John H. Murphy Sr. hoped to live to be 100, but in the event that he didn’t, he penned a letter on his 80th birthday that he wanted opened in 20 years. It told the story of his life, one of the most interesting to have taken place in our city. Murphy was born enslaved in Baltimore on Christmas Day, 1840. His father was a whitewasher by trade, and taught his son the skill.

After the Civil War began, John enlisted in the Army, where he rose in the ranks, all the way to first sergeant. “That was a real war for liberty,” he wrote of the Civil War. “I went in a slave and came out a freedman.” (Though he added that the years since the war had seen the common people enslaved again.)

Murphy died in 1922. Under the stewardship of his son Carl, the paper went on to become one of the highest-read African-American papers in the United States, with correspondents in London and Paris. “It went everywhere there was a black community,” Oliver said. Murphy wrote that he was driven by a simple desire: to please Martha. “Nobody wants his wife to believe him a failure,” he wrote in his letter. “If the AFRO-AMERICAN lives, it will be because I couldn’t let her down.”

Excerpt from Baltimore Sun, read more here