Click here to view a slideshow of John H. Murphy III.

John H. Murphy III is being remembered this week as the steady hand that guided the Afro-American Newspapers through the turbulent waters of civil rights history and a perilous industry. The newspaper’s former president and CEO died Oct. 16 at the Stella Maris Nursing Home in Timonium, Md. He was 94 years old.

“He carried on the tradition of the AFRO, which was and is a crusading newspaper, and did whatever he could to further the cause of justice and equality,” said Moses Newson, who worked as an AFRO reporter, city editor and then executive editor from 1957 to 1978. “He was a great guy to work for. You know how it is with this business … deadlines, people trying to sue the paper … but he was never one to jump up and down and get too excited. He was always on an even keel.”

It was that steadiness and dedication to the advancement of African Americans that made the AFRO a leading source of information, advocacy and even succor throughout the riotous years that was the apex of the civil rights movement.

“Mr. Murphy served the paper during a tumultuous time in civil rights history,” said the AFRO’s current CEO /Publisher John “Jake” Oliver.  “From the assassination of Dr. King to the Baltimore riots, , the paper reflected the issues, and Mr. Murphy did a great job of conceptualizing those issues for the community’s understanding.”

In doing so, Murphy followed in the footsteps of his uncle, Carl Murphy, and grandfather, John H. Murphy – the former slave that founded the paper in 1892 – both of whom nurtured the AFRO from a one-page weekly church publication into one of the preeminent Black publications in the nation.

Murphy, son of Sarah and Daniel H. Murphy, was born March 2, 1916. After attending public schools in Baltimore, Md., and Philadelphia, Pa., he graduated from Temple University in 1937.

He began his service to the AFRO that year, and served in a variety of positions until he retired in November 1986, after 49 years of service.  He started as the office manager of the Washington AFRO, took over as president in 1961 and became chief executive officer in 1967. He was at the helm as president and/or chairman of the board for 25 years.

Despite his stature, AFRO employees and family members remember him as a down-to-earth boss and “people person,” who took an interest in them and sought their best interests. “He was like a regular employee there at the paper – although everyone knew he was in charge,” Newson said.

Benjamin Phillips, a member of the AFRO’s founding family that rejoined the newspaper staff as director of global markets in 2007, said his “Uncle John” was always “likable” and was a dedicated newspaperman. “I can remember when I came back and rejoined the paper, one of the first calls I got was from him saying he was happy I came back,” Phillips said. “He was dedicated to the AFRO and that’s that stock that had. No matter what, whether they disagreed on anything outside of these walls, they were all AFRO. That’s the way we did it and that’s the way we still do it.”

Denise Dorsey, a member of the AFRO family for 34 years, remembers Mr. Murphy as a “really sweet man.”

“Even after he left, when he would visit, he would always greet me with a big smile and a hug,” said the current production manager. More impressive than his personality, Dorsey added, was his hands-off management style.

“He was not the type to be there watching over your shoulder,” she said. “He was kind of quiet and stayed back in the scenes and let people do their jobs, but he was there when he needed to be there.”

Newson said as a reporter and then as an editor of the newspaper, he could depend on Murphy to look after his journalists and to think big – facilitating the AFRO’s on-site coverage of national and international issues such as ongoing civil rights battles in the South and the Vietnam War.

Murphy also played a significant role in expanding the paper into several editions along the East Coast during the ‘60s and ‘70s and in launching the paper’s Dawn magazine. And he spearheaded an era of technological advancement that saw the migration of the paper’s printing process from in-house to outside contractors.

Murphy explained the move in a September 1974 Black Enterprise Magazine article that examined some of the challenges with which Black newspapers were grappling. “We had a press crew that was only working 22 hours a week but getting paid for 40,” he was quoted as saying. And even with the satellite editions, “we don’t have enough work to really warrant having our own press.”

Phillips said the move was also recognition that the new technology would allow the incorporation of color, among other advantages. “He recognized the shift in overall technology,” Phillips said.

And to take advantage of that shift, Murphy changed the printing process and also “started tapping young talent to take the newspaper into the new era.”

Murphy, who married Alice Quivers in 1939 and Camay Calloway Brooks in 1980, is survived by his two children, Sharon V. Moore and Daniel H. Murphy, who resulted from his first union.

His funeral service will be held noon Oct. 20 at St. James Episcopal Church, 829 Arlington Ave., Baltimore, Md., preceded by family hour at 11 a.m. There will be viewing on Oct. 18 and 19 at the March Funeral Home, 4300 Wabash Ave., Baltimore, Md.

Talibah Chikwendu and Gregory Dale contributed to this story.

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO