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Frances Murphy II, a Black Media Institution, Passes at 85

First Woman Chair of the Afro-American Newspapers

Washington Afro American, News Feature, James Wright Posted: Nov 26, 2007

Editor's note: Many times we talk about role models as an abstraction. Frances Murphy was the real deal. She had courage, vision, and an unwavering dedication to the quest for justice. It is not only the Afro-American Newspapers that will miss her. Ms. Murphy's mark on social issues is well nigh incalculable.

frances murphy IIFrances Murphy II, the first woman to chair the Afro-American Newspapers board of directors, the publisher emeritus of the Washington Afro-American and popular columnist at the Baltimore Afro-American and granddaughter of the newspaper's founder, has died. She was 85.

The granddaughter of founder John Murphy Sr. and the daughter of legendary publisher Dr. Carl Murphy and Vashti Turley Murphy, Mrs. Murphy died Tuesday at Sinai Hospital after recent illness. Her mother was a founder of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

Most recently, Mrs. Murphy had gained a wide following with her popular column in the Baltimore AFRO, "If You Ask Me."

Mrs. Murphy was born on Oct. 8, 1922 in Baltimore. As a child, while she watched her father manage the AFRO, she also sold newspapers and submitted items for the occasional children's page.

She graduated from Baltimore's Douglass High School in 1940 and got her bachelor's degree in journalism at the University of Wisconsin in 1944. She joined the AFRO staff as a full-time reporter after graduation and worked her way up to city editor of the Baltimore newspaper in 1956.

She went back to school, Coppin State Teacher's College, and in 1958 got a bachelor's degree in education. She taught elementary school in the Baltimore public schools.

While teaching, she pursued a master's degree in education at Johns Hopkins University. She earned a master's degree from the school in 1963. She was one of the first African Americans to receive a master's degree from the prestigious university.

Mrs. Murphy joined the staff of Morgan State University as an English professor and director of the news bureau. Among her students at Morgan was William Rhoden, author and sports columnist the New York Times and John White, former director of communications for the NAACP.

In 1971, she was named the chair of the Afro-American Newspaper Company, the first woman to hold that position, and one of the few women to serve in that capacity in media at that time. She left the company to become a professor of journalism in 1975 at State University College of Buffalo in New York.

She moved to the Washington area in 1985 to become an associate professor of journalism at Howard University. While at Howard, she helped start the popular Community News, which was the D.C. area's weekly newspaper written and edited by Howard students.

Working with Community News, she mentored such journalists as Washington Times professional basketball writer John Mitchell and Atlanta Journal-Constitution Falcons beat writer Steve Wyche.

In 1987, Mrs. Murphy became the publisher of the Washington AFRO, where she mentored such journalists as Hamil Harris of the Washington Post, Washington Examiner columnist Jonetta Barras, Denise Yourse, staff writer for the Washington Times, University of the District of Columbia journalism professor Olive Vassell, Howard public relations specialists LaWanza Spears and Stacie Royster and automotive writer and publisher Randi Payton.

In 1999, Mrs. Murphy was named Washington AFRO Publisher Emeritus and moved to Baltimore. She was the editorial page director and wrote the popular Baltimore AFRO column, "If You Ask Me."

She was a lifelong member of Delta Sigma Theta, a past president of the Washington, D.C. chapter of The Links, and served on the boards of the Freedom Foundation, the University of the District of Columbia and the African-American Civil War Memorial.

While in Washington, she was an active member of St. Luke's Episcopal Church. When she retired to Baltimore, she joined St. James Episcopal Church.

John Oliver, publisher and chairman of the board of the AFRO, said that Mrs. Murphy made a difference in everything she touched.

"Mrs. Murphy's contribution to this newspaper, the world of journalism and the African-American community will last well beyond her lifetime," Oliver said. "Her action-based news coverage, leadership and community involvement has transformed the culture of news in a way that today's journalists and journalism students can appreciate.

As we continue to move this newspaper toward greater community involvement, we will certainly recognize the spirit of Frankie as being very much still with us."

Mrs. Murphy had three children: the Rev. Frances "Toni" Draper and Dr. James Wood, both of Baltimore, and Susan Barnes of Biloxi, Miss.; and a stepchild, David Campbell of Columbia, Md. She has 17 grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

Please feel free to share your thoughts,comments and/or condolences in regards to the passing of Ms. Frankie Lou Murphy II at flmurphythoughts@afro.com.

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