Bettyjean Carter Murphy (Courtesy Photo)
By Beverly Richards
Special to the AFRO
Bettyjean C. Murphy, Baltimore’s first African-American woman developer, will forever be remembered as a fearless, witty wunderkind. “She was an example of what someone could do if they were willing to step outside of the shadow and walk into the spotlight,” said Dean Harrison, president, Harrison Development. According to Harrison, Murphy was a noble and feisty woman, a fighter. “You had to be if you were going to be an entrepreneur back when she was doing it, in the 70s, 80s and 90s,” he said.
Bettyjean was in a space dominated by men. She faced many challenges, particularly sexism. But her business acumen, insight, attention to detail and pure grit caused her to set a standard for other Black women entrepreneurs hoping to make an impact as developers. “My mother was someone who never backed down and never gave up. She was someone who persevered through adversity and made a way for generations to follow,” said her daughter Rebecca Murphy.
Bettyjean Carter Murphy (center) with her children (l-r) Hassan Murphy, Seth Murphy, Rebecca Murphy and Joshua Murphy. (Courtesy Photo)
Despite all of that, the pioneer developer handily cleared those hurdles. “On the surface she was a polite and dignified individual. But in business, there was a tough side of her. She made no bones about what she was going to do to get to the finish line of her projects,” Harrison said.
Bettyjean was known for being able to see a path forward when others could not. She was “the” sorcerer of dilapidated buildings and seedy communities. She restored old edifices and created neighborhoods of hope for disabled and low-income families. “It’s really tough being a Black woman in Baltimore City and doing development projects, and she got quite a few done,” said Wendy Blair, managing director, RE/MAX Commercial Logic. “Her customers, tenants and homebuyers were always quite pleased with the product; and with how she treated them.”
Bettyjean Murphy with her sisters-in-laws Laura W. Murphy and Madeline Murphy Rabb. (Courtesy Photos)
Over the span of her career, Bettyjean won numerous awards from both the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the American Institute of Architects. Her prized projects included Alcott Place in Park Heights, Coleman Manor in Mondawmin and Washington Square in Pigtown. She later took on the first-Class B office conversion in downtown Baltimore, at 300 North Charles Street, becoming the first African-African woman to successfully complete a major development project in Baltimore’s Central Business District.
As admirable as her career was, her interests were equally impressive. A lifelong Arabist, she was incredibly knowledgeable about the Middle East, particularly the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and enjoyed sharing that knowledge. “She was the smartest woman I have ever known, in terms of pure, raw intellect,” Rebecca Murphy said proudly.
Indeed, her mother left an indelible mark on Baltimore’s architecture, but even more so on those she mentored and loved. She used her power and position to lend her voice for the benefit of others. “She was a mentor, an elder and a friend. But her impact was broader for me. She was someone who broke the mold in terms of what a developer was and how they functioned. She gave me a lot of insights I don’t think I would have gotten otherwise,” said Harrison.
“My mother’s legacy is a commitment to uplifting people who are marginalized and who aren’t often heard. That’s her professional legacy. But she was an extraordinary mother and role model,” said Rebecca Murphy.
“I think she would like to be remembered as a person who was fiercely loyal to the people she loved,” said Laura Murphy, her former sister-in-law.
Bettyjean C. Murphy was born in Georgia and bred in New York. Her desire was to always go back to New York once her children were grown. She was finally able to do that, and she died in Brooklyn at her son’s home.
Ms. Murphy is survived by her four children and their families. Her daughter, Rebecca Murphy, and her husband, John Hutchison, who live in Chestertown; her oldest son, Hassan Murphy and his wife Amy Murphy, of Washington, DC; her middle son, Joshua Murphy, of Brooklyn, NY, with whom she lived; and her youngest son, Seth Murphy, and his wife, Margarita Murphy, who live in Bolton Hill. She also had six beloved grandchildren, Hannah, Carter, Will, Caleb, Roma and Eva, who loved her dearly. She was formerly married to William H. “Billy” Murphy Jr.