Overcoming the odds: Murray to hold book signing | News | The Press and Standard

by | May 25, 2017 5:00 am

Last Updated: May 24, 2017 at 12:30 pm

As a black child in Roadside in the 1930s, Dr. Samuel Murray faced seemingly insurmountable odds. But his life turned out to be a shining example of “we shall overcome.”

Living in a kind of poverty not conceivable today, Murray had limited options. He never knew his father, who died when Murray was one. His mother, Nancy, made $3 a week, not enough even to buy her nine children shoes or books. There was no plumbing, electricity, radio or telephone. The Roadside school (which he didn’t even get to attend until age 9) only offered first-fifth grades. He completed that, then walked five miles to Hendersonville for the next year to complete sixth grade.

At 16, Murray moved to New York with his aunt and uncle. He finished high school at age 20, one year after marrying the love of his life, Eugenie, his partner for 65 years.

But Murray had two things going for him: his insatiable curiosity and his work ethic.

Some lessons he learned the hard way. While working at his first job making televisions on an assembly line, he “kept getting words and music in my head.” He talked with a friend of a friend, who was a professor of music who said he was “a diamond in the rough.” The professor sent him to a Broadway producer, who listened to his songs and immediately presented Murray with a contract — a contract he signed without reading it. As two of his songs became successes, he began to wonder why he never received any royalties. Turns out, the contract excluded him from any payments. “I just didn’t know to reach out (for help),” Murray said. Lesson learned.

By this time, he and his wife had three sons and he was working full time. He never thought it was possible to go to college. But after his first son graduated high school, he decided to try. And lo and behold, at age 43 he was accepted at not one, but two colleges: Queens and Pace. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, then went on to Fordham University where he received his doctorate.

“I was not the smartest student, but I was the hardest worker,” Murray said. “Everything in the doctorate program was a challenge. There were many tough days, but then the sun would come shining through.” That doctorate took him eight years. Never did he hear words so sweet as “Congratulations, Dr. Murray.”

Over the years, he worked at a number of jobs. When the television plant closed, Murray went to the welfare office, hoping they would help him find work. But all the first person he talked to had to offer was welfare — something he didn’t want. A co-worker overheard their conversation and suggested a place that might be hiring. He checked it out and was hired the same day.

Then there was the bus driver job. “I was out on the streets every day early in the morning looking for work,” Murray said. “One day I was just so tired, so hungry that I sat down and I saw this sign.” So he went to the office, and got hired on the spot as a bus driver, making $110 a week — more than he ever dreamed.

His last job — and the one that enabled him to continue his education — was as a fireman. He’d taken a civil service exam for the fire department mainly just for the experience, never thinking he’d get a call. But he did. He didn’t really want to be a fireman, but he accepted the job anyway. “I didn’t know any black firemen,” he said. But the job offered him the down time to study, and he stayed from 1958-1990, retiring as a captain.

Five years ago, Eugenie died of a brain hemorrhage. “I took her to church, went to park the car and when I came back in, they said she was with the nurse,” he said. She never regained consciousness.

Murray became severely depressed. The two had been married for 65 years. He couldn’t eat, was losing weight, feeling bad. “Every night for 65 years we sat down at the table together, and I just couldn’t do it,” he said. Finally, his doctor insisted that he simply must move on with his life, and slowly, he did.

One of the ways he moved on was writing the story of his life. His first book was published in 1997: “Samuel: In Search of the American Dream.” This year, his second book, “A Reflection on My Journey,” came out.

And he hopes that some of the stories might help other young people realize that they, too, can overcome. “After I got my doctorate, I started speaking to young people about what they could do to help others like themselves. They can reach out in ways that adults can’t,” Murray said. “I want to share with younger people — they don’t realize what they can do. I never had confidence in myself, but I was curious. Then I learned I could learn.”

That revelation is what changed his life. He hopes reading his stories can help other youngsters realize that they, too, can overcome.

Residents can meet Dr. Murray and get copies of his books at a booksigning on Friday May 26 starting at 5 p.m. at Magnolia Eventures Hall (Josie’s Creative Designs) in Yemassee. For information call 843-575-7770.

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