Los Angeles Mourns the Passing of a Spiritual Giant


      Services are pending for Cecil Murray, the revered former pastor of First AME Church, who gained national attention for his efforts to bring peace following the 1992 L.A. riots and for prompting an economic revival through the FAME Assistance Corporation. Known as Fame Renaissance, the initiative attracted over $400 million in corporate investments for the community. Murray, who passed away at the age of 94 due to natural causes, was celebrated by an array of political, community, and faith leaders as a spiritual giant. 

      “Today we lost a giant,” L.A. Mayor Karen Bass said. “Reverend Dr. Cecil Murray dedicated his life to service, community, and putting God first in all things. I had the absolute honor of working with him, worshiping with him, and seeking his counsel. My heart is with the First AME congregation and community today as we reflect on a legacy that changed this city forever.”

      “RIP to Reverend Doctor Cecil “Chip” Murray – an outstanding man of God, a dynamic preacher, and a leader in Los Angeles,” Magic Johnson posted. “He was so soft spoken but a giant in the Black community!”

      In his 27-year tenure from 1977 to 2004 at First AME, the churches membership grew from 300 to well over 18, 000 making it among the largest AME congregations in the nation and attracting such high-profile visitors as Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and former presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush, along with countless other notables, all of whom praised Murray’s efforts and, in many instances, sought his support. 

      Born on September 26, 1929, in Lakeland, Florida, Murray made significant contributions at every pastoral post since becoming the first Black student at the School of Theology in Claremont in 1964. His career began with a congregation of eight in Pomona’s Primm A.M.E., where he earned $35 a week, eventually leading to leadership roles in Kansas City and Seattle. 

      His impactful work in Seattle—where church members credited him with turning around the finances and doubling the congregation to 2,000 members— caught the attention of Bishop H.H. Brookins, who in 1977 believed Murray could revitalize the troubled First AME Church in Los Angeles.

      Brookins was right. By the mid-nineties, the church’s multi-million operating budget had fueled upwards of forty ministries that serviced both its members and the community at-large. Its nonprofit housing corporation spanned 13 complexes servicing more than 1800, including housing for seniors, the physically handicapped, AIDS patients and lower income families. 

      A legal clinic boasted such legal dynamos as Tom Mesereau, who led Michael Jackson legal team, and its business arm, FAME Renaissance—established as an affiliate of the church in 1992— operated several major social and business development programs designed to create wealth in impoverished communities within Los Angeles County. 

      Its $6 million “Business Incubator & Technology Center”, a 48,000 square foot office complex located at Western Avenue and Adams Boulevard, was one of few not-for-profit incubators in the country, and the first of its kind in California, funded in part by Wells Fargo, State Farm
Insurance, the Disney Company and the U.S. Department of Commerce and a grant from the city’s Community Development Department to fund and develop small business startups. 

      Murray believed that mega churches should mean mega-possibilities and short of rent money, he tried to find a way to say yes to every request. 

      “If someone said my son is in prison, then the prison ministry clanks up. If it’s ‘I need a job’, then the job search people crank up,” Murray told L.A. Focus in 2004. “Anything that can be asked.” 

      In fact, in 1993, he set out to find a lifelong companion for every black woman in his congregation to deal with the pain of lonely hearts. But it was his political and social activism that has brought the most attention. In any given week, the church—and Murray— were involved in more than a dozen groups addressing everything from black-on-black crime to homelessness, emergency feeding and education. 

      “I suppose any of us maximizes self, when we empower, if we empower the organization we serve, to serve, then we have done our work,” Murray said. 

      For his efforts, the L.A. City Council voted unanimously to name a portion of West 25th Street bordering the church Dr. Cecil L. “Chip” Murray Circle. A celebration is planned as part of his official retirement ceremonies. 

      In advancing his mission, Murray became a bonified newsmaker taking center stage during the L.A. riots when cameras seemed to chronicle the churches and his every move and becoming viewed by many in the press as a lightning rod for news affecting L.A.’s African American community. 

      Following his retirement in 2004, Murray would go on to chair the Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement at USC from 2005 to 2022, training more than 1,000 faith leaders.

      Reflecting on his life, Murray often credited his father’s high standards and personal struggles for his dedication to public service and social justice. 

      “My dad was a fantastic human being,” Murray would remember fondly. “He would make the three of us stand and recite the classics—the Lincoln Gettysburg address, Langston Hughes and we’d study three-part harmony—me singing the lead. He always had the highest standards for freedom but his sensitivity for the struggle and fighting the KKK ultimately drove him to alcoholism.” 

      Seeing his father’s battles sensitized Murray to the struggle of all humans in overcoming their frailties and fears. 

      Change, however, was something Murray did not fear. 

      “I believe that you must do your very best to enhance when it is your day, and when it is beyond your day you must be very careful to realize that it is no longer my day.” 

      “Dr. Murray was a father figure to many young men and women in the ministry”, said Pastor Mark Whitlock, who worked alongside Murray at Fame Renaissance. “He taught us to come out of ourselves, our fears and insecurities and go into the greater self of God where there’s nothing we can’t accomplish. We now walk for Him…

      “I will miss my father in the ministry but more than that, the social justice movement has witnessed a great loss not only for Los Angeles, but for America.”

Share the Post:

Related Posts