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Cecil L. 'Chip' Murray, influential pastor and civil rights leader in Los Angeles, dies

The Rev. Dr. Cecil L. “Chip” Murray, an influential pastor and civil rights leader who used his tenure at one of Los Angeles' oldest churches to uplift the predominantly Black neighborhoods of South Los Angeles following one of the country's worst race riots, has died. He was 94.

Murray died on Friday, according to an announcement from the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture. He died of natural causes, his son, Drew Murray, told the Los Angeles Times.

Born in Lakeland, Florida, in 1929, Murray spent 27 years as the pastor of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles. The church was small when he took over. But by the time he retired, it had grown into an 18,000-member mega church.

In 1992, the acquittal of four police officers who were caught on video violently beating Rodney King triggered an explosion of violence in the predominantly Black neighborhoods of South Los Angeles. Murray emerged as a calming presence and was a frequent guest on national television news shows. He used his connections with the city's political and business leaders to raise money for recovery efforts, including loans for businesses and assistance for people displaced by the violence. 

Obit Cecil Murray© AP1998

“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,” said Donald E. Miller, the Leonard K. Firestone Professor of Religion at USC and co-founder of the Center for Religion and Civic Culture.

During his time as pastor, First AME became a must-stop for prominent politicians, including former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton along with former California governors Pete Wilson, Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Under Murray's leadership, the church worked to transform the community through a host of programs and initiatives, including job training, support for foster children and developing affordable housing units for low-income families.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said 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,” Bass said. "My heart is with the First AME congregation and community today as we reflect on a legacy that changed this city forever.”

After retiring as First AME's pastor, he joined the faculty at the University of Southern California as the Tansey Professor of Christian Ethics, where he trained about 1,000 faith leaders in the “ Murray Method ” of church leadership. 

Story by Associated Press

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