Vashti Turley Murphy was a teacher in Washington D.C. and one of 22 Howard University students who founded the now global organization, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, on Jan. 13, 1913. (Courtesy photo)

By Frances “Toni” Murphy Draper
AFRO CEO and Publisher

There is also a wonderful story about my maternal grandfather, Carl James Greenbury Murphy, long-time AFRO publisher and editor (1922-1967). A prolific writer of hard-hitting editorials, as well as inspirational prayers, Carl Murphy was small in stature, but stood tall and fought hard for civil and human rights.  

But he wasn’t the only civil rights advocate in the house. Grandmother Murphy was a freedom fighter in her own right. She was a soft-spoken, genteel woman, who rarely raised her voice. But, when she spoke, all 16 of us stood at attention; ready to receive her pearls of wisdom or gentle correction. 

Vashti Turley Murphy was a D.C. school teacher, and one of 22 Howard University students who founded Delta Sigma Theta Sorority on Jan. 13, 1913. Two months later, she joined her fellow sorority members and others, as they marched down Washington’s Pennsylvania Avenue in support of a woman’s right to vote.  The “colored women” were relegated to the back of the line, but they continued to march with their heads held high, enduring slurs and insults along the way. Isn’t it ironic (sad and disgusting) that here we are more than 100 years later still fighting for full voting rights? Still witnessing the “lynching” of Black Americans? Still being judged by the color of our skin, rather than the content of our character? Still being taught from history books that gloss over the brutality of enslavement and minimize the full contributions of the enslaved? Still fighting the structures and systems that privilege one race of people over another? Still having “the talk” with our sons and our daughters?

More than 60 years ago, in a speech for a Delta sponsored mother-daughter luncheon, Grandmother said, “As a founder, it has been my privilege to rejoice quietly in the growth of this child; to see it stretch north, south, east and west; to see it expand into regions, boards, committees and projects. It has been a joy to note its work in fellowship, libraries and the creation of jobs; to discover that everywhere Delta goes, it encourages women to reach for the noblest, the highest and the best in our civilization and shed its sweetness and light upon our communities.” She went on to say, “wherever one Delta exists, graduate or undergraduate, wherever one Delta family is established, there should grow an outpost of freedom: firm, unyielding, accepting no compromise. What a tragedy it would be, if we should stand by the Red Sea of Segregation, unwilling to advance up to our knees, up to our waists, up to our throats, up to our chins, up to our lips. What a tragedy it would be, as the history of this period is written, if it could be said that 15,000 of the best educated women in the United States, the flower of American womanhood, stood in a struggling, hesitant mass, undecided, unwilling to take the first step.

Daughters of Delta, show now that you are daughters of freedom and that you are worthy of redemption. Come, let us go forward into the sea to meet the God of our Father. Oh, God of our fathers, work thy miracle with Delta.”

Grandmother was a double amputee (diabetes), yet she rarely complained.  She, like many of those highlighted in this edition, was always fighting for one cause or another, refusing to give in or to give up. Tory Ridgeway has his own struggle with autism, a struggle that thwarted his own life dream. But he doesn’t allow that to stop him from fighting so that others with autism will realize their dreams.

Parren J. Mitchell found much to do in the community of Baltimore to make it a better place. But he took on the fight for the city and for Black small businesses to D.C., becoming the first African-American congressional representative from Maryland. That same seat was occupied by the late Elijah Cummings and is currently held by the Honorable Kweisi Mfume.

Many young people in the D.M.V. are featured in this special edition on community activism, as well. They are changing the world with a new business, a discovery, a unique way of doing something old.

And to pique the quality of our activism, we asked local leaders the question, “What is it you’d like the world to know about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? What have we missed that we really need for our justice toolkit?” You’ll find their answers intriguing; you might want to send one of your own to for posting on our website.

Much appreciation to our advertising, digital, editorial and production departments for yet another brilliant compilation of news and bits from the 129-year-old AFRO Archives. And thanks to you, our readers for your support.

Help us Continue to tell OUR Story and join the AFRO family as a member – subscribers are now members!  Join here!