Saturday, October 24, 2015

This Week in Texas Methodist History   October 25

El Paso Methodist Preacher, Rev. A. C. Murphy, Offers Church Building for School

Although El Paso was far removed from eastern Texas and its tradition of racial segregation, it was still part of Texas, and that meant separate facilities and institutions for African American and European American residents.

In 1886 a dispute over facilities for African American students arose that involved the young Methodist preacher, the Rev. Alfred C. Murphy.

The El Paso School Board conducted a scholastic census and counted 775 children and young people between the ages of 6 and 17.  Of those only 14 were African American.  In accordance with the educational law of the 1880’s the City Council provided the facility, and the School Board operated the school.  The City Council required a minimum student body of 20 before it would build a school.

Instead of sending those 14 students to racially  integrated schools, the School Board rented the old African American Methodist Church building for $8/month.  The congregation had moved out of the building to more modern facilities, so one can imagine the poor quality of the facility provided.  

 The 1885-1886 academic year found the African American students in the old, inadequate building. 
As the 1886-1887 academic year approached, the community was split between competing offers from the Baptists and Methodists who both wished to hold the school in their buildings.  The new Methodist church, which had replaced the dilapidated one, was pastored by the Rev. Alfred C. Murphy, born 1859 in Rochester, New York.  Murphy was a graduate of Howard University and Wayland Seminary, also in Washington, D. C.    (Wayland later merged with Richmond Theological Seminary to become Virginia Union University.)  The School Board decided on the new Methodist building and hired Murphy to teach there.

It was common for preachers of the era to teach during the week and preach on Sundays.  The El Paso Methodist Church was obviously not equipped with desks, globes, scientific apparatus, or other accouterments necessary for high quality instruction.  Students sat on the same benches which the congregation used for pews, and there was a blackboard. In 1886 students provided their own textbooks.  State-provided textbooks did not appear in Texas schools until well into the 20th century. 

Rev. A. C. Murphy was a prominent citizen of El Paso throughout the 1890s.  He was often mentioned in the El Paso Times as a civic leader.  In 1888 he was the main orator at the El Paso Juneteenth celebration.  The reporter for the Times recorded the event with the highest praise.  He was an officer in the Knights of Pythias.

Murphy appears in the 1900 US Census, still living in El Paso with his occupation listed as teacher.  In the 1910 Census he is enumerated in Denver, Colorado, having lost his wife but with three of his sons (9 to 13 years old) still at home.  His occupation is listed as school janitor.  . There must be a story behind those census reports. 


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