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Cecil L. ‘Chip’ Murray, Influential Pastor and Civil Rights Leader, Passes Away at 94

Cecil L. ‘Chip’ Murray, Influential Pastor and Civil Rights Leader, Passes Away at 94


LOS ANGELES — The Rev. Dr. Cecil L. “Chip” Murray, an influential pastor and civil rights leader, breathed his last on Friday, leaving behind a legacy that transformed Los Angeles and reverberated far beyond its borders.

His passing marks the end of an era for the city he tirelessly served.

Born in Lakeland, Florida, in 1929, Murray dedicated his life to uplifting the predominantly Black neighborhoods of South Los Angeles.

For 27 years, he shepherded the First African Methodist Episcopal (FAME) Church of Los Angeles, a small congregation that blossomed under his leadership into an 18,000-member mega church. His impact extended well beyond the pulpit.

In 1992, the acquittal of four police officers caught on video violently beating Rodney King ignited an explosion of violence in South Los Angeles.

Amid the chaos, Murray emerged as a calming presence.

His soothing voice resonated on national television news shows, offering hope and urging unity. He understood that healing required more than words; it demanded action.

Murray leveraged his connections with the city’s political and business leaders to raise funds for recovery efforts.

Loans for businesses and assistance for those displaced by the violence flowed from his tireless efforts.

Donald E. Miller, the Leonard K. Firestone Professor of Religion at USC, praised Murray’s unique ability:

“While many famous preachers have roots in Southern California, Chip Murray is unparalleled in his ability to mobilize the city of Los Angeles to heal the inequities related to race and income inequality.”

During his tenure, First AME became a must-stop for prominent politicians.

Former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, along with former California governors Pete Wilson, Gray Davis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, sought his counsel within the church’s hallowed walls.

Under Murray’s leadership, the church initiated programs for job training, foster children support, and affordable housing development.

After retiring as First AME’s pastor, Murray continued to impact lives. As the Tansey Professor of Christian Ethics at the University of Southern California, he trained approximately 1,000 faith leaders in the “Murray Method” of church leadership.

His legacy remains etched in the hearts of those he touched, and Los Angeles owes much of its transformation to this remarkable man.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass summed it up: “My heart is with the First AME congregation and community today as we reflect on a legacy that changed this city forever.”