Cecil L. “Chip” Murray, influential preacher and civil rights leader in Los Angeles, dies

LOS ANGELES — Reverend Dr. Cecil L. “Chip” Murray, an influential pastor and civil rights leader who used his tenure at one of Los Angeles’s oldest churches to uplift the predominantly black neighborhoods of South Los Angeles after one of the nation’s worst race riots, has died . He was 94.

Murray died Friday, according to an announcement from the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture. He died of natural causes, his son, Drew Murray, told the Los Angeles Times.

Murray was born in Lakeland, Florida in 1929 and was pastor of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles for 27 years. The church was small when he took over. But by the time he retired, the church had grown into a megachurch with 18,000 members.

In 1992, the acquittal of four police officers caught on video violently beating Rodney King sparked an explosion of violence in the predominantly black neighborhoods of South Los Angeles. Murray emerged as a calming presence and was a frequent guest on national television news shows. He used his connections with the city’s political and business leaders to raise money for recovery efforts, including loans for businesses and aid for people displaced by the violence.

“While many famous preachers have their roots in Southern California, Chip Murray is unparalleled in his ability to mobilize the city of Los Angeles to heal the inequities associated with race and income inequality,” said Donald E. Miller, the Leonard K. Firestone Professor of Religion at USC and co-founder of the Center for Religion and Civic Culture.

During his time as pastor, First AME became a must-stop for prominent politicians, including former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, along with former California governors Pete Wilson, Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Under Murray’s leadership, the church worked to transform the community through a variety of programs and initiatives, including job training, support for foster children, and the development of affordable housing for low-income families.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said Murray dedicated his life to service, community and “putting God first in all things.”

“I had the absolute honor of working with him, worshiping with him and seeking his counsel,” Bass said. “My heart today is with the First AME congregation and community as we reflect on a legacy that has changed this city forever.”

After retiring as pastor of First AME, he joined the faculty at the University of Southern California as the Tansey Professor of Christian Ethics, where he trained approximately 1,000 faith leaders in the “Murray Method” of church leadership.