Dr. Carl J. Murphy

Dr. Carl J. Murphy, publisher, civil rights activist and educator (Maryland Historical Society / February 12, 2007)

Dr. Carl J. Murphy
1889-1967

Dr. Carl J. Murphy was born in Baltimore on Jan. 17, 1889, the son of John H. Murphy Sr. and Martha Howard Murphy. His father, a former slave in Montgomery County who served in the Union Army and won his freedom, went on to found the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper.

Murphy graduated from Frederick Douglass High School and received his B.A. from Howard University in 1911 and a M.A. from Harvard University in 1913. In the summer of 1913 he attended the University of Jena in Germany.

He returned to Howard University that year as an instructor in German and in 1918 he became head of the school's German department. In 1916 he married Vashti Turley.

Murphy gave up teaching and joined the Afro-American newspaper owned by his father to become its editor in the summer of 1918. Murphy immersed himself in his new career, learning all aspects of the newspaper business. His father died in 1922 and he was elected by his family to assume the role of publisher and chief editor of the newspaper, a position he would hold for the next 49 years.

The Afro-American under Murphy's leadership became one of the largest circulating, most influential and most financially successful African-American newspapers in the country. He greatly expanded the distribution area of the newspaper and produced a national edition as well as editions in Philadelphia, Richmond, Newark and other cities. He hired the best writers, artists and intellectuals and sent his reporters around the globe. During World War II, his reporters were dispatched to cover African-American soldiers abroad.

A vigorous civil rights crusader, the paper's headlines and editorials fought a continual battle against segregation. Murphy became chairman of the legal defense committee of the NAACP in 1935. He gave his time, talent and financial resources to this cause. He worked with Charles Houston and Thurgood Marshall on desegregating public schools and colleges -- from the University of Maryland starting with the Donald Murray case in 1935 to all public schools with the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. He worked to desegregate restaurants, theaters, department stores, the armed forces and anywhere else where segregation existed. Murphy was also a strong foe of capital punishment.

Murphy, a devoted supporter of Morgan State University, is credited with being the chief architect of its expansion plan. The Fine Arts Building and auditorium are named in his honor, as is the Carl J. Murphy Scholarship Fund.

He often quoted his father as saying, "I measure a newspaper not in building, equipment and employees. Those are the trimmings. A newspaper succeeds because its management believes in itself, in God and in the present generation."

--Paul McCardell