Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

William H. Murphy, Sr. (1917-2003)
MSA SC 3520-12431


Born William Hughes Murphy, April 20, 1917, in Baltimore, Maryland. Son of George B. and Grace (Hughes) Murphy, Sr. Attended Baltimore City public schools; Frederick Douglass High School, Baltimore, Maryland; Oberlin College, A.B (economics)., 1939; University of Maryland Law School, LL.B., 1947. Admitted to the Maryland Bar, 1947. Married to Madeline Wheeler; 5 children: William H. Murphy, Jr., Arthur W. Murphy, Laura W. Murphy, Houston W. Murphy, and Madeline Murphy Rabb. Died May 22, 2003, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Lawyer and civil rights activist. Bill Murphy, a member of the Murphy family, famous for publishing The Afro-American newspapers, grew up in segregated Baltimore City. After graduating from Frederick Douglass High School, Murphy attended Oberlin College in Ohio due to the limited opportunities in higher education for African-Americans in his home state. Harvard Law School accepted Murphy in 1939, but he declined to attend. Instead, Murphy decided to help break the color barrier at the University of Maryland Law School. In 1939, he became the third African-American to be admitted to the school in the 20th century. World War II interrupted Murphy's studies, and he served as in intelligence officer in the U.S. Army. After being discharged in 1945, he continued his education, and graduated from the University of Maryland Law School in 1947. He was admitted to the Maryland bar that same year. Murphy and his family lived in poverty stricken neighborhoods in Baltimore. "He wanted to practice law and raise his children among the poor so that they would not develop the class prejudices he despised in the upper echelon of black society. He wanted his children to understand that all people were the same except as they were shaped by forces beyond their control and he wanted them to develop a passion to help the neediest members of the community."1 Murphy became a founding partner of Brown, Allen, Watts, Murphy & Russell, one of the first African-American law firms in Baltimore. He first entered politics in the 1950s, twice running unsuccessfully for a seat in Maryland's House of Delegates, as well as for a seat on the Baltimore City Council and the Baltimore City Orphan's Court. In 1970, Murphy was elected to the bench of the Baltimore City District Court. He was joined on the bench in 1980 by his son, William H. Murphy, Jr., making them the first father and son in Maryland history to serve on the bench at the same time. William H. Murphy, Sr., retired from the bench in 1982. Member, Monumental Bar Association; Judicial Council; National Bar Association.


1. William H. Murphy, Jr. "In Memoriam: William H. Murphy, Sr., a son's tribute." The Daily Record, 6 June 2003.

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