Dr. Carl J. Murphy was born in Baltimore on Jan. 17, 1889, the son of John H. Murphy Sr. and Martha Howard Murphy. His father was enslaved in Montgomery County and won his freedom in the Civil War. John H. Murphy went on to found the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper. Dr. Carl J. Murphy received his undergraduate degree from Howard University and his Masters in German from Harvard University in 1913, continuing his studies at the University of Jena in Germany before joining the faculty at Howard University.
Dr. Murphy became editor of the Afro in 1918 and took over running the paper after the death of his father in 1922, helping it become one of the most successful, influential and widely circulating African-American newspapers in the country. Murphy defended civil rights vigorously and fought to end segregation, not only through his paper, but also through his service on the board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He was deeply involved in organizing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington, and was especially concerned about improving education for African-Americans.
The breadth and depth of his commitment to the cause of social progress and education extended to all fields – including the arts. Murphy served from 1937 to 1939 on a subcommittee of the Baltimore Museum of Art Committee of the City “representing the colored community.” It was this committee’s feedback that prompted the BMA’s 1939 exhibition Contemporary Negro Art. The committee was one of two dedicated to racial groups (the other being Jewish) and many more to “foreign” groups ranging from French to German to Lithuanian.