Afro-American editor, reporter dies

She was publisher of D.C. edition in chain founded by grandfather

Frances Louise Murphy II 1922 - 2007

November 22, 2007|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,Sun reporter

Frances Louise Murphy II was raised in the newspaper business. The granddaughter of the founder of The Afro-American Newspapers chain, she learned the trade in classrooms and newsrooms, working as a reporter, editor and eventually publisher as she pushed to improve quality.

"Mrs. Murphy helped tell the story of the African-American struggle for equality in the 20th century," Mayor Sheila Dixon said yesterday. "No matter the difficulty or danger, The Afro-American pursued news that others overlooked or ignored."

Ms. Murphy died yesterday at Sinai Hospital of multiple myeloma, a type of cancer. The Morgan Park resident was 85.

Known as Frankie Lou, she was writing a weekly social column, "If You Ask Me," at her death and had been the Afro's commentary and editorial page editor until last year.

"She is one of a generation of African-American women that made it possible for new generations of women to achieve great things now and in the future," Ms. Dixon said. "She was loved and respected by people of every race, color and creed and will be dearly missed."

"Mrs. Murphy contributed mightily to racial equality and the economic advancement of African-Americans everywhere," the mayor added.

The granddaughter of John Henry Murphy Sr., who founded the Afro-American chain in 1892, she was born in Baltimore and raised in Morgan Park. Her father was Afro publisher Carl Murphy, and her mother was Vashtai Turley Murphy.

Ms. Murphy graduated from Frederick Douglass High School in 1940, where she played basketball. When blacks could not be admitted to the University of Maryland, the state paid for her to attend the University of Wisconsin, where she earned a journalism degree in 1944. She also earned a bachelor of science degree from what is now Coppin State University and a master's degree in education from the Johns Hopkins University.

She spent summers learning the newspaper business and also was a reporter. She also taught third grade in the Baltimore school system for several years. She ran the news bureau at Morgan State University for many years.

In her first management job, she became editor of the Afro's Baltimore editions in 1956. She went on to edit the paper's Richmond, Va., edition, and in 1971, she became the Afro's board chairwoman, a post she held until 1974.

"She was a dignified, strong Christian woman who lived the old-school values of her respected family," said Paul Evans, a former Afro managing editor and a former student of hers. "She was tough but very fair. She set a formidable example for all who knew her, particularly young members of her large family and her many, many former students."

Ms. Murphy lived for a decade in Buffalo, N.Y., where she taught journalism at the State University of New York, and in 1987, she was named publisher of the Washington Afro-American. At her death, she held the title of its publisher emeritus.

In 2003, she began writing the column, "If You Ask Me," which had been written by her sister, Elizabeth "Bettye" Murphy Moss, for 50 years. The column was her mother's idea. She felt there was enough bad news and that someone needed to write the good news of births, marriages and graduations.

"She was a woman of integrity and determination," said her daughter, the Rev. Frances Murphy Draper, pastor of the John Wesley African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in East Baltimore. "One of her greatest passions was to see her former students and reporters rise in their field."

Ms. Murphy used the surname Murphy II to distinguish herself from an aunt, Frances Louise Murphy, who created the Afro's Clean Block Campaign and for whom a demonstration school at Morgan State University is named.

Colleagues at the paper said that under her leadership, the Afro strove to improve quality, increase accuracy and foster a spirit of teamwork.

"Ms. Murphy's contribution to this newspaper, the world of journalism and the African-American community will last well beyond her lifetime," said her first cousin, Jake Oliver, the Afro's publisher and chief executive officer. "Her action-based news coverage, leadership, and community involvement have 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."

She was diagnosed with cancer this year and wrote in her column of her condition on a laptop computer from her bed in Sinai Hospital, family members said.

She was a member of St. James Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square in West Baltimore. She drove until recently and as a Eucharistic minister took communion to the elderly and sick.

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

Plans for a funeral service at St. James are pending.

In addition to her daughter, survivors include three sons, Dr. James Edward Wood Jr., chief of orthopedic surgery at Harbor Hospital, David Lloyd Campbell of Clarksville and Charles "Bud" Campbell of Buffalo, N.Y.; another daughter, Susan Murphy Wood Barnes of Biloxi, Miss.; 16 grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren.

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