McMurray, Georgia L. 1934–1992
Georgia L. McMurray 1934–1992
Advocate, activist, educator
Georgia L. McMurray was an activist and academician who devoted her career to the protection and advocacy of children and adolescents in New York City, especially the poor. McMurray began her career as a public servant, serving as New York City’s first commissioner of the Agency for Child Development. In this role she developed unique programs to meet the various needs of the city’s children. She then worked for a non-profit social services agency for eight years before starting her own research and consulting firm. McMurray was an active and passionate person who did not let a debilitating disease impede her work as an educator and child advocate.
Georgia L. McMurray was born on March 18, 1934, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was one of three daughters born to George McMurray and Daisy Gatewood McMurray Fullen. Her father was a self-employed barber from Tennessee and her mother was a cafeteria employee and garment industry worker from North Carolina. Daisy McMurray Fullen was also an activist who helped organize the Philadelphia Workers’ Union.
As a child McMurray had a passion for music. She was a member of the New Bethlehem Baptist Church Choir and of Singing City, a student group that performed across the state. After graduating from Girls’ High School in Philadelphia, McMurray won a Marian Anderson Scholarship to attend college, based on her musical talent. McMurray studied sociology at Temple University and earned a bachelor of arts degree in 1956. She then earned a master of arts degree in social work from Bryn Mawr College in 1962.
McMurray dedicated her entire career to the children of New York City. In 1966 she founded Project Teen Aid, a program for pregnant teenagers. At that time, teenage girls who were pregnant were expelled from school for fear that they would set a poor example for other teenagers. However, McMurray argued that depriving pregnant teenagers of an education only exacerbated the problem. As McMurray told Essence magazine, “Girls become pregnant because there is no emphasis on female education.”
The success of Project Teen Aid led to McMurray’s appointment in 1969 as director of an early childhood task force. This task force, appointed by New York City’s Mayor John Lindsay, led to the creation of the first New York City Agency for Child Development, and McMurray was named commissioner of the new program in 1971. In her new role, McMurray supervised 450 employees and oversaw a budget of more than $100 million. The agency was responsible for providing childcare and preschool programs for 825,000 preschool-age children, more than one-fourth of whom were poor.
During her three-year tenure as commissioner, McMurray introduced a number of innovative child care programs. She created night care programs to accommodate parents who worked evening or night shifts. She provided programs for latch-key children so they would not sit home alone. She also developed alternative programs for children not eligible for Head Start.
At a Glance…
Born Georgia L. McMurray on March 18, 1934, in Philadelphia, PA; died on December 18, 1992, in New York, NY; daughter of George McMurray and Daisy (Gatewood) McMurray Fullen. Education: Temple University, B.A., sociology, 1956; Bryn Mawr College, M.A., social work, 1962.
Career: Project Teen Aid, founder, 1966-69; Early Childhood Task Force, director, 1969-71; New York City Agency for Child Development, commissioner, 1971-74; Alliance for Children, cofounder, 1975-78; Community Service Society, deputy general director for programming, 1978-86; GLM Group, president, 1986-92; Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service, distinguished professor.
Memberships: National Association of Social Workers, New York City Chapter.
Awards: Dr. Leo B. Marsh Memorial Award, Black Achievers in Industry, 1985; Building Brick Award, New York Urban League, 1986; Distinguished Service Award, Children’s Aid Society, 1992; Essence Award, 1992.
McMurray was involved in the day-to-day operation of her job, making frequent site visits to programs and attending community meetings throughout the city. She also offered counseling resources for parents, to educate them about the services available for their children. “Under McMurray’s guidance the number of day-care centers multiplied and the number of children served rose from 5,000 to 40,000,” wrote Wolfgang Saxon in the New York Times.
Despite her successes as commissioner of the Agency for Child Development, McMurray was forced to resign in 1974 when Edward Koch became mayor of New York City. McMurray created some political enemies during her tenure as commissioner, primarily because she fought to centralize the child care resources that had been spread among various agencies. Rather than challenge McMurray’s administrative decisions, the new administration charged that she was not physically capable of continuing her job.
McMurray suffered from a rare and progressively degenerative muscle disorder called Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. During the 1970s she had undergone two artificial hip replacements and had to use metal crutches in order to walk. While this disease did not inhibit her from doing her job, it was used as a political ploy to remove her from office. One of her former coworkers told Andrea Fooner of Working Woman that “Georgia’s condition may have affected her mobility, but not her ability. She was running one of the most effective agencies in the city.” Although she did not want to leave her position, McMurray knew that she would not get the professional respect that she deserved under the new administration. She did not want to get involved in an unpleasant political battle centering on her personal health, so she left her office in June of 1974.
A year later McMurray cofounded, along with David Seeley, the assistant director for public education, a new political action group called the Alliance for Children. In 1978 she became the deputy general director of programming for the Community Service Society, a research and policy organization covering a wide range of social issues. McMurray’s primary focus remained on children. In 1982 she conducted a study called “Day Care and the Working Poor: The Struggle for Self-Sufficiency,” funded by the Carnegie Corporation. She interviewed 211 families in need of day care in New York City, in order to assess the impact of closing publicly funded programs which had served that population.
In 1983 McMurray testified before the Congressional House Committee on Children, Youth, and Families about the quality of life among New York City’s children. As Sheila Rue of the New York Times reported, McMurray told the committee that New York City “is becoming a bleak place to live for far too many children.” In the same year McMurray organized a winter coat give-away for more than 2,000 poor city children, using a grant from the Starr Foundation. McMurray worked at the Community Service Society until 1986.
McMurray’s health continued to deteriorate as she got older. By the 1980s she was a quadriplegic confined to a motorized wheelchair. She learned to use a special mouthpiece to operate a computer so she could continue her work in child advocacy. However, she did not let this disability impede her career. Working from her home, McMurray founded the GLM Group, named after herself, which was a consulting firm that provided research, training, and technical assistance to government and non-profit organizations working with families and children. McMurray wrote reports on urban poverty, homelessness, and special programs for the city’s youth. In 1991 she wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times critiquing New York City’s child welfare system, which she claimed was “ossified by protectionist bureaucratic interests (public and private) and a maldistribution of resources.” In the same year she also wrote a report criticizing the lack of coordination, program assessment, and program monitoring in the Agency for Child Development, the same agency that she had headed twenty years earlier. During this time she also taught as the Distinguished Professor of Social Policy at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Social Service.
McMurray received numerous awards in recognition of her dedication to the children of New York City. She received the Dr. Leo B. Marsh Memorial Award in 1985 given by Black Achievers in Industry. In 1986 she received the New York Urban League’s Building Brick Award for work in human rights and social justice. In 1992 the Children’s Aid Society gave her its Distinguished Service Award. That same year she also received the prestigious Essence Award. As Audrey Edwards wrote for Essence magazine, “Dr. Georgia L. McMurray’s own remarkable life proves that a physical challenge of any kind—whether an early pregnancy or a rare disease—need not be a limitation to excellence.”
Georgia L. McMurray died at the age of 58 on December 18, 1992, in her Manhattan home. Her passing was recognized as a great loss for the social services community of New York City. She was eulogized by several respected organizations, including the New York Urban League, the Community Service Society, and Associated Black Charities. The memory of her dedication to children lives on in a Brooklyn day care center named after her.
Notable Black American Women, Book 2, Gale, 1996.
Essence, May 1992, p. 65.
New York Times, January 13, 1971, p. 47; July 24, 1974, p. 45; August 1, 1974, p. 30; February 16, 1975, p. 57; December 26, 1981, p. 44; June 17, 1982, p. C3; July 26, 1983, p. B3; December 15, 1983, p. B3; January 6, 1986, p. B3; February 23, 1991, p. 28; October 16, 1991, p. A24; December 19, 1992, p. 11.
Working Woman, October 1983, pp. 141-43.
—Janet P. Stamatel
"McMurray, Georgia L. 1934–1992." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 22, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mcmurray-georgia-l-1934-1992
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