Passing of an era requisites the fuel: ‘Franklin on the Rise’

Published 1:41 pm Saturday, April 30, 2016

The scuttlebutt (a nautical term about a shipborne water fountain) around Franklin and vicinity is that the cause of Franklin’s decline was the loss of the “Mill.” But the people who are dying off — as the obituaries continue to tell us — didn’t just have “water fountain” conversations about Franklin; they built, constructed, maintained and painted the business districts and took care of the neighborhoods they lived in. Theirs was a sense of pride, a sense of belonging, a sense of custody at all levels in the community.

Deacon Jessie L. Murphy was one of those people with that conviction who worked tirelessly in his community striving to make life better for its dwellers. He was a “social activist” long before the term was in vogue. Murphy started working at a very early age as a farmer in the county.

He soon found employment with the Department of the Navy, working at the Norfolk Naval Ship Yard in the logistic division. He held this job for 32 years then retired from the Ship Yard.

During those years he — like others — was active in Franklin and vicinity supporting and encouraging others to strive towards excellence. The local garden he cultivated on his property produced potatoes, tomatoes, snaps, peppers and collards. He willingly shared these products with his neighbors, especially his legendary collards, which were considered by some the largest collards crop in the area.

His optimistic attitude and astute sternness of character attributed to the positive mindset of those in leadership positions in his vicinity. The success of the ‘south-side’ in those days can be charged to like-minded people like Deacon Murphy.

The businesses along South Street fueled the community and Deacon Murphy was well respected by them. Washington Street and other streets in the neighborhood reflected a community determined to rise above its social position. Boy Scout troops were started to teach the children life-long characteristics. Church activities strengthened and taught godly principle and ethical standards.

Fundraising activity was organized to help Hayden High Wildcats and other schools advance the education of its students. Even the Martin Luther King center was funded by donations from folks in the community and Deacon Murphy played a part in that successful adventure as well.

After retirement he worked for Southampton Memorial Hospital as head of security for many years again gaining favor with doctors, nurses and the Hospital staff personnel for his willingness to improve the department.

Undaunted by advancing age, after leaving the hospital security department, he worked for Vaughan Funeral Home in Franklin before finally permanently retiring and devoting most of his time to his garden, his newly grown grape arbor and his fruit trees.

Deacon Murphy was a lifelong member of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Boykins. He became a member as a young child. Following in the steps of his parents, he was a dedicated member and tireless worker all of his life.

He attended Sunday school on a regular basis, was a member of the male chorus and was involved in the growth of the church both physically and financially. He was selected and ordained as a deacon and eventually was elevated to the chairman of the deacon’s board — a position held by his father.

He served in that capacity for well over 30 years. He was the third chairperson of Shiloh’s deacon board to hold that office until death. [According to Shiloh’s history, Deacon Johnnie Sykes was Shiloh’s first recorded chairman of the deacon board. He occupied that position from 1888 to 1953. Sykes was followed in office by Manuel Murphy, Deacon Murphy’s Dad.]

One of the legacies that will endure at Shiloh is the “Gospel Wagon.” Deacon Murphy organized the Gospel Wagon concert and promoted it for over 35 years. Not only did he love his family but he loved his church and his community. J.L. Murphy will be missed but never forgotten!

People of his generation are passing away without being replaced. Death causes grief which causes anxiety; physical pain causes anxiety; suffering causes anxiety; hate causes anxiety. But despite the anxiousness of our ‘times,’ we must remember those folks who endured making Franklin a better place to live. We need to remember them and we need to emulate them.

The loss of the “Mill” was not the total problem; it was the lack of vision. Now it’s our ‘time’ to rise above the ‘ill winds of change,’ and merge around one cohesive community.

Inflammatory terms, political biases, the sense of privilege, entitlements and other social and ethnic preconceptions will only continue to mar Franklin if we don’t minimize them or to outright ‘do away with them.’

The more things change, the more they remain the same is an axiom that speaks to our anxiety when confronted with change. Let’s do away with that axiom and concoct our own — The passing of an era requisites the fuel: “Franklin on the Rise.”

DR. WILLIAM SCOTT is a guest columnist for The Tidewater News. He can be reached at