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Tom Murphy helped shape state

POSTED: January 26, 2008 5:02 a.m.
Every politician is either a person of the times, or a person that makes the times. More than not, most politicians fall in the former category.
However this was not the case of the late Georgia House Speaker Tom Murphy. He was a man who governed well beyond the time in which he lived. He was very much a visionary in Georgia politics.
I have found that most of the great citizens of Georgia do not recognize the name Tom Murphy. What I do know is that all the citizens of this great state have largely benefitted from his 42 years of public service in the Georgia legislature, 28 of which he served as House speaker. As a member of the Georgia legislature that has personally benefitted from Speaker Murphy’s work, I feel an obligation to inform the people of Georgia exactly the greatness this man personified.
Speaker Murphy was born in the then rural city of Bremen. His father was a railroad operator who also served as mayor of Bremen. Speaker Murphy honorably served his country during World War II as a member of the Navy. After serving his country, he entered the University of Georgia School of Law from which he graduated in 1960. That same year he was elected to the Georgia House of Representative, serving the district of his home town. Speaker Murphy was very ambitious and rose through the ranks of his party and the House quickly. After serving 13 years, he was elected speaker of the House, a post he held for 28 years. It was in this position his greatness truly shown, and he changed the state of Georgia for the better forever.
As of all true visionaries, Speaker Murphy accepted no limitations to change and growth, especially of the state capital. Atlanta, now called the Hub of the South, would not be the great international city it is today were it not for the works of Speaker Murphy. He championed the funding needed for the creation of MARTA when many strongly felt it was a bad idea for the city. He also made the creation and superior maintenance of Georgia’s freeways a top priority.
He is credited with bringing in millions upon millions of dollars to Georgia by leading the effort to create the Georgia World Congress Center and the Georgia Dome. These two great pieces of architecture continue to and will for decades upon decades benefit the state of Georgia.
However, while growing the city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia, he never forgot the less fortunate. As a child of The Depression and a brother of a handicapped man, there was always a special place in his heart for the causes of the children and disabled in Georgia. It was for those reasons he strongly supported Grady Hospital, even though it served mostly the poor and was costly to the state.
While accomplishing all the great achievements mentioned previously, it was his work in the House concerning African-Americans that is the most personal to me. Speaker Murphy was elected when segregation was rampant in Georgia. However, as the civil rights movement started to move the country closer to equality, Speaker Murphy moved with it just one step ahead of others. As more and more African-Americans became elected members of the House, Speaker Murphy did not treat them as second class as many others did. Instead he welcomed them and worked to include them in every aspect of House business. Only one rule applied to being a member of Speaker Murphy’s power circle: You had to be a Democrat. In fact it was largely to Speaker Murphy’s credit that the Democrats kept control of the House long after Jim Crow came off the books. He was a major player in building an alliance between white Democrats who served mostly rural Georgia and African-American Democrats serving urban areas.
Speaker Murphy himself made history in African-American politics when he appointed Albert Thompson as chairman of the House Special Judiciary Committee, the first African-American to chair a committee in Georgia history. This appointment paved the way for further African-American committee chair appointments throughout Speaker Murphy's tenure. In this aspect, he was largely a trailblazer when compared to other Southern state legislatures. Georgia's African-Americans will forever be grateful for his visionary way of thinking. He welcomed progression rather than fight it.
On Dec. 17, 2007, the state of Georgia, as well as the country, lost a great man of dignity, honor and equality. While he is no longer with us on this Earth, the progressive effects of Speaker Murphy's service to the state of Georgia will be seen and remembered forever.

Williams (D-Midway) serves House District 165 and is chairman of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus. He serves on the following committees; Economic Development and Tourism; Game, Fish, Parks; and State Institutions and Property
 

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