Rev. Cecil Murray, Leader Amid Los Angeles Riots, Dies at 94

The Rev. Cecil Murray, a minister who turned a struggling church in Los Angeles into one of the country’s largest congregations, then made it a base to combat the many ills facing the city’s Black population — most notably during and after the 1992 riots — died on Friday at his home in the View Park-Windsor Hills section of Los Angeles. He was 94.

The death was announced by the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at the University of Southern California, where he had taught after retiring from the church.

When Mr. Murray arrived at First African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1977, it was both storied and troubled: It was the oldest Black church west of the Mississippi, but it was loaded in debt and attracted just a few hundred congregants.

Mr. Murray, known as Chip, brought new life to the church. He replaced the traditional choir with a gospel ensemble. His rich baritone voice and entrancing speaking style drew new worshipers. Within a decade he had retired the church’s debt and brought attendance up to about 7,000.

The church was among the most prominent in the city’s Black community, and Mr. Murray was among its most respected religious leaders. Tom Bradley, the city’s first Black mayor, was a member. Presidents, governors and world leaders visited the church, and Mr. Murray led the funeral services for Black celebrities like Mr. Bradley, Ray Charles and Eazy-E.

Gavin Newsom attended a service at Mr. Murray’s
First African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2010, when he was the mayor of San Francisco.
Credit…Associated Press/Associated Press
The church drew celebrities and political figures. Barack Obama attended a service there in 2007, when he was a U.S. senator from Illinois.Credit…Ann Johansson/Getty Images
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