By Kara Thompson,
AFRO MDDC Intern
Elizabeth “Bettye” Murphy Moss, a granddaughter of John Henry Murphy, began her journalism career when she first started working at the AFRO at age 13—around 1929. She would later go on to be the first African-American female war correspondent during WWII.
Moss was born March 11, 1917, to Carl Murphy and Vashti Turley Murphy as the oldest of five daughters. She and her family moved to Baltimore in 1918 when she was still a baby, when her father left his teaching post at Howard University to become manager of the AFRO newspaper. As a youngster, she helped out at the AFRO any way she could, including having a newspaper route and selling the paper.
“The family history shows that everybody pitched in and did some work towards getting the paper out,” said Moss in a 1976 interview with Leroy Graham. “We were AFRO newsboys.”
She attended Howard University and then the University of Minnesota, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. The American Press Institute for Managing Editors of Columbia University gave her certificates in editorial management, and in 1976 Morgan State University awarded her an honorary doctorate degree in humane letters.
After college, she married her high school sweetheart, Frank Phillips Jr., with whom she had three children. Phillips died of cancer in 1962 after 23 years of marriage, and Moss got remarried in 1963 to Dr. Paul A Moss.
In 1944, her father would dispatch her to cover WWII, making her the first Black woman to be a war correspondent in the European Theater.
Moss served many roles in her time at the AFRO, including reporter, writer, editor, publisher and columnist. Her column, “If You Ask Me” ran in the AFRO for 48 years, up until her death in 1998. It was inspired by her mother, who said that there always needed to be some good news.For 32 years, Moss was a member of the board of directors of the AFRO-American Co.
Active in many civic and community organizations, Moss was involved with the Philomathians, We Wives and Couples Club as well as a Golden Life member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and lifetime member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She also fought for the appointment of minority administrators and educational programs for Black students during her time on the Baltimore City School Board—also the first African-American woman appointed to the board—which she held from 1960 until 1974.
“Serving on the school board, while many thought it was a great honor and all, it was really a very, very arduous task,” said Moss to Graham. “As a citizen and as a mother of three children at the time in the Baltimore Public Schools, I felt I was representing other parents of children in the city and it was incumbent upon me to express their viewpoint, and the opposition to the continuation of segregation in assignment of pupils and assignment of faculty.”
Moss also published a book in 1980 titled “Be Strong! The Life and Times of Vashti Turley Murphy,” which was about her mother. The book was sold to raise money for college scholarships.
Moss died in 1998, at the age of 81.
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