Margaret Rose Murray’s Gentle Spirit Spoke Loudly For Education, Community Empowerment, Social Justice
One thing Margaret Rose Murray knew for sure: Black history is more than a month of lessons and the nod of pomp-and-circumstance. She knew the achievements of black folks are worthy of year-long study and education and lifelong celebration. With gentle expression and a soothing tone, she lived that belief out loud, using her voice to champion issues around education, small business, and social justice that inspire individual and community progress.
Murray, 91, died on January 10, 2023, but her recorded words define her legacy: “I look at a situation, and I know it should not be, so I do what it takes to change it.” She was a Mother of Southeast Raleigh whose voice of equity and justice was familiar in Raleigh City Council chambers and candidate’s forums; heard in testimony before a state House of Representatives; and followed on her weekly WSHA radio talk show, “Traces of Faces and Places.”
A native of Baltimore, Murray made Raleigh home in 1958 when she and her husband, Iman Kenneth Murray Mohammed, settled here to raise their family and help establish Islam in the South. Having studied education at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Rose Murray worked early on as a substitute teacher but found local public schools deficient both in preschool offerings for black children and in teaching African-American history.
Rather than complain about it, in 1964, the couple co-founded Vital Link Private School at the corner of Tarboro Road and Lenoir Street in Southeast Raleigh. For more than 50 years, generations of children learned and succeeded academically – with a cultural and historical awareness of black achievement in all aspects of life, from education, sports and entertainment to business, politics, and religion. The school eventually added grades and grew to two campuses. The second campus is located on Royal Street in the historically black Method community. It remains open today with a curriculum that infuses African-American history taught year-round. It has been renamed MarrKens Learning Academy to honor the legacy and names of its founders, Margaret Rose, and Kenneth B. Murray. The original Lenoir Street campus is now The NEXUS @ 1214, an upfitted commercial kitchen and event space where business, community, and culture meet.
Murray’s advocacy for education extended to fundraising for the United Negro College Fund, the O.A. Dupree Scholarship Fund, St. Augustine’s College, Shaw University, and the Garner Road YMCA.
Along the way, Rose Murray stayed focused on her own academic achievements. Following her studies in education, Murray earned an associate degree from Knox Business Institute in 1955. She also received an early childhood education certificate from N.C. State University in 1982 and a master’s degree in African-American Studies from Virginia Theological University in 1997. In 2000, Murrary received an associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education at Wake Technical Community College.
A champion of lifelong learning, Murray pioneered more than the school. She started the Womanhood Development program at the NC Correctional Institution for Women in 1974 to encourage inmates to better their lives by finishing school or studying a trade. Understanding education to be more than ABCs, she also volunteered at the prison for more than three decades, sharing ways to inspire the women’s spiritual, emotional, and mental growth and to improve their life skills.
Murray also used her voice as an advocate for entrepreneurship. She helped create a nonprofit organization, the Business Building Society of Wake County, to encourage support of black-owned businesses and the development of more. Rose Murray also spearheaded small business seminars at St. Augustine’s University.
In 2009, Murray was inducted into the Raleigh Hall of Fame. Her iconic efforts in Civil Rights and advocacy for education, business, and community also garnered her awards as the NC Women’s Correctional Center’s Volunteer of the Year, the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Woman of the Year, and Tar Heel of the Week. She also was a recipient of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Service Award, the UNCF Fundraising Award, and the Raleigh Women’s Center Rosa Parks Tradition Award.
Murray and her husband reared three children: Rhonda Muhammad, Kenneth Bernard Murray, Jr., and the late Isaiah Murray. They also inspired the Muslim community as prominent members who hosted both Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali in their home in the 1960s. They also were personal friends of Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as governors and other national leaders.