During the period that Frances Murphy and I were working on her oral history, 1991-1992, her keen sense of family and journalistic history was whetted by preparation for the hundredth anniversary of the Afro-American. She was searching the Afro files which go back as far as 1892 when her grandfather, John H. Murphy Sr., who was born into slavery, founded the newspaper. As chairman of the board of the Afro (1971-1974) and currently Washington publisher, Frances Murphy has been one of the important links in the family chain stretching through five generations from her grandfather to her daughter Frances M. Draper, currently president, and cousin John J. Oliver Jr., currently chairman of the board, and even to her grandson Kevin Peck, who is manager of advertising.
She was reviewing years of the Afro not only to help produce the special centennial edition but also to draw ideas of what had worked for the newspaper in the past and might be applied to the present and future.
While she was going through back issues of the Afro for these purposes, I went through the many volumes of her scrapbooks dating from her early childhood to the present. Here were glimpses of her life as the youngest of five sisters whom her father, Carl Murphy, called his "boys." As editor of the Afro from 1922 to 1967, Carl Murphy saw to it that his children all sold the paper and, when they were older, they all wrote for it. The oldest sister, Elizabeth Murphy, who was a foreign correspondent for the Afro-American and other black press newspapers during World War II, wrote a chapter on her experience for This Is Our War. It is included in the appendices of the printed copies of this oral history (not available on line).
In her scrapbooks there are also many glimpses of Carl Murphy and Ms. Murphy's mother, Vashti Turley Murphy. Not only was Carl Murphy a leader in the Murphy family dynasty, but in the life of black America as well. In a childish hand, there are notes little Frances took when her father had conferences with other black leaders. He wanted her to learn to listen well. Since this oral history is Frances Murphy's story, I did not ask to see the nineteen boxes of letters of Carl Murphy, which she has been editing, but they contain letters from Thurgood Marshall, asking Carl Murphy to take on the responsibility for getting money to finance civil rights cases and from Martin Luther King, Jr., urging him to cover a particularly crucial meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference so there would be "balanced reporting."
Interestingly, Frances Murphy feels that "balanced reporting" or "setting the record straight" is the mission of the Afro-American. Too often, she feels, the mainstream press fails to give the full picture of events involving ethnic minorities.
As a professor of journalism at Morgan State College, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, [New York] State University College at Buffalo and Howard University, Frances Murphy has tried to impart her own high standards to a younger generation, training them to ask the right questions, talk to people with a variety of views, and steer clear of "pack" journalism. She has been responsible for several summer journalism seminars for urban minority youths.
Beyond the profession of journalism, she has made many community contributions such as service on the Maryland Bicentennial Committee. In 1973 "The Frances Murphy Collection on the Maryland Bicentennial" was presented to the Eisenhower Library of the Johns Hopkins University.
Two other research sources were very useful in preparation for this oral history. The first was an unpublished manuscript by Hayward Ferrar entitled, "See What the Afro Says: The Baltimore Afro-American 1892-1950." The second was the Afro-American Archives at Bowie State College (Md.) where the guidance of Carey Beth Cryor was invaluable.
Fern S. Ingersoll
May 17, 1993
© 1993, Washington Press Club Foundation.
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