Murphy-Collins House

Murphy-Collins House The Murphy-Collins House in Tuscaloosa, Tuscaloosa County, is the home of the Murphy African American Museum, which interprets the history of middle-class African Americans in Tuscaloosa from the turn of the twentieth century. The home was built in 1923 as a private residence for prominent local businessman and the area’s first licensed African American mortician William J. Murphy and his wife Laura. William J. Murphy began his embalming career in 1906, and Laura Murphy was a teacher who later served as the principal at the Twentieth Street School in Tuscaloosa. After their deaths, the home passed through several private owners until it was purchased by the city of Tuscaloosa in 1986 in recognition of its historical and cultural significance. In 1993, the Murphy-Collins House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and three years later was turned into the Murphy African American Museum.

The Murphy-Collins House is a two-story brick Craftsman bungalow with a stucco exterior, a low-pitch side-oriented gable roof, and a wraparound porch. It was constructed by local black contractor George Clopton, who was responsible for the construction of the First African Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa. The materials used in the home’s construction included bricks, beams, windowsills, and other materials salvaged from the recently charred remains of the nearby former Alabama Capitol Building. The street on which the home was built represented the dividing line between the white section of Tuscaloosa and the middle-class African American community that came to be known as the “Lace Curtain Community” for its residents’ ability to afford lace curtains for their windows. On June 17, 1943, William J. Murphy died and Laura took in boarders to support herself until her death on October 12, 1956.

The home was willed to Laura Murphy’s nephew, Jasper Barnett, who lived in Mobile and sold the home to Sylvia P. Collins in December 1957. Eventually, Collins leased the home to Phoenix House, a sober living home for men and women recovering from alcoholism. By the early 1980s, most of the other homes surrounding the Murphy-Collins House were either bulldozed or moved in the early 1980s to make way for the construction of Lurleen B. Wallace Boulevard. In 1985, local resident Ruthie Pitts spearheaded Revealing a Heritage, a branch of the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society tasked with preserving properties of black heritage in the county. Through her efforts, the city purchased the Murphy-Collins House for preservation purposes in 1986, and by 1993, the home was added to the National Register of Historic Places even though it had fallen into disrepair. In 1996, local resident Emma Jean Melton spearheaded the effort to renovate the building and turn it into the Murphy African American Museum. In recognition of her efforts, Melton was named the museum’s first volunteer director and chairwomen of the board of management. In 2004, the home was finally fully restored with assistance from a $50,000 grant awarded by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.

The Murphy African American Museum in the Murphy-Collins House is dedicated to the preservation of African American history and culture in Tuscaloosa and Alabama in the early twentieth century. First floor exhibits reflect the home’s original dwellers and include such items as a portrait of William Murphy, a cast-iron stove and cookware, a Victrola phonograph, and more. Many of these artifacts were donated by members of the community, including items brought back from Africa for the African Room on the first floor. These artifacts include ceramic dishes from the Limpopo province in South Africa, African beaded jewelry, a ceremonial mask and skirt from the historic town of Ikot Ekpene in Nigeria, a dress from Ghana, a carved pumpkin gourd from West Africa, a scale model of a slave ship, and African necklaces. The second floor includes three rooms. Laura Murphy’s bedroom contains antique dolls and various family photos. Two other rooms highlight the important scientific and historical contributions of African Americans from Tuscaloosa including George Augustus Weaver, the first black doctor in the area, prominent civil rights leader Reverend Thomas Linton, Grammy Award winning jazz singer Dinah Washington, National Football League star John Stallworth, Olympic Bronze medalist and heavyweight boxer Deontay Wilder, and Olympic Gold medalist in track Lillie Leatherwood.

The Murphy-Collins House and Murphy African American Museum are supported by the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society. The museum hosts annual events during Black History month every February that include special tours such as the Black Heritage Tour of Tuscaloosa. It also hosts an exhibit and program honoring National Women’s History month in March.

The museum is located at 2601 Paul Bryant Drive. It is open Tuesday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. until 12:00 p.m. and from 1:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m. Tours at other times can be arranged by appointment. Nearby are the Jemison-Van de Graaff Mansion (ca. 1860), the Historic Drish House (ca. 1830), the Battle-Friedman House (ca. 1835), the Old Tavern Museum (ca. 1827), the Alabama Museum of Natural History, the Mildred Westervelt Warner Transportation Museum, and the Paul W. Bryant Museum. South of Tuscaloosa is Moundville Archaeological Park.

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