At 90, still fighting for justice
● By J. Chambless
Dorothea Murray, 90, of Lincoln University, attended the Women's March in Washington with her daughter and nieces. (Photo by Mark Ungemach)
By John Chambless
Dorothea Murray has lived through 90
years of sometimes turbulent American history, but few things have
stirred her to action like the inauguration of Donald Trump.
On Jan. 21, Murray was one of perhaps 500,000 people who went to Washington, D.C., with the intention of marching against Trump's policies. She found a gridlock of women, men and children who came to make their voices heard. While there was no room to actually march, Murray feels better having been part of the historic event.
Sitting in the living room of her home near the Lincoln University campus on Monday morning, Murray traced the arc of her longtime involvement with politics and social justice. She said that her parents weren't overtly political, but she vividly remembers her mother coming home, closing the front door behind her and crying because “our President,” Franklin Roosevelt, had passed away. “We were just devastated, and we all cried,” Murray said. “He was beginning his fourth term, and the war was still on, and Vice President Truman was untested. We wondered what he knew about running a war. But he stepped up to the plate.”
Murray has lived in Chester County since 1949. Her husband was a Dean at Lincoln's divinity school at the time, and later the chairman of the religion department. When the couple moved in, “we were told that the only important election was the Republican Primary,” Murray said. “It was just a matter of which Republican you wanted, because there was no chance for any Democrat to ever win. I was a registered Republican until Spiro Agnew, and then I could no longer be a Republican.”
She remembers “cross burnings just over the state line” in Maryland, as well as the anti-Communist rhetoric of Joseph McCarthy, and the anti-war demonstrations and pro-civil rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s. She served as a Democratic committee person for 35 years, and ran against Sen. Art Hershey in 1990. But the ascendancy of Donald Trump mystifies her.
“Oxford went for Trump in the primary,” she said. “I know he was a celebrity from appearing on 'The Apprentice,' although I never watched his TV show. So I guess if you watch somebody on TV every week, you might feel like you know them. He had name recognition, and at his rallies, he threatened people. Apparently that appeals to a large number of people.
“I don't understand it,” Murray said. “The things he has said about women, and starting to talk about registering Muslims. Well, I lived through World War II, and I'm well aware of what happened in the 1930s. I've never been able to understand how Germany – a country that was educated and sophisticated – would decide that they were going to exterminate a whole segment of their population.”
Murray also sees distinct parallels between Trump's call to register Muslims and the Japanese internment camps of World War II, when an entire group of people was painted as suspect for their ancestry alone. “That is not Democracy,” she said.
“I'm not saying that a Holocaust is around the corner in the United States, but I am saying that anything is possible, especially with somebody who admires a strongman like Putin. If that's Trump's model, we're in more trouble than we think.”
Murray watched Trump's campaign rallies and speeches, and was shocked by how he attacked opponents and the press. “On Election Night, I thought Hillary Clinton had it in the bag,” she said.
As the inauguration drew nearer, and the internet-led Women's March in Washington was taking shape, “My three nieces – who live in Seattle, Southern California and Colorado -- emailed me about the march and asked if they could stay at my house,” Murray said. “My daughter lives in New York City and asked about me going, but I said I couldn't stand up that long. She said, 'What about a wheelchair?' I said, 'Well, OK,'” Murray recalled, smiling.
Murray, her nieces and her daughter were part of a group aboard a bus to the march that was chartered by the Women's Rights Coalition of Southern Chester County. “All four of them took turns pushing me, so they're the heroes,” she said.
In Washington, she said, the unexpectedly large crowd struggled to find where the march was taking place. “One of the chants was, 'This is what Democracy looks like,'” Murray said. “And that is so true. My daughter and my nieces had their phones out and were watching the worldwide protests. It was very moving. Nobody was complaining. There were a lot of signs, a lot of families with young children, and there were men there. I got interesting reactions because I was sitting in a wheelchair. Maybe five different people asked to take my picture. One person touched me on the arm and said, 'Good for you.' I didn't see anything negative. It was incredibly peaceful. There wasn't a single arrest.”
While she didn't get close enough to the speakers platform to hear what was said, Murray felt that just being in the midst of what many are calling the largest global protest in history was very gratifying.
“During the Vietnam War, the demonstrations had a soberness to them,” she said, “because we knew lives were being lost. This one didn't feel that way, but there was a sense that we're going in the wrong direction and we need to do a correction.”
Murray said she attended her first demonstration in 1966, when her husband was a visiting fellow at Princeton University for a year. “We were members of a peace group there, and George Wallace was running for President and he came to speak at Princeton. So we all got tickets,” she said. “We spread out all over the auditorium, and when he was walking up to speak, we all stood up and walked out.”
That same year, Murray took part in a protest at the Kodak headquarters in New Jersey. “They had a policy of not hiring African Americans,” she said. “They were having their annual meeting. This group rented a bus and we went there. I wanted to show that I was not a hippie, so I wore pumps, a skirt, a blue coat, a purse on my arm, and little white gloves. All we did was walk in a circle, holding some signs. I was told somebody took a photo and it appeared in print – nameless, thankfully.”
Murray said Donald Trump's inauguration speech was chilling. “It was dark,” she said. “An inauguration speech should be one about working together. There was none of that. It was just dark. It was like one of his rally speeches.”
But the thing that frightens her the most is Trump's stated willingness to place nuclear weapons on the table in his international negotiations. “He said during an interview, 'What's the use of having weapons if you're not going to use them?'” she said. “He said that. On television.”
In her many years of Presidents coming and going, Murray said Trump is the worst. “Right now, I believe that,” she said. “He's so negative on every front. … I don't think he can identify with people's feelings. He's all strategy. The least little thing that is said against him, he cannot bear. It's almost like a child. I watched him during the primary, when he would destroy his opposition, insult other candidates and denigrate the media. And he lies so easily.”
Murray said vigilance is going to be called for, along with support for groups working for justice, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU. “Both of them are very tuned in to all of the abuses that will occur,” she said. “We all have to find our mark, and say, 'No, this is not acceptable,' The main thing is to vote. Be aware locally, and support any elected person who is trying to do the right thing. Let your representatives know what you want them to do. Do not back down. Everybody needs to pay attention. It's too important not to.”
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email email@example.com.
Slug: Dorothea Miller
Photos by Mark Ungemach
Dorothea Murray, 90, of Lincoln University, attended the Women's March in Washington with her daughter and nieces.