Carl J. Murphy
By John J. Oliver, Chairman of the Board and Publisher, AFRO-American Newspapers
Carl J. Murphy was one of Baltimore’s foremost journalists and national pioneer in African-American print journalism. In his almost half-century tenure with the AFRO- American Newspapers, he was driving force that raised the AFRO chain to prominence as one of the nation’s most important national minority periodicals.
The son of AFRO founder John H. Murphy, Sr., he joined his father and brothers at the Baltimore newspaper in 1918. When the founder passed in 1922, he was elected by the family to be Editor and Publisher.
Under his leadership, the AFRO-American Newspapers became the largest -circulated African-American newspaper chain. He grew the Baltimore paper to 13 editions including Newark, Philadelphia, Washington, Richmond and 8 national editions (south-eastern states), distributing 200,000 papers each week.
In 1932, he established the Washington office that, along with Baltimore, grew to two papers a week. Critical to his model was merging local, national and international news, sports, social coverage and photos that readers eagerly awaited each week.
During World War II, he dispatched a team of War Correspondents to cover both the European and Pacific conflicts. Their timely coverage brought news back home about segregated African-American soldiers who were not covered by majority media and publicized the contributions of “colored” troops including the 332nd Fighter Group now known as the Tuskegee Airmen. The AFRO also covered the Korean and Vietnam conflicts under his leadership.
The AFRO has always been a major advocate and crusader for change, especially where racial equality was concerned. As early as the 1920’s, Murphy waged a campaign on AFRO pages for a first-rate school system in Baltimore and expanded calls in other communities served by AFRO publications. With Charles Hamilton Houston and Thurgood Marshall, he succeeded in forcing open the doors of the University of Maryland Law School in 1935, thereby establishing a successful strategy replicated throughout the Jim Crow South.
A clarion call for civil rights and publicizing the struggles for civil rights meant the AFRO dispatched reporters and photographers locally and around the country. To ensure the ability to print the news, the AFRO printed all its papers in its state of the art Baltimore production facility with the presses running six days a week during his stewardship.
Carl Murphy’s newsrooms were incubators that launched the careers of a number of nationally recognized journalists who cut their teeth under his tutelage. These opportunities were not restricted only to African Americans but open to any journalist who had the willingness to learn and meet the company’s high standard of fairness. It made no sense to wage the battle for equality and fair play without practicing it within the AFRO family. He attracted the best writers, artists and intellectuals who were sent around the globe.
A 1911 graduate of Howard University, he earned his Masters of Arts Degree at Harvard University in 1913. That summer he attended Jena University in Germany. Upon returning to Howard, he was Associate Professor of German for five years and became Head of the German Department. A lifelong love of learning was reflected in his vision for the family newspaper enterprise as well as the many contributions made to institutions of higher learning. In 1939, he was appointed a Charter Member of the Morgan State College Board of Trustees and in 1953 Chairman of the Board of Trustees, a position he held until his death in 1967.
Benjamin Phillips IV, current President of the AFRO-American Newspapers and grandson of Carl J. Murphy, provided remarks at the ceremony. His full remarks are here.