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Beloved civil rights leader Reverend Doctor Cecil “Chip” Murray dies

By Matthew Rodriguez

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    LOS ANGELES, California (KCAL, KCBS) — Beloved Los Angeles pastor, civil rights leader and community activist Reverend Doctor Cecil Murray died Friday night.

His family told KCAL News that he died after some health struggles.

Reverend Murray, also known by many as “Chip,” was the pastor of First African Methodist Episcopal Church for almost three decades. During his 27 years as the church’s pastor, Murray grew his congregation from 250 to 18,000. He helped his South LA through numerous programs, that brought jobs, housing and poured millions of dollars into the community.

Presidents, including George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, visited his church, which Bush named the “177th Point of Light” as part of his Points of Light nonprofit initiative.

After his time at First AME, he served as the chair of Christian Ethics in the School of Religion at USC and the chair of the Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement from 2005 to 2022. While there, he trained more than 1,000 faith leaders in what he dubbed the “Murray Method,” focusing on tackling community needs by moving from what he called “description to prescription.”

“He is mourned by the countless individuals he has mentored, counseled and prayed over during his life of service,” said a Facebook post from USC’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture. “Our condolences to his family and all those who called him pastor.”

Murray was born in Lakeland, Florida on Sept. 26, 1929. After earning his undergraduate degree from Florida A&M University in 1951, he joined the United States Air Force. He served in the Korean War as a jet radar intercept officer.

He retired from service as a reserve major in 1958 and earned the Soldier’s Medal of Valor.

Afterwards, he earned a Ph.D. in religion from Claremont College’s School of Theology in 1964. Prior to joining First AME, Murray served as a pastor at churches in Pomona, Kansas City and Seattle.

Murray is survived by his son Drew, his niece, nephews, grand niece and grand nephews. His wife, Bernadine, died in 2013.

After news of his death, local figures and celebrities who felt Murray’s impact took to social media to offer their condolences.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass issued a statement on Saturday morning.

“Today we lost a giant. 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,” her statement said. “My heart is with the First AME congregation and community today as we reflect on a legacy that changed this city forever.”

Laker legend Magic Johnson called Murray “an outstanding man of God” and “soft spoken but a giant in the Black community.”

John Hope Bryant, CEO of the nonprofit Operation Hope, said that he was guided through early life by Murray and that his heart hurts upon learning the news.

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