Murray's father, known in those parts as "Prof Murray," was the school's principal. Kinsey describes him as a commanding figure whose willingness to openly defy racism was unusual in those days. Murray vividly remembers that as a teen-ager, he once accompanied his father and brother on a mission to confront a group of white racists terrorizing the poor blacks who had walked several miles to collect free government food. Prof Murray tried to reason with them, but his words were met with fists. All three Murrays got beat up pretty badly--"roughed, pushed, pushed, sand in face, kick, kick, 'Get out of here, nigger,' " the pastor recalls. Afterward, the boys' father took blood from one of his own cuts and sealed a blood oath with Chip and Ed, making them swear to love and protect their black brethren.
"I guess my dad was about the most fearless person I knew," Murray says one afternoon, as he leans back in his chair, feet on his desk, staring out the window. "I never knew if he was scared and would do things in spite of the fear." He stops to think for a moment. "I'm sure he must have felt the fear, so he must have gone on it spite of it."
And he must have felt another kind of pain, for Prof Murray hit the bottle. Murray recalls that his father would come home drunk and line all three children up to sing, "Take good care of mother," hoping to lighten his wife's mood. "He'd keep checking to see if that was softening her," he recalls. "I think she'd soften just for our sakes." Murray's stepmother kept the family together, for the children's sakes, but eventually her husband's drinking was too much and they divorced. She died three years ago.
The last time Murray saw his father was in 1951, during his senior year in college at Florida A&M in Tallahassee. He returned home one evening while his father was out and sat on the porch. After a few hours, Chip looked down the darkened road and saw a man, bobbing and weaving. It was his father. "When he got closer, he looked and saw it was me, and he burst into tears and turned away. I went out to meet him and we walked back home and sat on the porch," Murray recalls. His father kept muttering that everything was going to be all right, that someday he was going to take the whole family up North, to Mecca, where they would thrive.
Murray left by bus the next day. Not long after, when Murray was in the Air Force, his commanding officer handed him a telegram saying his father had died. He was 52.
"Alcoholism was extremely prevalent among black men. On every hand there was utter frustration. \o7 Utter \f7 frustration," he says. "It's funny," he adds, wiping away a tear, "but you don't remember the weaknesses. You remember the greatness of spirit and the sensitivity that allowed him to absorb the pain. Eventually it destroyed him."
That may explain why Murray, a loner who counts few if any close friends among his peers, spends so much time shepherding young black men. His only child, 26-year-old Drew, who is studying to become a church counselor, describes his father as "my best friend. . . . We're overprotective of each other." But young men outside his family who describe Murray as a "father-figure" or "mentor" are legion.
The Rev. Kenneth Flowers recalls how Murray urged him to consider leaving his campus ministry at UCLA and take over one of the dying churches along Adams Boulevard. Now at Messiah Baptist--on Adams--Flowers still calls Murray for advice on building his congregation. " 'You've got to get young people,' " Flowers says Murray counsels him. " 'You've got to have a good music department. People like music."'
Ask Mark Whitlock about Murray and he tells how the pastor counseled him to be pro-active, rather than reactive, in setting goals. "Pastor Murray made me feel better about myself," he adds. "I felt almost like I was adopted.' " And 26-year-old financier John Bryant says Murray keeps him on track with lectures about "the value of humility, of balance in life."
When Arsenio Hall started attending services at FAME in 1980, sitting quietly in the upper balcony, he was a nobody--a broke nobody. But Murray treated the budding comedian like those days were numbered, once accepting an autographed copy of his 8 by 10 "like it was a picture of Kirk Douglas," Hall says. Murray provided uplift and counseling at critical points in Hall's career. After one lecture about believing in oneself, Hall broke up with a girlfriend who had been naysaying his career. Today Murray keeps the TV star in line. Hall vividly remembers how Murray once shot him a look that could turn water to ice, and said, "Don't take yourself too seriously."