Lift Every Voice
— Georgia Avenue/Pleasant Plains Heritage Trail —
Back In The '60s
, everyone came to Murph's.
Ed Murphy's Supper Club, that is, located across Georgia Avenue from 1963 to 1975. In the beginning suits and ties were mandatory for the club's highpowered male patrons. But as the Black Power movement grew, the dress code relaxed to include dashikis or turtlenecks for the civil rights and DC statehood activists who gathered there.
In 1978 Murphy built the ambitious Harambee House Hotel, and reopened the supper club on its second floor. "Harambee House came into my father's spirit during the height of the 1968 riots," recalled Murphy's son Keith. "We had to do a nationwide search for upper-level [hotel] managers because there were so few black people in the business." When it opened, Harambee House was one of the first-class hotels built, owned, and operated by an African American in U.S. history. With African decor and high-end amenities, the hotel attracted guests such as Jesse Jackson and Louis Farrakhan. Stevie Wonder, Nancy Wilson, and other top entertainers performed in the supper club. The downstairs Kilimanjaro Room hosted press conferences by Muhammad Ali, Coretta Scott King, Carl Stokes, and John Conyers. After two years of punishing debts, however, Murphy sold the hotel to Howard University.
Beginning in the early 1900s, the blocks on this side of Georgia Avenue were filled with industrial activities: junk yards, plumbing shops, and bakeries. During the streetcar-era (1862-1962), youngsters entertained themselves watching "the pit," the point in the route where southbound streetcars switched from overhead electric wires to an underground power source (and vice versa for northbound trains). Congress had banned the use of overhead wires south of Florida Avenue.