The Baltimore Sun May 24, 2003 Saturday

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The Baltimore Sun

May 24, 2003 Saturday FINAL Edition


LENGTH: 1021 words

HEADLINE: William H. Murphy Sr., longtime judge, dies at 86;
He was the patriarch of a city political family

BYLINE: Jacques Kelly


William H. Murphy Sr., a retired judge and patriarch of a well-known political family, died Thursday of a cerebral hemorrhage at his Roland Park Place home. The former Cherry Hill resident was 86.

Mr. Murphy, who presided until last year, was the father of former mayoral candidate and former Circuit Judge William H. Murphy Jr., political consultant Arthur W. Murphy and Laura W. Murphy, director of the Washington national office of the American Civil Liberties Union.

He was also the husband of Madeline Wheeler Murphy, a former WJZ-TV Square Off panelist and one-time City Council candidate. All survive him.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Druid Hill Avenue, he was the grandson of John H. Murphy Sr., founder of the Afro-American newspaper, where his father, George B. Murphy Sr., was treasurer. His mother, Grace Hughes Murphy, was a member of a family that owned a successful catering firm.

"His grasp of things was enormous. Growing up in Baltimore in the 1920s and 1930s, he knew who the city's giants were in the black community," said John J. "Jake" Oliver Jr., publisher of the Afro-American newspapers. "He was a real historian. He made Baltimore come to life for me when he told a story."

"He was a person who understood the community," said U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin. "He also understood that judges are human beings and are there to help. He was an interesting person who spoke his mind. He was also very loyal to his friends."

A 1935 graduate of Frederick Douglass High School, Mr. Murphy earned a degree in economics from Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, where he also studied classical music.

He was among the first African-American students admitted to the University of Maryland School of Law. His legal studies were interrupted by World War II, during which he was with an Army intelligence unit in North Africa and attained the rank of second lieutenant.

He was admitted to the Maryland bar in 1947.

In 1952, he represented his brother, George B. Murphy Jr., in questioning before the House Un-American Activities Committee. His brother was a labor organizer and a friend of singer and activist Paul Robeson.

Mr. Murphy was a founding member of Brown, Allen, Watts, Murphy & Russell, the city's first black law firm to occupy offices in the One Charles Center building in downtown Baltimore.

"Nobody would rent to black lawyers downtown, but the One Charles Center land had federal funds in it," said his former law partner, attorney George L. Russell Jr. "Our practice just boomed after we moved to Charles Street. He was a wonderful person and a delight to be around. Even when he got angry with me, we had a bond and were always close. He was one hard-working lawyer."
City politics

In 1970, Mr. Murphy joined former city State's Attorney Milton B. Allen, who died in February, on a campaign to bring change to the city courthouse, then dominated by whites.

Mr. Murphy ran successfully in the September 1970 primary for a judgeship in the old city Municipal Court, now the District Court. He joined the all-black ticket along with Mr. Allen, then running for city state's attorney, and Paul L. Chester, running for court clerk. All three were elected.

"To all of us younger black attorneys, he was a well-informed older brother," said Larry Gibson, a friend and University of Maryland law professor.

"He had total recall of facts and figures relating to blacks, law and economic development matters dating back to the 1930s. ... As he told history, he made things humorous. He remembered people, places, dates, relationships. He had a particular interest in black-owned businesses and matters that dealt with the formation of financial capital."

Mr. Gibson recalled Mr. Murphy's mentoring of young attorneys. "He was in large measure responsible for my returning to Baltimore," he said. "I was inclined to stay in New York, where I'd gone to Columbia. Baltimore was then a segregated, backward city that I had no intention of returning to.

"He showed me his bank accounts and said, 'You can make a decent living here. There's opportunity here.' That advice always stuck in my mind."

Family members said Mr. Murphy had an interest in the stock market and finance.

"He lobbied the white brokerage firms to hire black brokers long before they had been desegregated. It was his personal mission," said his daughter Laura Murphy, who lives in Washington.

He served until his retirement in 1982, then stayed on the bench to hear cases on special assignment. He last sat on the bench late last year.

Shortly after World War II, Mr. Murphy moved to Turners Station in Baltimore County. He then purchased a hilltop residence on Round Road in Cherry Hill, where he remained until four years ago.
'A great dad'

"He wanted his children to be raised with real people and not among the aspiring middle class of Baltimore," said his son Arthur Murphy. "He loved Cherry Hill and hated to leave it."

"He was a great dad. He took us everywhere. He took us to court - to his office. He was not an absentee dad. Mom and Dad were a team," his son said. "He would leave partners' meetings to watch Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons with us. He liked to explain it was a satire on life and full of current events."

In his spare time, Mr. Murphy enjoyed building and rebuilding a stone wall that encircled his Cherry Hill home. He also owned a 42-acre weekend property in Sunshine, on the Montgomery-Howard County border, where ancestors, who were slaves, had once lived.

Mr. Murphy was a past president of the board of the old Provident Hospital, the Monumental City Bar Association and the Ideal Savings and Loan Association. He was also a member of the National Judicial Conference of the National Bar Association and Cherry Hill Presbyterian Church.

He is also survived by another son Houston W. Murphy of Alexandria, Va.,; another daughter, Madeline Murphy Rabb; a sister, Sister Constance Murphy of the Order of St. John Divine of Ontario, Canada; and 12 grandchildren.

Services will be held at 3 p.m. June 1 at the Carl Murphy Fine Arts Center at Morgan State University.

GRAPHIC: Photo(s), "He was a real historian," a friend says of William H. Murphy Sr., shown in a 1976 photo.