African American Leaders: Val Murphy
Each month, the Presbyterian Historical Society is bearing witness to the lives of African American leaders throughout the history of the PC(USA). Click here to learn how PHS is collecting records of the Black Presbyterian experience through the African American Leaders and Congregations Initiative.
Additionally, a free bulletin insert about each figure is available for download at the end of each blog.
Edrena Valeria Murphy (1902-1987) was the consummate Christian educator. She even has an offering named in her honor—the Val Murphy Offering—collected during the annual conference of the APCE (Association of Partners in Christian Education). During her lifetime, Murphy worked as an educator, church worker, community organizer, and advocate for Christian education, most notably in Baltimore and Chicago. Her passion for teaching and sharing the faith impacted many lives—both in the Black communities she served daily and in national Christian Education circles more generally.
Murphy was born in New Orleans, but the death of her mother when she was thirteen months old brought her to the small town of Brazil, Indiana, where she was raised by her grandmother. Clay County, Indiana was predominantly white and rural, with the small community of Black residents centered in Brazil Township and anchored by the Baptist Church there. Murphy attended public schools in Brazil and then chose DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana for her college education.
DePauw University, about 20 miles northeast of Brazil, is affiliated with the Methodist Church, and Murphy majored in religious education and Latin. When she graduated in 1926, she was one of the first Black alumnae of the school.
Some accounts say Murphy immediately sought employment in church work without success. She did secure teaching appointments at two HBCUs: Roger Williams University in Nashville and the Presbyterian-affiliated Swift Memorial College in Rogersville, Tennessee.
Murphy moved to Baltimore in 1934 where she taught the philosophy of education, public speaking, and drama at the Baltimore Junior College meeting in Douglass High School. Additionally, she directed the East Baltimore Cooperative Nursery School for twelve years.
In 1946, the Presbytery of Baltimore launched a concerted effort to organize a Sunday School in the Cherry Hill neighborhood of Baltimore, relying on Casper Glenn (who would become the founding pastor of Cherry Hill Community Presbyterian Church in 1947) and Murphy as Director of Christian Education. Their door-knocking efforts led directly to the development of an education program for children and adults, the founding of the church, and Murphy leading the church into an expanded community outreach program.
In 1963, Chicago beckoned, and Murphy became Director of Christian Education at Grace Presbyterian Church (which merged into Sixth-Grace Presbyterian Church in 1969). She officially retired as a professional Christian educator in 1974 in her early seventies, but continued to attend local Christian education conferences and the APCE annual event. She was in the first class of APCE Life Members in 1978.
After her death in 1987, APCE honored her again by establishing the E. Val Murphy Scholarship Program, which—along with the Val Murphy Offering—continues to this day to help fund attendance at the APCE annual event.
Want to share this biography with your congregation? Click below to read and download a free bulletin insert about Val Murphy.
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