February 23, 2022
Today, Murphey School Apartments serves as a beloved senior housing community whose residents consider themselves to be one big family. But, many don’t realize that this historic Raleigh landmark played an important role in the Civil Rights Movement in our state.
Originally one of the city’s oldest school sites, in 1956, Black families petitioned the school board to admit their children to the all-white school following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown vs. Board of Education.
The Joseph Holt family was the first to petition, but their efforts were unsuccessful. Four years later on September 6th, 1960, seven-year-old William Campbell, the youngest son of local NAACP official, Ralph Campbell, enrolled in second grade at Murphey School. He was the first Black child to integrate Raleigh’s public schools.
Campbell’s arrival at the school was met with protest by some families who petitioned the decision and he remained the only Black student at the school during his five years of attendance. By 1961, the local school board had admitted eight older Black students to other schools in the area, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that the process of desegregation was more widespread in the community. Campbell, who would go on to finish his education at Vanderbilt University and Duke University Law School, also served two terms as mayor of Atlanta, GA from 1994 to 2002.
As the first all-white school in a southern capital city to admit a Black student, Murphey School played an important part in the fight for racial equality in the state of North Carolina.
In 1973, the state purchased the school to use as office space, and by 1984, it was slated for demolition, but affordable housing activists wanted to preserve the building to serve as housing for seniors. With the support of then Representative Dan Blue who sponsored the bill for the state to lease the school to the city, the groundwork was laid. In 1989, DHIC subleased the school and worked with York Companies to convert the building into 48 affordable apartments for senior citizens. In 2011, we renovated and updated the common areas, landscaping, and security features.
We’re proud to be a part of the way that this historic building continues to serve the community decades later. To learn more about Murphey School Apartments and what it means to its residents, read this recent profile from the property’s Resident Manager, Allen Hooker.