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Pioneer in fight for civil justice honored

February 05, 2007|by DAVE McMILLION

HARPERS FERRY, W.VA. - Each year during its African American History Month celebration, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park shines the spotlight on someone who made significant contributions to black history in the area and the nation.

Some of those individuals were associated with Storer College, a local college that was started after the Civil War to give blacks and others a place to obtain higher education.

Those recognized over the years have included J.R. Clifford, who helped found West Virginia's first black newspaper and became the state's first black attorney, and David Henry Cole, a Jefferson County native who broke racial barriers in 1954 by becoming an accountant for Washington, D.C.'s tax and finance office.

On Sunday, the park's focus turned to a forgotten pioneer who was actively involved in the civil rights movement.

Freeman Henry Morris Murray was one of the founders of the Niagara Movement that was started in 1905 by a group of black men that included W.E.B. DuBois and Clifford.

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The organization's 1906 meeting, the first in the U.S., was held on the campus of Storer College, now a part of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

The movement became the foundation of the NAACP. The 100th anniversary of the Niagara Movement was held at the park last summer and attracted thousands of people to the four-day event.

Although he was considered a forgotten figure, Murray's story comes to life in a book written by his great granddaughter, Anita Hackley-Lambert, an information technology expert who lives in Prince George's County, Md.

Hackley-Lambert was invited to the park's John Brown Museum to speak about Murray and her new book "F.H.M. Murray: First Biography of a Forgotten Pioneer for Civil Justice."

Hackley-Lambert said Sunday that she could remember her mother telling stories about Murray, which "seemed like fairy tales" given his work outside the norm.

Murray was among a handful of blacks who acquired a formal education during the mid-1800s, Hackley-Lambert said.

By age 3, Murray's parents were dead and he went to live with his grandfather in Cincinnati, Hackley-Lambert said.

Murray received a formal education from Mount Pleasant Academy in Cincinnati and he was the first black in that city to pass the civil service exam and receive a federal job appointment, Hackley-Lambert said.

Murray was the first black proofreader of the Cincinnati Enquirer and founded two weekly newspapers in Alexandria, Va., Hackley-Lambert said.

Murray was the first black to write and publish a book on black art, entitled "Emancipation of the Freed: An Interpretation of Black Folk in Art," Hackley-Lambert said.

Hackley-Lambert recalled how finding Murray's old dusty journals moved her.

"I felt his eyes looking out of my eyes. That's when I knew I was in touch with my destiny," Hackley-Lambert said Sunday.

Murray's interests were varied, according to Hackley-Lambert. He worked as a real estate investor, was involved in underground railroad efforts and established the Murray Palace Casino, an elite nightclub in Washington, D.C., Hackley-Lambert said.

Murray started the nightclub because blacks did not have a place of their own, Hackley-Lambert said.

Hackley-Lambert said her book was published in time for the centennial celebration of the Niagara Movement in Harpers Ferry and she has had discussions with prominent scholars who have been interested in the book.

After her speech, Hackley-Lambert cut a ribbon to open an exhibit of items associated with Murray's story.

Among those in attendance was Bob DuBose, a Harpers Ferry Town Council member.

"This is what makes Harpers Ferry, along with its scenery," DuBose said.

Hackley-Lambert's book is available in the park's bookstore and through amazon.com.

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