Thursday, November 22, 2007

From A Family of Writers | Frances L. Murphy II | 1922-2007

I had to post my great-aunt's obituary in case no one ever shared her story...a story of a family, five sisters, a woman who not only inspired me but made me who I am. I owe this to her. I'm dealing with this is my own way... (love to everyone who sent love/condolences to me and my family)


Publisher of Afro-American Fought to Set Record Straight
By Joe Holley and Hamil R. Harris

Washington Post Staff Writers

Thursday, November 22, 2007; Page B01

Frances L. Murphy II, 85, publisher emeritus of the longest-running African American family-owned newspaper in the United States, died yesterday of cancer-related illnesses at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore.

Murphy, known as Frankie Lou, followed in the footsteps of her grandfather, John H. Murphy Sr., a former slave and Civil War veteran who founded the Afro-American in Baltimore in 1892. The Washington edition is its sister paper.

Her father, Carl Turley Murphy, was publisher from 1922 until his death in 1967. During his tenure, the Afro, as it is called, published twice-weekly editions in as many as 13 cities, including Washington, Richmond, Philadelphia and communities in New Jersey. It had a circulation during the 1950s and '60s of more than 200,000.

Murphy became publisher and chief executive of Afro-American Newspapers in 1971. Like her father, she presided over the company at a time when black media were indispensable to African American communities in the United States. The Afro-American, the Chicago Defender, the Pittsburgh Courier and other black newspapers were not only prime news sources but society bulletin boards for communities ignored by white media. They were also training grounds for black journalists and advertising outlets for black-owned businesses.

"Without the black press, many of the things that have happened would never have happened," Murphy, who also headed the Washington Afro, told an oral history interviewer in 1992. "We say that there's a record of almost everything that went on because of the black press. And an accurate record."

The interviewer reminded Murphy that she had said her special purpose as a black newspaper publisher was "to set the record straight," to correct misperceptions and distortions in mainstream media.

Murphy agreed and recalled media coverage of the 1992 Democratic National Convention, which featured speeches by former U.S. representative Barbara Jordan (D-Tex.) and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Murphy said that her reporters were much more astute in their coverage of the two speeches than their mainstream counterparts.

She said she thought that black journalists also helped set the record straight during the scandal involving Marion Barry's use of crack cocaine when he was mayor of Washington. "Yes, we go out of our way to bend over backwards to give him the benefit of the doubt, because so many others are bending the other way," she said in 1990.

"We emphasize things that are important to black people," she told The Washington Post during Barry's trial.

"Frances Murphy was one of the last of the old guard in the black press," said Jake Oliver, publisher and chief executive of Afro-American Newspapers. "She knew how to approach a story. She knew how to address the interest of the community. But in addition to preserving a rich heritage of this organization that dates back 115 years, she was a disciple of new technology."

Oliver, Murphy's cousin, said she rarely went anywhere without a reporter's notebook. "She believed in being connected in every which way," he said.

Murphy, the youngest of five girls, was born in Baltimore, and she grew up immersed in the family business. As a youngster, she and her sisters delivered the paper as "newsboys" to the Murphy family's Baltimore neighbors, including NAACP founder W.E.B. DuBois.

Later, she spent her summers at various jobs at the newspaper plant and covered a succession of beats as a reporter, including crime, traditionally a male preserve. She was city editor of the Baltimore Afro-American from 1954 to 1957.

She received an undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin in 1944, an undergraduate degree in education from Coppin State University in 1958 and a master's degree in education from Johns Hopkins University in 1963.

She was publisher and chief executive of Afro-American Newspapers from 1971 to 1975, when she moved to Buffalo, where she was an associate professor and head of the journalism sequence at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

In 1984, she returned to Washington to teach journalism at Howard University; two years later, she became publisher of the Washington Afro-American. She taught at Howard until 1991.
Murphy said she believed that the Afro-American belonged to the community, a daughter noted, and she promoted participatory journalism by encouraging readers of the Washington edition to compile their family histories and send them to the paper, along with photographs.
In 1995, she was a principal organizer of the Million Man March. "Almost all of us agreed that the goal was to reverse the balance in the black family and create a partnership with our men, like it was originally, before slavery," she told The Post.

Murphy was a life member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, co-founded by her mother, Vashti Turley Murphy, at Howard University. She was also a member of the Links, a life member of the Urban League and a past president of the Episcopal Church Women of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Washington.

In Baltimore, where she lived in the family home her parents built in 1929, she was a member of the vestry of St. James Episcopal Church and the choir.

Murphy's column, "If You Ask Me," has long been one of the most popular features of the Afro-American. Each week she announced weddings, births, social gatherings and other community events. Her final column will appear this week in the Baltimore Afro-American.

Her marriages to James E. "Biddy" Wood Sr., Clarence Henderson and Charles Campbell ended in divorce.

Survivors include three children from her first marriage, the Rev. Frances "Toni" Murphy Draper and Dr. James M. Wood Jr., both of Baltimore, and the Rev. Susan Barnes of Biloxi, Miss.; a stepson from her third marriage, David Lloyd Campbell of Baltimore; 16 grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren.