Today we honor the achievements of Congressman George Washington Murray. Nicknamed the “Black Eagle of Sumter,” we remember George W. Murray as a fearless crusader for our party during an era where South Carolina politics did not welcome Republicans, let alone African Americans.
Born in 1853 to enslaved parents, Murray spent his youth in Sumter County in the midst of the Civil War. Though his slave status prevented him from receiving any formal primary education, he was able to enroll in the University of South Carolina in 1874 because of the actions taken by the Republican state government.
Though Murray originally worked as a farmer, teacher, and lecturer in Sumter County, South Carolina politics captivated him when he attended the 1880 Republican Party state convention as a delegate to Sumter County. Despite corrupt precinct workers favoring his opponent, Murray won his Congressional election by a narrow 40 votes. His first election to Congress would come to mirror much of his career, in which he constantly battled for the equal treatment of African Americans.
The only African American member of the 53rd and 54th Congresses, the majority of his legacy as a statesman derives from his work outside of his assignment to the Committee on Education. Perhaps his greatest battles were against the suppression of the African American vote. Murray, a minority both in race and opinion, opposed legislation aimed at reverting the rights African Americans had recently gained.
In an address titled “To the People of the United States,” Murray encouraged the United States citizens and government to rally against the inequality imposed on African Americans in South Carolina. And with a petition bursting with names of South Carolinians, both white and black, he advocated for those deprived of a vote based on the color of their skin.
Although, following his departure, no African American from the Palmetto State served in Congress for nearly a century, his impact on the civil rights of African Americans in our state and country has never ceased.