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Following its Founder’s Day Convocation on Sunday, April 8, Tuskegee University will memorialize famed American literary and jazz critic — and 1939 alumnus — Albert Murray, who died in 2013 at the age of 97. Two events to be held on the university’s campus will underscore Murray’s growing reputation as one of the keenest observers of 20th century American society.
Murray’s work as a prolific essayist, critic and novelist between 1970 and his death significantly influenced the national discussion about race and culture by challenging all narrow definitions of black Americans’ place in and contribution to American culture. Instead, he insisted, their participation in and legacy to the broader culture was essential to its formation and ongoing development.
Equally important was Murray’s defining as indispensable the role jazz played in American culture and the deserved rightful place of Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Louis Armstrong in its pantheon. Murray co-founded Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis and others. His books — Stomping the Blues and Good Morning Blues, the Autobiography of Count Basie as told to Albert Murray — are considered by many as classics.
Sunday’s events honoring Murray will begin immediately following the university’s annual Founder’s Day Convocation with the interment of his ashes in the university cemetery. His remains will be interred along with those of his wife, Mozelle Menefee Murray, a 1943 graduate and Tuskegee native, who died in 2015.
“Albert Murray’s contributions to our nation’s discourse on race and the role of African-Americans in our country will forever be his legacy,” said the university’s interim president, Dr. Charlotte P. Morris. “We consider ourselves fortunate to honor one of Mother Tuskegee’s ‘diligent sons’ and his many achievements in this special way by laying him and his wife to rest on the hallowed grounds of our campus.”
The Murrays will rest alongside university founder Booker T. Washington and many other notable historic Tuskegee-related figures and alumni. Lewis P. Jones III, the Murray family’s executor and the Albert Murray Trust’s literary executor, noted the honor underscores the deep reverence the couple had for their alma mater.
“Albert and Mozelle Murray were dedicated alumni who deeply loved the university and had an enduring pride in its history,” Jones said. “Returning to Tuskegee is a homecoming for the Murrays that goes back to an honor bestowed by Dr. Benjamin Payton and the trustees of Tuskegee in 2004. Their interment in the historic cemetery permanently secures their place as part of that history.”
Following the interment ceremony, the university will dedicate Murray’s collection of books and historical mementos as the permanent Albert Murray Collection exhibit in the Ford Motor Company Library and Learning Resource Center. The dedication ceremony will include reflections by faculty and family members on Murray’s literary legacy, as well as an overview and tour of the new collection.
The Murray installation — entitled “Beyond Category” — details the extraordinary lives of the Murrays. It draws from the couple’s personal collections and includes a comprehensive amalgam of books, family memorabilia, posters, military gear, personal reflections, chronological data, awards, and an extensive selection of photographs of Murray with some of America’s most famous personalities and musicians.
“It is quite fitting that Albert Murray’s extensive collection would find a home in the university’s Ford Motor Company Library,” said Juanita Roberts, Tuskegee University’s director of library services. “As a student, he was known to lose himself for countless hours in the library stacks. His collection will now feed the same literary and intellectual curiosity of generations of Tuskegee University students to come.”
Speaking on behalf of the Ford Foundation, its president, Darren Walker, noted the importance of the Murray exhibit, which underscores the foundation’s vision for social justice and the themes commonly found in Murray’s works.
“Albert Murray was an essential American writer who was not afraid to challenge conventional wisdom on race, culture and the human experience,” Walker said. “The Ford Foundation is pleased to support Tuskegee University in honoring Murray’s legacy and bringing his extraordinary collection of books and cultural artifacts to contemporary audiences.”
Murray’s growing influence recently prompted the Library of America to publish a two-volume definitive edition of his works as part of their prestigious series on America’s greatest writers. The volumes were edited by Paul Devlin, this year’s Founder’s Day Convocation speaker, and Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Murray, a native of Mobile, Alabama, taught literature and composition at Tuskegee Institute in the early 1940s before enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943. In 1944, he became an assistant training coordinator for the Tuskegee Airmen at the Tuskegee Army Airfield. Later, he would serve as a professor in Tuskegee’s ROTC program before serving tours in Morocco, California, and Massachusetts — eventually retiring from the Air Force in 1962 as a major. He then settled in Harlem, where he would reside for the remainder of his life, and began his career as a full-time writer.
The Albert Murray Collection is open to the public without an appointment during the Ford Motor Company Library’s normal hours of operation — Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
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