JOHN H MURPHY SR
1892 - 1922
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.”
Murphy became editor of the Baltimore Afro-American due to the poor health of his father in 1918. Later, after his father passed away in 1922 Murphy became the leader of one of the most influential African American publications in the United States. At the peak of its circulation the Baltimore Afro-American reached over 200,000 people, and Murphy helped the paper grow in size so that by the end of his time at the paper in 1961, it had expanded to cover Newark, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Richmond, Virginia.
Carl Murphy was also a member of the board of directors for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, being appointed in 1931, and fought for an end to legal discrimination. He was also active in debates on both the local and national levels. He was also president of the National Newspaper Publishers’ Association in 1954 and 1955 and was dedicated to the improvement of African American education. Murphy was married to Vashti Turley Murphy, co-founder of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Murphy died on February 22, 1967 leaving the paper to go down the Murphy line to his great nephew John Oliver Jr.
"John worked just about all of his life at the Afro," said Camay Calloway Murphy, his second wife. She said he knew the business end from college but also was comfortable in every step of production, working with newspaper boys to editors at the paper during his career.
Mr. Murphy was named president of the Afro-American Newspapers, which published a national edition and local versions in several East Coast and Southern cities, in 1967, succeeding his uncle Carl J. Murphy. He became board chairman and publisher in 1974.
His wife said that her husband was heavily involved in the community. "He felt very strongly that with knowledge of what was going on, he could bring black people into the mainstream of things," his wife said.
She said Mr. Murphy examined the features of white-oriented newspapers, and tailored them to attract middle-class black readers from Washington and Baltimore. Among his initiatives was a weekly insert to attract more advertising. The supplement, Dawn magazine, allowed the paper to continue when many black newspapers went out of business.
Mr. Murphy retired as the company's chairman of the board in 1986.
JOHN H MURPHY III
1967 - 1970, 1974 - 1982
Born on October 8, 1922, in Baltimore, Maryland, Frances Louise Murphy, II, grew up in a household that was focused on the newspaper the family published. Murphy’s the granddaughter,of John H Murphy Sr and the daughter of Carl Murphy. In 1958, Murphy earned her B.S. degree from Coppin College, and her M.Ed. degree from Johns Hopkins University in 1963.
During her summers, Murphy worked for the family paper. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, Murphy went to work full-time for the Afro-American, and the paper expanded from a single edition to numerous local editions around the country. By 1956, Murphy was the city editor for the Baltimore edition of the paper. After earning her teaching degree from Coppin College, Murphy became an elementary school teacher; she went on to pursue her master's degree in education. Frustrated with her school assignment, Murphy resigned and began teaching English and working as the director of the news bureau at Morgan State University. Murphy stayed at Morgan State until 1971, when she was named chairman of the Afro-American. In 1975, Murphy left to become a professor of journalism at State University College in Buffalo, New York, and then on to Howard University in 1985. Murphy became publisher of the Washington Afro-American in 1987, and left Howard University in 1991; she served as editor of the editorial page and wrote the column, “If You Ask Me,” by Frankie Lou for several years.
Frances Louise Murphy, II, passed away on Wednesday, November 21, 2007, at the age of eighty-five.
FRANCES MURPHY II
PUBLISHER, 1971 - 1974
PUBLISHER, Washington DC
1986 - 2007
JOHN "JAKE" OLIVER, JR.
1982 - 2018
John Jacob “Jake” Oliver, great grandson of Afro-American Newspaper founder John J. Murphy and current CEO of the Afro-American Newspapers, was born July 20th in Baltimore, Maryland. His entrance into sixth grade was used to integrate the previously all white John E. Howard Elementary School. Oliver attended Garrison Junior High School and graduated from Baltimore City College High School in 1963. He attended the University of Maryland for two years, but transferred to Fisk University in Nashville. Oliver graduated from Fisk University in 1969 where he was a student leader. He went on to Columbia University Law School where he earned his J.D. degree in 1972.
From 1972 to 1978, Oliver practiced corporate law as an associate with the firm of Davis, Polk and Wardell in New York City.
During his reign, Oliver overhauled the Afro-American Newspapers and the African American (the AFRO) publishing business, resulting in increased circulation. He was named publisher emeritus in February 2018.
FRANCES 'TONI" DRAPER
2018 - PRESENT
Born on December 18th in Baltimore, Maryland, the Reverend Frances Murphy Draper is the great-granddaughter of the founder of the Afro-American. Draper attended Morgan State University, earning a B.A. in Spanish education in 1969, and then enrolled in Johns Hopkins University to earn a M.Ed. in 1973. Draper then attended the University of Maryland, earning an M.B.A. in 1981, and picked up graduate credits at St. Mary's Seminary before receiving an M.S. in pastoral counseling in 1996 from Loyola College in Baltimore. That same year, she received a doctorate in ministry from the United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.
Draper, who served as president of the family-owned company from 1987-1999, was named chairman of the board and publisher February 2018.