladies. Yes. I'm sure there must have been. One of the things I have to look back on, my mother and dad never argued in front of us, although I'm sure they must have argued. They would go in behind closed doors and settle whatever argument there was, and when they came out, they came out arm in arm, and they said, "This is what you're going to do." So I am sure there must have been disagreements.
My mother was very quiet-spoken, a very, as we call it, genteel lady who had her own ideas of how girls should be raised. Of course, my dad had his ideas of what he wanted "his boys" to do. So I'm sure there must have been some disagreement. They sort of hit a balance. My mom would say when my dad put his foot across that front door, it was now her house, and she set the rules. What went on in the office, he set the rules. So therefore, when we were with my dad, we were one thing, and when we were with Mother, we were the other. But they had their own way of doing things in those days, and as I look back, it's just wonderful. I wish we could go back to many of those things.
Ingersoll: What about your father and his brothers and sisters? When they had disagreements—I'm sure they must have—on the Afro, how did they settle those?
Murphy: They came home. If they came to our house, they went into the sun parlor and closed the doors. You could hear their voices rise and fall, and you knew they were going at it. Here again, when they opened that door, they had settled whatever differences they had. I never saw my father argue with any of his brothers and sisters. They were right there. We could hear them at the house, of course, because the walls weren't that thick. But we were aware of the fact that if you said something to one, you would make sure that they would go back and discuss it among themselves. All of the children in all of the families understood this. It didn't make any difference. If I said something to my Uncle Arnett, that I thought maybe it should go a certain way, before he'd answer me, he'd ask my dad. They talked among themselves.
So if they had problems, they settled those problems among themselves. They didn't believe in stretching over generations. They felt that their generation was in charge, so therefore they set the rules. They decided. Normally it would be the brothers. If the sisters were in town
or anywhere around, they would be included in the discussion. Most of my life, two sisters were there, the one I'm named for, Aunt Frank, and my Aunt Harriet. So they were there. We called her Aunt Nettie. They were there, and they would be invited into the family meetings. It's always interesting, as I look back on that, though, I don't remember seeing the wives in those meetings. It was just usually the brothers and sisters who settled the problems.
Ingersoll: Were there any of those aunts and uncles who were particularly influential on you?
Murphy: My Aunt Frank, I assume, because she was a maiden lady. She wasn't married. She took a lot of interest in all the children in the family. She was a teacher at Coppin State Teachers College in those days, and she had a little Model T Ford, which you could see all over town. She impressed me deeply, and I've said it many times, I remember that she insisted that we wear hats and gloves at all times. I remember walking down the street one day with a group of girlfriends, and she stopped her car right in the middle of the street and asked me where my gloves were. I think to this day, most of the time I wear gloves wherever I go. She made a deep impression on me that ladies should have gloves on.
Ingersoll: What an interesting person she must have been. Wasn't she involved with that Clean Block Campaign that's been so important through the years in Baltimore?
Murphy: Yes. She was teaching at Coppin State Teachers College, so most of the black teachers in the city had taken a course with her. Around about 1935, she came to my dad with the idea that she wanted to do something in the summer with the children, and that all she needed was a little bit of seed money, and that she would raise the money for prizes and so forth. So what she did was go back and call her teachers and tell them that she wanted to have their children signed up for the Clean Block Campaign. They said, "What are they going to do?" She said, "When they go home during the summer, they're going to get up in the morning, they're going to clean up the trash in their blocks, back and front yards and so forth, scrub the marble steps. In the afternoon, they're going to sit down, clean, comb their hair, and be ready for inspection." She wanted block captains. She wanted teachers to be block captains along with parents and so forth. She organized ten-thousand children in Baltimore that way, and they're still doing it today.
Ingersoll: What a wonderful thing.
Murphy: They do it every summer.
Ingersoll: When you were at home, was there very much talk of the Afro around the dinner table, perhaps?
Murphy: As we say, get two or three of us together, we'll talk Afro. [Laughter.] Yes, we did a lot of talking about the newspaper, what it was doing, how it was doing, and so forth. But my mother insisted that we also do talk about books and so forth, so therefore dinnertime was a time when we got together. The first agenda, of course, was, "What is your homework? What are you doing? What have you got to do tomorrow? What are the activities going on?" Then each of us was assigned a book that we should have read and discussed and bring to the dinner table to discuss. So therefore it went around at the dinner table. We had a definite time to sit down to dinner, and, of course, a definite time for breakfast, too, if I remember correctly. That is the time that we had the deep discussions about everything that was going on. So we all had to read a certain number of books per week.
Remember now, we're dealing with a time there was no television. There was a little bit of radio. But when my father drove his car into the driveway, everything got turned off, because that was discussion time. That was the time to talk. That was family time. So even though there may have been a program coming on the radio that we may have wanted to listen to, there was no radio on while he was at home. The only thing that we did have in the morning, as you heard me say, my father was a German professor, we did have the operas in the morning turned up quite loud so that you could hear the German, and my mother was singing in French, so between the two of them, we got exposure to both of those languages.
Ingersoll: So much of this seems to have carried over into later years, too, this family time.
Ingersoll: Tell us a little bit more about how the whole family would gather in great numbers on Sunday.
Murphy: We didn't feel comfortable on Sunday to dinner unless there were at least twenty of us at my mother's house. Everyone went home for dinner on Sunday. Mother and Dad didn't insist on it, but it was just a matter of saying, "You're invited to dinner. Bring the children." My parents had an "adult" table and a "children's" table. Usually we spread out in the sun parlor, the adults, and the children would be over in the small dining room. This was, of course, again discussion time, time to meet their cousins and so forth. So there were five of us with our husbands and the two of them, and that's twelve right there, and then there were eighteen grandchildren, so they were all together, too. So as the children came along, one more added didn't make any difference to my mother and dad.
We would then, after dinner, after this good discussion of what was happening and so forth, usually get around the piano. My mother had a great big old grand piano, and we'd get around the piano and sing songs and so forth. My dad had a beautiful tenor voice, so we used to enjoy that very much. Either my mother played or my sister played. My father had insisted that we all have music, and we had music very early. We took music lessons very early, so therefore there was always someone to play the piano, between either Ida or Bettye or my mother.
Ingersoll: What about your own writing? Did you do very much writing when you were in elementary school, junior high school, high school?
Murphy: I guess my earliest writing was the letter I wrote to Santa, very early, never realizing that my dad was going to put it in the newspaper, but he did. Coming along, I wrote a teenage column every now and then. But I really didn't begin to do a lot of writing until I came into the newspaper at the end of my high school days, early college days.
At the University of Wisconsin, I'd write back home columns and so forth for my dad, and then during the summer I would, of course, work at the newspaper. We were expected to raise at least the money that we wanted to spend on our own during the summer months. We were all on scholarships. We all went away to college on scholarships, basically because they wouldn't let us go to the University of Maryland. So the State of Maryland gave me a full scholarship to the University of Wisconsin, including my room and my board and tuition and two trips home a year, which means that Dad only had to put out, of course, the different little things that we needed, and he expected you to raise that. My father had us on a nice little allowance, but at the same time he would expect you to raise little extras that you wanted.
My sister Bettye went to the University of Minnesota on the State of Maryland. My sister Carlita and my sister Ida went to Wisconsin like I did, on full scholarships. This was not unusual. My whole high school class, 80 percent of my high school class, went away to college on State of Maryland money, because they would not let us go to the University of Maryland. I have no regrets about it. [Laughter.] That was just wonderful.
Ingersoll: How did it happen that you went to the University of Wisconsin?
Murphy: Dad looked at the top journalism schools in the country. The top, he thought, was Minnesota, and the next was Wisconsin. My older sister Bettye went to Minnesota. She had difficulty getting into the dormitory. She ran into quite a bit of prejudice. So, therefore, Dad sent the rest of us to Wisconsin, where we lived in the dormitories. Even though it was not a happy time for me, my other sisters seemed to have thrived in the atmosphere. So that was why we went to University of Wisconsin, because at that time it was considered one of the Big Ten and [one of] the top journalism schools in the country. He said, "Okay, if you're not going to school at home, you might as well go to the best in the country," so that's where we went. He was, incidentally, chairman of the Scholarship Committee, so, of course, he was able to look at the schools across the country. Every student that came before that committee, he would say, "What's the best school in the country that you want to go to? Let's find the best, and that's where we're going to send you. They won't let you go to the University of Maryland, so we're going to send you to the best school in the country."
Ingersoll: What a different time that was, wasn't it?
Ingersoll: Then when you finished the University of Wisconsin, you came back and worked for the Afro in Baltimore. Was that the period then when the "mosquito patrol" was working, or was that while you were coming back and working summers?
Murphy: No, that was during the wartime. I had graduated from University of Wisconsin then. All the men were off to war, so therefore we were on the city desk, nothing but women. I should not say "nothing but women," because I got a letter from Bob Queen in Philadelphia the other day, reminding me that he was the lone male there in the "mosquito patrol." [Laughter.] They called us "mosquito patrol" because we were very thin young women at that time, and we had to cover everything a man would cover, because all the war correspondents were either in Italy or off in England or someplace. My sister Bettye was a war correspondent. She went to England.
Ingersoll: I noticed in one of the old editions of the Afro that the old office on Eutaw Street was packed with sandbags. Why was that?
Murphy: In those days, we not only had sandbags around the office, expecting to be bombed, but we had dark curtains at our windows. There was rationing of sugar and shoes and meat and so forth. So therefore you had coupon books, where you had to go buy your meat and so forth, stand in line for shoes and things of that kind. But every office was expected to protect its glass by sandbags, because we expected to be bombed.
Ingersoll: Was it the case at that time that the black soldiers really weren't being covered by the mainstream press?
Murphy: Yes. That was the reason why we sent so many correspondents over to the various theaters of war, because we found that they weren't being covered at all, so therefore my father felt that the only way we were going to get news back home was to assign our own people to the various theaters, so that's what he did. We had war correspondents wherever there were black soldiers so that we could tell our people back home what they were doing and so forth. You'll notice very few of the newsreels of those days will tell you what any of the black soldiers were doing. Remember now, these were segregated units. They would not let a black soldier serve in a white unit, so therefore they had special black units and so forth. Even the Tuskegee Airmen, they were segregated. Remember they said in the old days that they couldn't fly planes, and then they finally were able to get a unit together and fly planes. So that's why we had people all over the place. We must have had eight correspondents overseas at that time.
[There is untranscribed conversation while the videotape is being changed.]
Ingersoll: Your sister Bettye was a war corespondent. She had a chapter in a book about the black war correspondents, didn't she?
Murphy: Yes. One of the interesting things is right after the war, they published this book, This is Our War. It is really interesting, because it gives you a better perspective of how the blacks served in the various theaters during World War II and really how segregated they were. We sent over seven war correspondents to all the different theaters of war to make sure that we would follow what we called in those days the "tan Yanks," and where they were going and what they were doing and so forth.
It's really interesting to me to look at this and look at the fact that they were in France and the Southwest Pacific and in Italy. It's just absolutely amazing what they did do with the various troops, more so because today it's very hard to get up on the front lines with our troops because of censorship. But during World War II, our corespondents traveled and slept and ate with the troops. The only difference between them and a soldier was the fact that they had the typewriters. They were carrying typewriters with them, and the soldiers were carrying guns. They can't do that today, so we don't get a true picture of what's going on today as we were able to do in World War II. So this is really an interesting little book, This is Our War, and it really tells you really what went on during World War II.
Ingersoll: In terms of sending black correspondents to the front, who do you mean by "we"?
Murphy: The Afro-American newspapers. We have newspapers in three cities now today—Baltimore, Washington, and Richmond. But in those days we also had one in Philadelphia, we had editions going out in North and South Carolina. We had about ten different editions. So I mean "we," the Afro-American newspapers, in conjunction with some other black newspapers in the country. We have an association called the National Newspaper Publishers Association, and they also were helping with sending the correspondents overseas.
Ingersoll: It was just about this time, too, that you married for the first time, wasn't it?
Ingersoll: Was your husband connected with the newspaper business?
Murphy: He was not when we got married, but afterwards he came into the newspaper business and became one of our reporters. Then we both moved up into jobs. He was managing editor and I was the editor.
Ingersoll: Was it about that point, then, that you were sent to Richmond by your father?
Murphy: We were sent to Richmond as a team to take over the Richmond office, and we stayed in Richmond about a year. Then we came up into the Washington office, and, I guess, stayed here five or six years back in the early fifties. Then we moved back into Baltimore. It was my father's way of preparing us to move up at that time.
Ingersoll: He must have been a planner at almost every stage of your life and perhaps your sisters' lives, too.
Murphy: He looked at the future. He was always trying to figure out where we were going to be ten years from now, who was going to take over, how you're going to do that and so forth. I think that's what he was looking at then. We were young then, so he wanted to expose us to all three of the offices, the main offices, so that you'd have a fairly good idea, knowing the people. The main thing was knowing the people in those cities, because in order to run the Afro-American newspapers, as my daughter does today, you really have to know people in the areas where the newspaper is published. It's all very well for the editor to know them, but if you're going to move on up as the chairman of the board or president of the company, you have to know the people up and down the corridor where your newspaper is.
Ingersoll: Then when you moved from Richmond to Washington and back to Baltimore, there was a change in your career, and you went a little more toward education. Tell me a little bit about that transition.
Murphy: I had three children at the time, and it was time to put a little firmer hand on their education, a little more guidance. I was at that time thinking of getting a divorce. So my father thought that that would be the time to go back to school and get my master's degree. I did not have any education courses, because we took all journalism at University of Wisconsin, so the first thing I did was go back to Coppin State Teachers College and get a bachelor's degree in education. I did that first and got a job in the public schools in Baltimore.
Then my dad, as you heard me say, was chairman of the board of Morgan State College, and they needed a head of their news bureau. So he suggested that I go back to college and get my master's degree so I could teach on the college level. He felt I'd have more time with the children, and he was correct. I went back to Johns Hopkins [University] and got my master's degree, which was fun, because he helped me do that. He read all my books at the same time I was reading them, so we studied together. So that was a lot of fun. When I got ready to take my comprehensive exams, in those days Johns Hopkins gave four-hour comprehensive exams, I'm sure he could have walked in that room and taken that exam along with me. [Laughter.] But we studied together for things like that, and I got my master's degree, then got appointed to Morgan State College as head of their news bureau and a professor of English. So I taught journalism at Morgan State and headed the news bureau at the same time.
Ingersoll: Then later you went on and got another degree at Johns Hopkins, didn't you?
Murphy: Yes. That was when I got my master's at Johns Hopkins.
Ingersoll: I thought that was so interesting, and the picture of his embracing you, you embracing him [father], when you got your degree from an institution where he hadn't been able to enter.
Murphy: He had been turned down.
Ingersoll: Tell us a little more about that.
Murphy: When he was a professor at Howard University, he applied to Johns Hopkins to get his master's degree, and Johns Hopkins said, no, they weren't going to have any black students at that time. He was working on the railroad during the summer, and he ran into this man who he told about the fact that he had been turned down by Johns Hopkins, and he said to him, "Would you like to go to Harvard?" Of course, I'm sure he said yes. So the man arranged for him to have his interviews at Harvard, and Harvard accepted him, so he got his master's degree at Harvard College instead of Johns Hopkins. Therefore, when I went to get my master's at Hopkins, of course he was tremendously pleased, because they turned him down. My daughter got her master's there, and he would be pleased to know today that his granddaughter also, my daughter, has gotten her master's at Johns Hopkins.
Ingersoll: That was a lovely picture, I thought, in 1973, when your daughter got her degree, and her sister was there, the little boy who is now the fifth generation working with the Afro was there.
Murphy: Kevin Peck.
Ingersoll: Had your father died by that time?
Murphy: Yes. When she came along, my father had died by that time.
Ingersoll: Unfortunately he wasn't able to be in on that occasion as he had been on yours.
Ingersoll: Then intermittently, it seems, you taught at various colleges and universities, and sometimes worked at the Afro at the same time. Can you outline that a little bit?
Murphy: You heard me say I taught at Morgan State College, now Morgan State University. I left Morgan State and went back to the Afro as chairman of the board and chief executive officer. While I was chief executive officer back in the seventies, I also taught at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County. After my tenure there as chairman of the board, I left Baltimore and got married again and moved to Buffalo, New York, and became a tenured professor at the State University College at Buffalo while I was up there. Then I got this nice little idea to come back home and take a sabbatical, so after seven years up there, I took a sabbatical and came back and was able to get on the faculty of Howard University, where I became associate professor of journalism there.
Ingersoll: What do you feel were some of the most important things that you taught your students through those years?
Murphy: As I look back over some of the student evaluations and so forth, I think maybe the thing they think I taught them was the fact that this is hard work out here and nothing is easy. I had a student come in the other day, who said to me, "You know, I thought you were so tough on me,
but now that I've been out here for a couple of years, what you really did teach me is that this is what I was supposed to expect. There is nothing easy. If you really want it, you have to work hard for it." I would not allow a student to come in my classroom late. I never accepted a late paper. In fact, if you handed me one, I may be inclined to tear it up and give it back to you, because I told them at the beginning of the semester what was expected, and that's what I expected of them. I locked my door. I always loved to have eight o'clock classes, because I locked my door at eight o'clock. You either got there at eight o'clock or you didn't come in.
I think through the years what I really was trying to say to them is, "If you're going to make it out here, you've got to be better than anybody else." I think most of them learned that. I'm not just talking about black students, because at State University College at Buffalo, most of my classes were nothing but white students. Most were first generation students. This was the first generation in college, and they were having difficulty also accepting some of the things that they had to face later in life. So therefore I think they also got the message. I hear from a lot of them, too, and now they're in nice jobs throughout the country. I think they appreciate someone who sets the rules and says, "You're going to abide by the rules." I think most of my students got that from my classes.
Ingersoll: Then you did a number of summer workshops for minority journalism students, didn't you?
Murphy: Yes. I would take minority high school students and do workshops during the summer for one week, two weeks. The one in Buffalo we did in conjunction with the Buffalo Daily News, where they would go into the Buffalo Daily News. We're talking about high school students now. They'd live on campus, go in and work at the Buffalo Daily News, and get a feel for a newsroom and put out their own newspaper. In Buffalo, they inserted the newspaper into the Daily News paper so that everybody could see what they had done for those two weeks. At Howard University, I did about the same thing. We worked with USA Today, and they, along with a lot of other newspapers, including the Afro, helped support this by money, but the actual paper was done at USA Today, and they were able to publish a newspaper here.
Ingersoll: Even now, do you sometimes have students coming into the Afro to see how a real newspaper works?
Murphy: Yes, we bring interns in. We have a lot of interns who are here. Right now we have a lot of interns here from the various colleges, mostly [they] come from Howard University and the [University of] District of Columbia. Now and then we'll get an American University intern, but most of them come from Howard and UDC. We'll have some high school students who come in every now and then just to be around us. There's a program put on by City Lights that will place students here, and they'll place two or three students. In fact, we're getting ready to have two or three right now who will come in and work in the various departments, just come in and learn what it means to punch a clock at a certain time, to take your lunch hour, to learn how to talk on the telephone, to file, and just to sit around and see what we do.
Ingersoll: What an important series of things for people to learn early in life.
Murphy: We hope it is, Fern.
Ingersoll: Let's go back just a little bit to the time when you were publisher and chief executive officer of the Afro-American.
Murphy: In the seventies.
Ingersoll: How did you get that position?
Murphy: That's always a good question, Fern, because you don't know how families work. Obviously the family had gotten together. You heard me saying I was working at Morgan State College. My dad had died. My cousin John Murphy was head of the company at that time. They weren't pleased with what was going on. They asked me if I would be interested in leaving Morgan State College and come take over the newspaper. I told them I would for a couple of years if I could turn it around. If I wouldn't, then I would go back to doing what I was doing. I gave it three or four years.
When you're dealing with a big family newspaper, where there are four hundred shares of stock outstanding, you really have to be masterful to pull that many diverging groups together to get what you want done. I was not able to do that, and I had sense enough at that point to face it and tell them, "Let someone else come along and do it." My daughter, who is now president of the company, and my cousin Jakey Oliver, who is in the same generation with them, the fourth generation, they are doing what I wish I could have been able to do. They are able to work. She is a master at getting people to sort of gel together. She has her MBA. You heard me say she also has her master's from Johns Hopkins. Right now she wants to go into some sort of psychiatry, and she's taking some courses there. But at the same time she's running the company and raising a family. I didn't have that kind of patience. I think I may have sat at my father's foot too long to not have that kind of patience. I want people to do things a certain way, and I don't have too much patience with people who don't see the future and understand what's coming down the road.
Now as publisher of the Washington Afro-American and working under my daughter, it's not hard to do, because she has her sights on the future. She understands what it's going to mean to us ten years from now and twenty years from now, and that's the way she looks. She doesn't believe that things have to be done immediately. I think it's the way and the style that you do things. I did not have that kind of masterful technique that my daughter has, and I wish I had. No, I don't. [Laughter.] I think people have their strengths and their weaknesses, and my strengths are more in writing and so forth, and her administrative ability is just outstanding.
Ingersoll: Then, of course, you were doing a number of other things at the same time you were CEO of the Afro. It seems as though you were in demand both locally and even internationally. You lectured in Sweden in 1972. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Murphy: Those were some difficult days for the United States of America. There was a lot of anti-American feeling all around the world, especially in Sweden. The State Department put together a group of people that they sent to the various areas, the troubled areas, and I was in the group that went to Sweden. We went to Stockholm and so forth. I think what they wanted was a black face to tell people, "Look. America isn't as bad as you all say it is. There are some black people in America who can speak out, who want to be Americans," and so forth. I was very fortunate because I took my youngest daughter with me, Susan, and she was a senior in high school at the time. So therefore, even though it wasn't planned that way, she was in great demand to talk to the teenagers, which is one of the groups that I didn't have to talk to, and answered their questions as they got a chance to see a young black teenager who knew how to talk, who was very self-contained, and be able to go one on one with her. Then I talked with many of the dignitaries, the diplomats, and so forth. So it was a lovely tour. I really enjoyed that one.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Ingersoll: There was a picture of you presenting some letters to the ambassador from the United States, Jerome Holland.
Murphy: We called him Brud Holland. What happened was, before I went to Sweden, I asked Afro readers to write letters to Dr. Holland, to tell him what they would like him to know about what they were doing in America and so forth, and really what did they want to know from him. It was just absolutely amazing. Hundreds of people wrote letters. We thought we were going to take just a handful of letters to Sweden, but we ended up putting them in this great big book to take over to him, and we presented it to him when I got there. So that's how that came about. It was just one of those ideas of, "Gee, let's take something from America over to him." Many people believe that you take a gift or something. We thought the best gift we could give him was some letters from Americans who thought like he did, who understood what he was trying to do. Of course, Brud Holland had been the former president of Hampton University, so it was really African-Americans here writing to an African-American over there. He really appreciated that. He read a lot of the letters aloud at press conferences all over Sweden.
Ingersoll: I bet he agreed that that was the best gift you could possibly have taken.
Murphy: He did. He said, "I can't imagine what else I could have had." He was able to say, "Here's a youngster writing to me," or, "Here's a housewife writing to me," or, "Here's a doctor writing to me," and so forth, from America. And they really were writing the letters to the Swedish people.
Ingersoll: Then I understand that you were appointed a member of the Maryland Bicentennial Commission. In one of the letters I looked at in your collection, someone said that you were the balance wheel on this commission. What did that mean?
Murphy: I think that letter was written by Rosenberg at the Rosenberg Commission on Education. What we were trying to do was to restructure the education system in the State of Maryland. It's interesting that even though that commission was way back there in the seventies, some of the things that we suggested way back in those days are just beginning to come to fore now. We wanted a system that would work within the University of Maryland, but we wanted Morgan State University to remain an independent university for African-Americans or anybody who wanted to come. We didn't want that under the University of Maryland. I was head of that committee that wrote that part, and this was the Rosenberg Commission on Education. I had been on the board of trustees at the state college at the time, and so therefore I was appointed by the governor to the Rosenberg Commission.
Ingersoll: Was the Rosenberg Commission a separate thing from the Bicentennial Commission?
Murphy: Yes. The Bicentennial Commission was one just for that year or two years, but the Rosenberg Commission was a study commission to study the education in the State of Maryland.
Ingersoll: And you were successful in keeping Morgan State as a separate entity, weren't you?
Murphy: Yes. We were able to shepherd through the state legislature a bill that made Morgan State a university and let it stand on its own two feet. We were not able to keep out the Eastern Shore, but we were able to keep out Morgan State and Coppin State College.
Ingersoll: Then you held various offices in the NAACP, which culminated later in you being a member of the board of directors in 1983 to 1985. Of course, that was after the period when you
were chief executive officer of the Afro. There was something that came up at that period where Margaret Bush Wilson was involved. Can you tell a little bit about that?
Murphy: Many people may remember Margaret Bush Wilson, who was one of the witnesses at the Clarence Thomas* hearing. But at the time, she was chairman of the board of the NAACP. You have to remember that the NAACP at that time, and maybe still is, was made up of a lot of men who had a little difficulty understanding the strengths of some of the women of today, so therefore when Margaret had decided, "Wait a minute. We need to take a look at Ben Hooks' salary," that we had some difficulty with the amount of money he was being paid as head of the organization, and we felt that board members should not have lifetime appointments to the board, that there should be term limits and so forth. These were some of the things that Mrs. Wilson was pushing as a board member. There are sixty-five members on this board. Here again, a huge board, [with] which she had some difficulty. Of course, Dr. Hooks was able to split the board in his favor, so Margaret was ousted.
I was one of the few women who stood with her, so therefore I had some difficulty remaining on the board after that, but my strong feeling was that she was just a little bit ahead of her time. She laid the groundwork for what came later, because I think there isn't an organization in this country now that doesn't understand that women are going to have their voices on these boards, and therefore the men are going to have to share some of this power with us. This is all that Margaret was talking about. She was saying that she wanted it open, she wanted people to be able to see what was going on. She wanted accurate reports. She did not feel that we needed to pay someone $100,000 or $110,000 or $112,000 to run the NAACP, and she felt that there should be different ways of doing things. As we look now at the NAACP and where it's going today, we can see that the restructuring is now coming along the lines as Margaret Bush Wilson proposed way back there in the seventies, and that new leadership is about to come on board at the NAACP, because, as you know, Dr. Hooks is retiring.
Ingersoll: Would you say that that was the first time a woman's voice had really been heard in the NAACP?
Murphy: Raised, and loudly. [Laughter.] I'm sure. I don't know whether that was the first time, because I'm sure some of the earlier women must have done some of the same kinds of things. But in a day when television picks things up and you hear it nationwide, it doesn't just go into minutes, it goes nationwide and people hear it. Maybe that's the difference. Fern, I think today when you do things in organizations supported by the public, no longer can you hide what goes on. It's public knowledge. That's the difference in this fight as compared to other fights that may have been happening. You have to hold a press conference afterwards, because the press eventually heard about it.
One of the things they tried to do was censure me because I wrote the Afro stories about what was going on. Of course, that's how it originally got out. I'm sitting on the board, and I'm not going to sit still. After all, this is a public organization, so, of course, I wrote the story about the salary fight and the fight that Margaret was having. So I think what really happened there is that the public got the general knowledge of what was going on, so it no longer became just a fight among sixty-five board members, it became a public fight.
* In October 1991, Senate hearings on the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court focus on the charges by law professor Anita Hill who claims that Thomas had sexually harassed her in the past. Thomas is confirmed by the Senate 52 votes to 48.
Ingersoll: Let's talk a little more about your current position as publisher of the Afro-American. I think it's so interesting that your daughter invited you to come and take that position. How did that happen?
Murphy: I'm publisher only of the Washington Afro-American, because Jake Oliver is the publisher of the Afro-American newspapers, which means Baltimore, Washington, and Richmond, and the other two products we have, Dawn magazine and Every Wednesday. But this happened because I was here. I had come back from Buffalo, and I was doing research at Howard on my father's papers. She had a vacancy here because Art Carter was ill and was retiring. So we talked about it, and I said, "Since you are going to take over the company." It had been quite a fight. We had formed a new trust. My family, the Carl Murphy family, had a large block of stock. We joined in with John Oliver and the George B. Murphy family to form a new trust to oust the people who were in control of the paper at the time. A nice little family fight. So therefore, that is where we got again control of the paper in 1986. Then my daughter became president of the company, and young Jake Oliver became chairman of the board. At that time, she was looking for someone to take over the Washington office, and she suggested I come in part time as publisher of the Washington Afro, and try to pull the Washington Afro back together again. That's what I've been able to do, and I'm quite proud of that. Then eventually I retired from Howard and devoted full time to this.
Ingersoll: Let's talk a little bit about your responsibilities here in the context of the black press generally. I think you told me once that you felt that one of the goals of the black press and of the Afro-American was to set the record straight. Do you think that this is something that comes from your father's thinking, too?
Murphy: It's interesting you said that, because today's Afro, that comes out today on the date of December the fifth, has an exclusive interview with the husband of Mayor [Sharon Pratt Dixon] Kelly [of Washington, D.C.], and it was interesting that he wanted to give that interview to the Afro-American newspapers because he was so sick and tired of people saying what wasn't so, and he wanted a newspaper to tell exactly what his job was and how he came about it, how long he and Mayor Kelly had been friends. The romance had started only because their children knew each other. So it was real interesting that he felt that the only way to get that out was to give the story to us. He said, "You all are going to print it exactly as I tell you, so I know it can be right." So this has really been our job all through the years.
People will call us and say, "Will you all please print a story, because everybody else has got it wrong." We find that many other newspapers will look for the negatives and not the positives. You and I both know in your family you're looking for something to hold people up. Certainly you're going to discipline. Certainly you're going to say what's wrong. What you're looking for is something I can say good about them. That's what the Afro does. Certainly we're going to fuss abut things we feel are wrong in the community, but at the same time there are a lot of good things coming along in this community. We feel, for instance, that our job is to talk about what the kids are doing right in schools. You hear so many negative things of what they're doing wrong. So I think that's the main job of the Afro, is to make sure that the story gets out and gets on record and becomes a historical record of the good things going on in the African-American community.
Ingersoll: I asked you that about your father particularly because I remember a letter that I saw in his collection from Martin Luther King, Jr., from 1962 at the time of the sixth annual convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Birmingham, Alabama, when he wanted so much to have your father come down and cover it. Can you tell a little bit more about that?
Murphy: I think he asked, "I want you to come, because I want you to set the record straight."
Murphy: These were the years when he was under a lot of fire, people were saying things that he wasn't really doing, so he was telling my dad, "I want you to come to this conference, because I want you to hear really what our objectives are, how I'm going to go about being nonviolent, and really what we're fighting for," and so forth. So that was the reason for that letter, that invitation of, "Please come on down, because everybody else is saying what I'm not doing. I want the Afro to print what I really am doing."
Ingersoll: I remember another line in it was, "I want some reporting to be balanced reporting."
Murphy: That's right. He wanted balanced reporting on that.
Ingersoll: Then I thought the story [was very interesting] that you once told me about the way your father felt it was so important to cover the 1963 March on Washington when nobody else thought it was going to be an important event.
Murphy: Yes. Even up to that morning, Fern, the radio stations and everyone was saying, "There aren't going to be any people coming into Washington today. If they do come, there are going to be riots," and so forth. I remember that weeks before, my father had been printing stories about the fact that there was going to be a tremendous march on Washington, "Come as families. Bring your church. Bring everybody." He had contacted people all over the country. All the black newspapers in the country had been running stories, "Come to Washington. Show them that we care, we need jobs," and so forth.
So that morning, he had sent the whole staff from all the different Afros here into Washington, and I was among those who had come into Washington, along with other reporters. He had put us up in a hotel the night before, and that morning we got up and we even heard it that morning, "There's not going to be anybody in Washington." I can remember looking out the window and looking toward the pool and saying, "Wait a minute. Look at all these buses coming. Look at all these people coming." Then the crowd began to swell and to swell and to swell. It was just absolutely tremendous. It was just one of the most wonderful things that could have happened.
Then at the end of the day, there weren't any riots. It was just what they had said it was going to be: there were going to be speeches, people were going to be able to hear what was going on, and then, of course, they were going to go home peacefully. And that's what happened.
Ingersoll: Then your own covering of things like Mayor [Marion] Barry [of Washington, D.C.], I think, might fit into this same context. Tell a little bit about your coverage of Mayor Barry and also of the way you covered it when he was accused of taking drugs and sent to prison.
Murphy: One of the things that I think Mr. Barry did when he was mayor was that he would hold press conferences just for the black press. He would invite us all over to the Reeves Center, and we'd all go in the back way and go up on the eighth floor and sit down and talk with him one on one. This would be before he would release anything to the other press. It was always amazing to me. I used to say, "I don't think we (the white and black press) were all at the same press conference," because we'd (the black press) come out with a story saying one thing, and they'd come out with something that was altogether different. We'd call Mr. Barry, "Did you see both?"
He'd say, "I don't understand where they got that from." But I think he did that because he wanted to make sure that we carried it. Many times what we would do would be to carry the actual conference word for word. We'd tape it, so that you couldn't say we didn't have it on tape. We'd carry it word for word.
When Barry got into the trouble at the hotel and was later jailed, we felt that, yes, he'd done something wrong. Here again, yes, he'd done something wrong, but he got more punishment than he deserved. That was the reason why we supported him. We felt that no other person had been sent to jail for six months for a misdemeanor, fined $5,000, told to pay for his own jail term and for the time afterwards when he was on probation. This was cruelty, it was punishment beyond anything, and this is what rallied the black community. What they thought they were doing was hurting him, and what they did was hurt themselves, because they made him a martyr. This is really all they've done; they've made him a martyr. Here is a man who really needed nothing but someone to send him away for treatment, and that's what the judge should have done with him. He should have sentenced him to a year of treatment or six months of treatment. Instead, he put him in jail for six months. So, of course, he got everybody here in this town on his side. That's why he got reelected to the [City] Council, because people felt he got treated unfairly. If he'd have been treated fairly, this would never have happened. So this is the reason why we covered him.
I covered him from the last term that he became mayor up all through the trial. I made sure that I went down to the trial, even though I had other reporters down there. I would go down to the trial, because I knew Marion and Effi [Barry] and I could talk to them, and so did the reporters. Then when he was sent to jail, I was among those who he put on the list to come and interview him. So therefore we did one of the first interviews.
When they had that difficulty about some woman accusing him of doing something, I went down to the room to see for myself. He called me collect at least two or three times a week, because you can't call out from jail; they (the prisoners) call you collect. He would call me collect to let me know what was going on. When this broke, I said to him, "I need to come down and see the room. It's not that I don't believe you, but I want to see the room myself." When I got down there and saw the room, we took pictures of the room, then I said to myself, "Somebody's lying. There is no way in the world that I can sit in a chair like I'm sitting, and the things that this man and woman said happen could have happened." So I sat at the same table where he was sitting, and interviewed him right at that table, had our photographer take pictures. So we had a good story to show people, "Wait a minute now. This is the room. This is where he sat. This is where the guard was. You tell us something like this could have happened. Not true." These are the kinds of things that we've been able to do here at the Afro, because people trust us and say that we're going to tell the way it is.
Ingersoll: Then there was the coverage of his coming home. Tell a little bit about that, would you.
Murphy: They had said there was going to be a caravan to go up to the jail to bring him home, and they weren't going to allow any press on the buses at all but us. So, of course, we got two seats on the bus going up to bring him back, and we were able to be among the first to interview him and to come back with him and to follow him through to Reverend Willy Wilson's church over at Union Temple, and to be there for the celebration the next day, a Sunday. We were there for the celebration. It was packed and jammed. There weren't too many people who could get in, but when they saw us coming, they made way for us to get in, too. I think it's really interesting that all through this, through his election campaign and everything, even though the other press
was on the outside, he made sure that we came through the line and were able to get up to his house, where we were election night when he won the primary, where again we were when he actually won the election for city councilman from his district.
Ingersoll: I was interested in seeing that letter from Sam Lacy, where he asked, "Why in the world are you glorifying Mayor Barry and giving him front-page coverage?" What was your feeling about that?
Murphy: Sam is the oldest sportswriter in the country. He's been with the Afro-American all these years. He's eighty-some years old. He's a native Washingtonian. When Sam's letter came in, I said, "Sam must be speaking for a group of people out there who agree with him, so therefore we need to put Sam's letter in the paper, too." We were thinking one way, and Sam said, "Wait a minute. The Afro ought to be thinking another way." As I said, I think Sam must be eighty-three, eighty-four, eighty-five, but you can imagine, he's been a sportswriter here from his earliest days, so I think we owed him that respect to say, "Wait a minute. Sam's letter should go into the paper, too. He has a right to his opinion," and that's how we feel. Here again, there's balance, because he must speak for some other people out there who haven't written us letters. So Sam's needed to go in the paper.
Ingersoll: How about that time when [Louis] Farrakhan was invited here, and you invited other members of the black press? Tell about that a little bit.
Murphy: That was an interesting day. Minister Farrakhan was accused of being anti-Semitic. We said that we needed to listen carefully to what he was saying. The minister was coming into town. We wanted him to talk with the black press. We first made the overtures to his people. They said they didn't think so. Then they got to him, and he said, yes, he wanted to come and talk with us, and he wanted us to sit down with him. Yes, we could record the press conference and take pictures as we did. We really wanted to hear his complete program from him, and he told us about what he wanted, how he was talking about economic empowerment, that we need to wake up.
It's almost like the "Malcolm X" picture that everybody's seeing across the country now, how any group of people who would allow people to keep hitting them over the head without yelling are crazy. It's interesting as I think about what Minister Farrakhan said to us today and I think about what Congresswoman Maxine Waters said just recently, she said, "I'm tired of smiling in people's faces and saying everything's all right. Everything's not all right. Our people are suffering. When is somebody going to tell people they're suffering? The days of laughing and giggling and shuffling are over. If we're going to get our share of the American pie, we're going to have to start screaming and hollering."
That's all Farrakhan is doing. He's screaming and hollering. He's saying, "Wait a minute. I'm tired of you putting all my people in jail. They don't bring the drugs in town. They don't fly the planes in here. Go get those people who fly those planes." That's all he's saying. "I'm tired of the government sitting up there and saying they can't close these borders and keep these things out. They can do what they want to do. If we can go over there to the [Persian] Gulf and protect those people, then we need to protect our own citizens here. We need to educate everyone, not just the rich and the middle class. There are a lot of poor white people in town who need as much help as we need, and it's time our government takes a look at that." I think what Minister Farrakhan is saying is important to people to listen to. He's not against anybody; he's for us. So I think that's why he gets so much respect in this community. If you can imagine that he came to our office, he had with him men dressed in black suits with their little ties and their hats,
they stopped all traffic in the block. They had our steps lined with men that he walked through to come up to my office. You couldn't have gotten near Farrakhan if you wanted to, because he had his bodyguards with him. The whole time he was there, all of his people had the whole block just cordoned off. It was just absolutely amazing to watch them, very well disciplined, extremely, people that you could respect.
So I think what they're doing in the Nation is extremely important, and we have young men and women imitating them all over the place. They're going to be the most powerful bloc of people in this country, because young people are looking at them and demanding respect and getting it. That's all we need is respect.
Ingersoll: There are some people who say that now that the mainstream press is covering black events, as it didn't in the past, that there may not be a future for the black press. But this idea of being a balance, setting the record straight, is another point of view. How do you feel about it when people say that kind of thing?
Murphy: You know, Fern, I always say that the day we get rid of high school newspapers, the day we get rid of church newspapers, the day we get rid of Jewish newspapers and Catholic newspapers, that's the day that we don't need an African-American newspaper. But as long as there's a need for any of these periodicals, there's a need for us to speak for ourselves. I said the same thing to a group of high school students the other day, and they had asked the same question. They began to think about this. Are you going to get rid of your yearbooks? Who else does the job you do in your yearbooks? Who else does the same job that you do in your high school newspaper? Nobody. Nobody can do what you do for yourself. And if you don't do it for yourself, you're lost. You find me a high school that's moving ahead, and they've got a good newspaper in that high school. You find me one that the teachers are not doing what they're supposed to do, the principal's not doing what he's supposed to do, they don't have a newspaper. So I think that answers your question.
Ingersoll: It does, and you've answered many questions. Thanks so much for giving these kinds of insights into things that are difficult to understand sometimes.
Murphy: Fern Ingersoll, you make it very easy to talk. Thank you for coming and for this interview. [Tape interruption.]
[The following remarks by Frances Murphy identify pictures that appear at the end of the video. The first picture, a portrait of Carl Murphy which hangs in his daughter's office, is not identified.]
Murphy: John H. Murphy, Sr., was a former slave. He was an only child, and he was the founder of the Afro-American newspapers. He was my grandfather. He died the year I was born, in 1922.
What you're looking at here are two newspapers, the Sunday School Helper, the 1889 edition of the Sunday School Helper, and the 1893 edition of the Afro-American newspaper. The Sunday School Helper was published by John H. Murphy, Sr., the founder of the Afro-American newspapers, when he was a Sunday school superintendent in the A.M.E. Church. This is the forerunner of the Afro-American newspapers. He was editor of this, and as part of his Sunday
school work, he wanted his church members to know what was going on in the Sunday schools, so he published the Sunday School Helper.
When he got an opportunity to get his own printing equipment and so forth, which he bought at auction in 1892, he began to publish the Afro-American. This is an 1893 edition, and it cost three cents. So this is volume one, I think it is, around number thirty-two in the first year of publication.
My father, Carl James Greenbury Murphy, was a Harvard scholar, graduate of Howard University. He began his career teaching at his alma mater, Howard University, and where he went on to become head of the German department. In 1918, his father asked him to come home and help with the Afro-American newspapers. He moved back from Washington to Baltimore, and took over the newspaper as editor, where he remained for forty-nine years. He was really the main person who gave the Afro-American newspapers the tremendous growth it has experienced through the years. That picture must have been taken, it appears, around about the late forties or early fifties.
That is my mother, Vashti Turley Murphy. She was a native Washingtonian, and that picture must have been taken when she was a student at Howard University or maybe near graduation, I assume, when she was a senior. That was when she became a co-founder of Delta Sigma Theta sorority. I hope you'll move the camera down just a little bit so you can see those gorgeous leather gloves that she's wearing and that beautiful skirt that's flowing, that long skirt flowing on that suit. That was the dress of the day. She was just a tremendous person, very soft-spoken, a very good student at Howard University, and she was in my father's German class when she attended Howard, where she received her degree in education. She was a schoolteacher for a while in the city schools here in Washington before she married my father, Carl Murphy.
Ingersoll: That name Vashti is very interesting.
Murphy: Her name Vashti comes from the Bible, from Queen Vashti, who had her own mind about the way things should be done. When Queen Vashti was summoned by the king, she would refuse to come. He eventually had her executed, but she made a stand for women's rights. She said, "You will not summon me. I will come when I want to." And that was my mother. She didn't believe in being summoned. It's interesting to note that in our family there are a lot of Vashtis. My sister was Vashti Murphy, later Matthews. Then her granddaughter, the Reverend Vashti McKenzie, who has her own church, one of the largest churches in Baltimore today, Payne A.M.E. Memorial, who is national chaplain of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
This is a picture of my sisters and myself around about 1925 or '26, in front of our first home in Baltimore, 1051 Myrtle Avenue, which is, of course, no longer standing. From left to right, we have Carlita Murphy, who is now Jones, in Buffalo, New York. I'm next, Frances Murphy. Standing in the back there is Ida Murphy Peters, with her foot out there is my sister Vashti Murphy Matthews, who is one of the twins—she and Carlita are twins—and over on the right is my oldest sister Elizabeth Murphy Moss. You will note that we are wearing chinchilla coats. My father believed in blue chinchilla coats. We all had the same kind of coats, the same kind of hats, the same colored shoes, and he believed in keeping us in blue.
This is the picture of the five girls and Mother, Vashti Turley Murphy, in 1957. In this picture, in the front, kneeling, are the twins, Carlita Murphy Jones and Vashti Murphy Matthews. There's Mother in the middle. The oldest daughter, Elizabeth Murphy Moss, is on the left, and on the right is Ida Murphy Peters. I'm standing in the back there. Every Sunday we went to my
mother's for dinner, and every holiday we went to have dinner with my mother and dad. So evidently this is one of those occasions.
This is a picture of my mother and father at Morgan State University. This is taken about 1960, about a couple of months before my mother's death. You will note that my mother has a cane. At that time she had lost a leg. She had diabetes. But she's still smiling, which is just amazing when you stop to think of how painful that leg must have been.
This is a picture of my Aunt Frank, Frances L. Murphy the first. I'm named for her. This is obviously a picture when she was a young schoolteacher in the Baltimore City schools. She graduated from the Baltimore City schools and went on to teach right away. She later became a principal and head of the Teachers College at Coppin State College, and had a very full life in the Baltimore public schools. She never married.
This is a picture later on, after she retired from the Afro-American newspapers, and I think at that time she was still coming back to help with the Clean Block Campaign. She had helped write for the Afro during the years off and on, even while she was a schoolteacher. After she retired from doing that, then she came back and also conducted a Clean Block Campaign.
This is a group of workers in the Washington Afro-American newspapers Clean Block Campaign. We had for many years conducted the campaign here, but in 1991, we had another campaign. Here we are at the closing ceremonies. The campaign in Washington was sponsored by Ajax, and as you can see, we have the Ajax shirts on.
This is a picture taken in 1955 when my father, Carl Murphy, was awarded the Spingarn Medal, the highest award given by the NAACP to anyone in the country who they felt had done the most for civil rights. He's shown here with Thurgood Marshall, who at the time was chief counsel for the NAACP. Mr. Marshall, as you know, went on to become a justice on the Supreme Court. My father had worked very closely with Justice Marshall when he was attorney Marshall, and he had helped raise the funds which enabled attorney Marshall and those wonderful NAACP attorneys to carry their cases to the highest courts.
This shows the Afro building at 628 North Eutaw Street in Baltimore. This is the headquarters of the Afro-American newspapers. We'd been in this building since back in the early 1920s or 1930s. You will note here that this is during the war, 1940s, when they had the sandbags around. This is before they remodeled the building. They took over a whole block after this one.
Many years ago, my dad had applied for Johns Hopkins University, and had been turned down. But in 1963, he was on hand when I received my master's of education degree from Johns Hopkins. This was a great joy to him to be able to think that we had come this far and had made this much progress, where any black person who wanted to could go to this university.
This is a proud moment, of course, in the history of the family. You heard me say that in 1963 I received my master's degree from Johns Hopkins University and that my father, when he applied in his lifetime, early in his lifetime, they had turned him down and wouldn't let him go. Now here again, my daughter, Frances Murphy Draper, is getting her master's of education degree from Johns Hopkins. On the side there is my youngest daughter Susan Murphy Barnes, who is now married, with six children. In front there is Kevin Peck, her [Toni's] son, who is now the advertising manager in Baltimore and Washington of the Afro-American newspapers.
[End Tape 1, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Murphy: Newspaper offices are busy places, and from time to time we have schoolchildren come in, who want to see what you're doing, who want to just stay in the newspaper office and listen to what goes on. This is a group of students who came to visit, and I had my picture taken with them. It looks like a summer workshop of students. We enjoy just having them come and talk to us so they can find out what we do, so they can make up their minds what they want to do with their lives.
The State Department invited me as chairman of the board of the Afro-American newspapers in the early seventies to lecture in Sweden, and I thought at the time, what a wonderful time to have the Afro readers write letters to Ambassador Jerome Holland, who was the former president of Hampton University, and tell him what's going on in the United States. So I took a scrapbook of letters on this trip with me, and here you see me presenting this scrapbook to Ambassador Holland over there in Sweden. Ambassador Holland, after his tour of duty in Sweden, left the post and returned to the United States and became a member of the New York Stock Exchange.
This is a letter dated September 1962 from the Reverend Martin Luther King [Jr.], president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, to my father, Carl Murphy, of the Afro. Dr. King is asking him to please send a reporter to his next meeting so that he can get balanced reporting. This is interesting. He's saying, "It is my deep concern that there be some reporting and balanced reporting." So obviously he, too, was complaining that he was not getting balanced reporting about what he was trying to do at that time.
This is a picture taken at the annual banquet put on by the Capital Press Club here in Washington. This is an organization of newspaper people—media people, I should say—one of the oldest in the country of African-American media people. Of course, it's open to anyone now who cares to join, because there are a lot of members from all races here in this organization. This is the awards night. In this picture you'll see Mayor Marion Barry and myself, Frances Murphy, and that's Denise Yourse, who was our city editor at the time.
This is a picture of the Petersburg Correctional Institution, where former Mayor Marion Barry served part of his time up until the time that he was accused of a sexual incident, which he denies. I went to visit this institution because I really didn't see how anything like this could happen, and so when I got down to the Petersburg Correctional Institution, I asked the warden if I could go over to the visitors' room and sit at the table where Mr. Barry had sat, and take pictures and tape an interview. He gave me that permission to do that. So I'm sitting at the actual table where Mr. Barry was sitting that day when he had a visitor, and you will note that I'm asking him questions and recording it all at the same time. I'm asking him what had happened. He's telling me that, no, no such thing happened. He's explaining to me where the guard sat. I'll show you a little bit later a picture of the entire room. We can see where the guard was sitting. Once I walked off that room, and once I took a look at where the guard was, I knew that there could not have been the kind of incident that the other newspapers were reporting. The only reason why I went is because I wanted to see for myself. I had talked to Mr. Barry over the telephone. He had denied that it had happened, and I'd asked him, "Put me on your visitors' list and let me come see for myself."
Here is the room, the entire room. I put my coat, as you can see my coat, over the chair there. I put my coat there because I couldn't pan it [the camera] too well to get a picture from where the guard was sitting, so the coat gives you some indication of about where the guard was,
where he would be walking around those tables. You can see that if you can think about someone walking around, not sitting down, but walking around, it's pretty hard not to see everything that's going on. This room, as you can see, doesn't hold too many people. It is not too large. So therefore there's not much that could go on in this room, with a guard sitting at a station and walking around, that he wouldn't see what was happening. So I have to believe Mr. Barry that it didn't happen.
At the end of Marion Barry's six-month term, he had been moved to Loretto, Pennsylvania, and a bunch of buses went up to bring him home in a caravan. Some of the daily press said that most of the people on this trip were older people, so rather than talk about it in news stories, we showed it in pictures, of just who was there. If you'll look at the pictures here and the faces of the people, you will note that they are all ages at this celebration, this "welcome home" celebration for Marion Barry. You will also note that they're dressed in all different ways, so therefore they're from all economic levels. It was a joyous occasion. They went up to welcome this man home from prison, because at this point, many people in the community felt that he had served his time and wanted to welcome him back to the community. This is May 2, 1992. You will see the luncheon. You will see the celebration that took place in the church afterwards, and you will see pictures of the people there on the road to Loretto, Pennsylvania. I forgot about the ministers. Look at all the ministers.
Ingersoll: I thought it was interesting that one of the ministers who preached used the theme of the prodigal son.
Murphy: Yes, you're right, the welcome home of the prodigal son. I think it was Reverend Willy Wilson who spoke there, and he was saying, "Many times when people say that you shouldn't do things like this, they can't be Christians, because Christians forgive. It's our teaching that you're supposed to forgive, and that every time you stumble, if there's no one there to pick you up, we would be a terrible race of people."
Ingersoll: And that the last time he looked around, he hadn't seen anybody who hadn't sinned in some way.
Murphy: Yes. He was talking about even the ministers there. He said, "You look around this room and you tell me you have committed no sin at all. You're not human. Everyone has sinned. Otherwise, there would be no Jesus Christ. There would be no need to forgive sins." I thought that was interesting. I think we forget many times our own home teachings. As I've pointed out to many a reporter, you forget sometimes what you were taught at home. You get out there in this rat race, and if you leave all your principles behind, that's terrible.
Stein (videographer): It's naive to ask the question of why do black people and white people not get along better, but I'm concerned—
Murphy: No, it's not. You live in two different worlds. Just like I said to you a little bit earlier, the average person with a job here in the United States does not think black or white, because you don't see black or white people, no more than I saw them when I was growing up. You live in your own world. You have your own struggles. You don't have time to be bothered.
Stein: Yes, except people fear, even though they don't know. If they knew, they wouldn't fear. But there's this terrible problem with fear. When you fear, you judge. When you judge, you can't possibly understand. And if you don't understand, then—
Murphy: That's the way the country's been set up. We were going toward equalizing everything, and then all of a sudden, we turned around and we're running in the other direction now. That's really what scares you, because believe it or not, two-thirds of this world is black. You are living in a century where whites are basically in control, but everybody talks about what's going to happen in the next hundred years. You can't keep having millions and millions of people under one person's control. That's what we have in South Africa. If South Africa ever erupts, as we expect it to be, it's just going to be the worst holocaust you've ever seen. If they ever let those people loose, we're scared.
Ingersoll: They have suffered so much.
Murphy: They have suffered so. But if they ever get loose and really get together—do you remember how many people were on that march the other day? They had 10,000! Oh, it's scary. It's so scary, if they ever feel their real power, and it's not just going to be white people, it's all the rest. They're going to walk over the rest of this world.
Ingersoll: One of my very good friends married a liberal South African and has been a member of the Black Sash for many, many years. She comes every year to see her mother here, and talks about conditions there, and goes back again. I worry, because even as a member of the Black Sash—
Murphy: We say, and we've been saying it over and over again here as we watch this country, that if the South Africans ever do what the United States of America did and go to civil war, it's going to be terrible.
Stein: They said the Civil War was the first [unclear] even seen bloodshed.
Murphy: You just wait till the next one comes along. We might not be here to see it.
Stein: And supposedly South Africa has the bomb.
Murphy: Not just South Africa, but if you think of the Chinese, who've got to turn, and then you think of them being led, as everybody assumes this war is going to be led by the Japanese, we assume that the war that's going to be taking place will be led by the Japanese, who are going to get the support of the black South Africans, but the Japanese and the black South Africans against the rest of the world, it's going to be terrible.
Stein: The Japanese are as racist as anyone. Why would black South Africans cotton to them?
Murphy: Because they want— [Tape interruption.] And he [Frances Murphy's son] works day by day with hundreds and hundreds of doctors and medical people. His office is mixed. His nurses are white and black. His patients are white and black. When he walks into a hospital, my son is very brown-skinned, and when he walks into the hospital, it's all over the hospital, "Here comes Dr. Wood." Everybody's waiting for him. He operates with computers with the lasers, so when he goes into your knee, it doesn't even leave a scar. It's beautiful to watch him operate.
This is a picture of the 1963 March on Washington. This was the march on Washington that, two or three days before, and up until the last couple of minutes, you heard on the news broadcasts that there weren't going to be many people in Washington today, and those who would come, there was going to be a lot of confrontation. My father had said to us, weeks before, that he wanted every single editor on duty at the March on Washington, because it was going to be a
tremendous march. I was not assigned to Washington in those days, and I was brought in to help cover this march. I brought with me my young son, who got lost in the crowd. I finally found him over in the medical tent, trying to help people who were in that tent. He later became a doctor. But this was just tremendous, to think that up until the last minute, they said nobody was going to come, and that morning when we got out of bed and looked out of our hotel window, we could see the buses just streaming into Washington. It proved all the white news media wrong, that people were interested in jobs, and they came—not just black people, but white people from all walks of life came to this march on Washington.
This is a picture taken at the National Guard Armory in Washington, D.C., and that tall young man that you see standing behind me is my grandson Kevin Peck. He is, of course, the young man we have our eyes on for the future. Right this minute he is advertising manager for the Afro-American newspapers in Baltimore and Washington, and I say that with a great deal of pride, because just the other day, as we were putting together the hundredth anniversary edition, we had some problems in our Baltimore plant, and while Fern Ingersoll was interviewing me, he called to say to me, "Grandmother, I'm on my way to Baltimore to take care of the paper. You don't have to come." So his mother is the president of the company, which is the fourth generation, and he is the fifth generation already coming in, and that's Kevin Eric Peck.
[On April 29, 1993, Frances Murphy wrote the following addendum to her oral history memoir]:
This oral history would not be complete if I did not mention other influences on my life which have helped me remain sane.
The first is my church and my strong belief in God. I was confirmed at St. James African Episcopal Church (now just St. James Episcopal Church) in Baltimore in 1937.
Since that time I have not lived in any city where I have not become a hard-working member of a church. I have sung in choirs, been a member of the associate vestry, headed committees, served on the flower guild, the altar guild, and been a Sunday school teacher. But above all, I have been a faithful communicant who believes that you have to live a Christian life inside and outside the church.
Another influence on my life has been the numerous organizations I have worked with and for. I will not recant the names of boards and committees I have served on, but it is sufficient to say that these networking groups have made the difference between being on the inside and being on the outside.
As a member of Delta Sigma Theta, the international social service sorority co-founded by my mother, I have been able to go into a strange city and find instant friends. Deltas throughout this continent have been supportive of the Afro-American newspapers, and we, in turn, have supported their various projects.
Another group founded by my mother in Baltimore, the Philomathians (Lovers of Learning), of which I am now president, is a study group that holds a dinner meeting once a month to listen to speakers talk about current events. This organization is typical of the support groups that exist in our communities to help professional women stay abreast of what is going on in the world.
My membership in the Links, Inc., another national group, the NAACP, and in even my various bridge and poker clubs have given me a supportive network. But the basic support comes
from my immediate family—my sisters, my children and grandchildren, and the large Murphy clan which has helped the Afro-American newspapers exist these past hundred years.
© 1993, Washington Press Club Foundation.
Washington, DC. All Rights Reserved.