George W. Murray

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George W. Murray
George Washington Murray.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 7th district
In office
March 4, 1893 – March 3, 1895
Preceded by William Elliot
Succeeded by J. William Stokes
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 1st district
In office
June 4, 1896 – March 3, 1897
Preceded by William Elliott
Succeeded by William Elliott
Personal details
Born George Washington Murray
September 22, 1853
Sumter County, South Carolina
Died April 21, 1926
Chicago, Illinois
Nationality American
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Ella
Alma mater University of South Carolina
Profession Teacher, politician

George Washington Murray (September 22, 1853 - April 21, 1926), born into slavery in South Carolina, became educated and worked as a teacher, farmer and politician. After serving as chairman of the Sumter County Republican Party, he was elected in the 1890s as a United States Congressman from South Carolina. He was the only black member in the 53rd and 54th Congresses, and the last to be elected from South Carolina for nearly 100 years.[1]

Convicted of forgery in 1905 and sentenced to three years' hard labor in what he said was a discriminatory trial (with an all-white jury), Murray moved to Chicago. He was pardoned in 1915 by the South Carolina governor, Coleman Blease. In Chicago, Murray became active in the Republican Party. He lectured on race relations and his political career and published two collections of his speeches. He died of a heart stroke April 21, 1926.

Early life and education[edit]

Murray was born into slavery on September 22, 1853 on a cotton plantation near Rembert, Sumter County, South Carolina in the Piedmont. His parents' names are not known, and they died during the war. He had brothers Prince and Frank. Murray did not have formal schooling as a boy, but had learned to read and write and even taught from 1871-1874.[2] He entered the University of South Carolina at Columbia in 1874 when it was opened to black students by the Republican-dominated legislature.

With the end of the Reconstruction era in 1877 and regaining of power by white Democrats in the state legislature, they and the administration forced black students out of the college. Murray completed his education at the State Normal Institution at Columbia, a historically black college. Education was an urgent need and a high calling among the freedmen, and Murray taught school for fifteen years in Sumter County.[1] He also invented some agricultural technology.[3]

Marriage and family[edit]

He married Ella. They divorced in 1905 after he decided to flee to Chicago rather than serve a sentence of hard labor resulting from a discriminatory trial.

Political career[edit]

Murray gradually became active in local organizing and politics, playing an important role in the development of the Republican Party in the state. He was elected as chairman of the Sumter County Republican Party. Murray was a delegate at several Republican National Conventions. During the 1870s and 1880s, as white Democrats regained power in the legislature following violence and election fraud, Murray and other black leaders struggled to resist electoral changes that disfranchised black voters. In 1882 the legislature passed a requirement for an "eight-box ballot", which made voting more confusing. White voters were given instructions by white registrars, but black voters were not and had more ballots disqualified. As a result, following the changes, the percentage of turnout dropped sharply among blacks in Murray's district up to 1890.[4]

Murray had become involved with the Republican Party after rising as a leader in organizing for the Colored Farmers Alliance (CFA), a movement to gather political support among black farmers, which started in South Carolina about 1889. Together with the organizing of religious and civic groups, the CFA was part of the rise of Black Populism, and followed the organizing of the Colored Workers Alliance in the state in 1886-1887; both efforts started with local organizing, with men often meeting secretly late at night, as whites opposed their efforts to gain better wages and improve the electoral system. Due to a roundup of members and interrogation, the CWA was essentially suppressed in 1887. White militias patrolled at night to reduce meetings of blacks, but the efforts of blacks continued. Murray began to rise as a leader in the CFA and, because of his eloquence, was appointed as a state lecturer.[3]

Under the Republican administration, Murray was appointed as a federal inspector of customs at the port of Charleston, South Carolina, serving from 1890 to 1892. While white and black Populists struggled to create a third party in the state, Murray gained the Republican nomination from the black "shoestring district" (named for its shape) and was elected to the US Congress in 1892. He defeated the previous incumbent, Thomas E. Miller, for the Republican nomination. Murray represented South Carolina's 7th congressional district in the Fifty-third Congress (March 4, 1893 - March 3, 1895). He became known as the "Republican Black Eagle" for his speech against a proposed law in 1893 to remove federal inspectors from polling places, and recounted his own problems with harassment and discrimination in voting.[1]

Due to redistricting, Murray ran in South Carolina's 1st congressional district in 1894. Although he lost the popular vote to William Elliott, a white Democrat, he successfully contested the election, due to numerous cases of voter fraud in several precincts that discriminated against African-American citizens. The case took nearly until the end of the first Congressional session to be decided in his favor, but Murray was seated and served in the Fifty-fourth Congress from June 4, 1896 to March 3, 1897.[1]

He was absent from his seat in part of the second session, as he was trying to combat political troubles in the state. In 1895-1896 Democratic legislators in South Carolina forced through a new state constitution that effectively disfranchised African-American citizens, by making changes to residency requirements, requiring literacy tests, poll taxes and a $300 property requirement. Murray and other black South Carolina politicians protested and brought national attention to the issues by publishing the address "To the People of the United States," in July 1896 in the New York World, asking for national support for federal intervention in the South Carolina elections. The constitution was ratified.[4] Virtually no blacks voted in the 1896 election.

In February 1897, Murray returned to Congress as a "lame duck". He wanted to gain a Congressional investigation into South Carolina's disfranchising of its black citizens; he intended to object to South Carolina’s nine electoral votes in the 1896 presidential election (which had all gone to the Democratic candidate). He had a petition signed by hundreds of South Carolina Republicans, and asserted that more than 100,000 eligible black voters had been disfranchised from the 1896 election; therefore, the state should not have had nine electoral votes. Fearful of potential effects on the apparent victory by the Republican William McKinley, Republicans did not want to disrupt the electoral vote count. Murray acceded to their request to drop his objection but continued to call for a federal investigation. Congress adjourned on schedule in March without acting on his request.[1]

At the time, such constitutional changes passed US Supreme Court reviews. Voting by blacks in South Carolina was reduced almost totally for more than half a century, until passage of federal civil rights legislation in the 1960s. Excluded from voting, blacks were also disqualified from serving on juries or running for local office. They lost all formal political power.[5]

Murray returned to his farm. He invested in land in Sumter County, which he leased to black tenant farmers. In 1903, he was charged with forging names on lease agreements, a matter which he said was related to a contract dispute between tenants. He was convicted in 1905 by an all-white jury and sentenced to three years of hard labor. His appeal failed.[6]

Chicago decades[edit]

Instead of serving his sentence, which he said was the result of a discriminatory trial, that year Murray moved to Chicago, Illinois. The historian John F. Marszalek agrees with Murray's assessment, describing the trial as "legal whitecapping, a way to rid the community of a troublesome black."[7] As his wife Ella Murray refused to move, she and Murray divorced. He was pardoned in 1915 by South Carolina Governor Coleman Blease, who gave nearly 2,000 men a second chance.

In Chicago, Murray sold life insurance and real estate. In 1908 he married Cornelia Martin, who brought a daughter Gaynell to the marriage. Together in the 1920s, the Murrays adopted a 10-year-old boy, Donald; they also fostered numerous children.[1]

He became active in the Illinois Republican Party and an ally of Chicago Mayor "Big Bill" Thompson. During this time, he published two books on race relations, which were collections of speeches he gave across the country.[1]

Murray died in Chicago, Illinois, April 21, 1926. The eulogy was given by his neighbor John Roy Lynch, who had served as a US Representative from Mississippi.[1] Murray was buried in Lincoln Cemetery.[8]

Jim Clyburn, the current Democratic South Carolina congressman and Assistant Democratic Leader, is a relative of Murray. First elected to Congress in 1993, he was the first African American to be elected from South Carolina since George Murray.[1]


  • Race Ideals: Effects, Cause, and Remedy for the Afro-American Race Troubles, Princeton, Indiana: Smith & Sons Publishing Company, 1914.
  • Light in Dark Places (Chicago: Light in Dark Places Pub. Co., 1925).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "George Washington Murray", Black Americans in Congress, US Congress, accessed 5 June 2012
  2. ^ Culp, Daniel Wallace (1902). Twentieth century Negro literature; or, A cyclopedia of thought on the vital topics relating to the American Negro. Atlanta: J.L. Nichols & Co. p. 230. 
  3. ^ a b Ali, Omar H. "Standing Guard at the Door of Liberty: Black Populism in South Carolina, 1886–1897", South Carolina Historical Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 3 (July 2006): 190–203
  4. ^ a b "The Negroes’ Temporary Farewell: Jim Crow and the Exclusion of African Americans from Congress, 1887–1929", Black Americans in Congress, US Congress, accessed 5 June 2012
  5. ^ Michael Perman, Struggle for Mastery: Disfranchisement in the South, 1888-1908, University of North Carolina Press, 2001, pp. 93-97
  6. ^ Marszalek, John F. A Black Congressman in the Age of Jim Crow: South Carolina’s George Washington Murray (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2006), pp. 132–136
  7. ^ Marszalek (2006), A Black Congressman, pp. 142-143
  8. ^ Edgar, Walter. South Carolina Encyclopedia (2006) p. 654, ISBN 1-57003-598-9

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
William Elliott
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 7th congressional district

March 4, 1893 - March 3, 1895
Succeeded by
J. William Stokes
Preceded by
William Elliott
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 1st congressional district

June 4, 1896- March 3, 1897
Succeeded by
William Elliott