The year was 1909 when Julia Magruder Murray was born to Clifton and Gertrude Johnson by lamp light. And if you ask her, a lot has changed in the two different centuries in which she’s lived.
For one, most buildings have electricity now. And it has been more than a few decades since she had to bring water in buckets from the nearby spring to wash, cook, and do laundry, an exhausting daily chore she had as a child.
“I am still here and don’t know what to do with myself,” the centenarian told the AFRO. “I can’t believe I’m 103.”
The eldest of a family of five brothers and two sisters, Murray says she has lived a hard life that today, is much easier than her time working on the family’s corn and tobacco farm in Calvert County.
“I felt like a slave because my mother put a lot of work on me,” said Murray, who raised many of her siblings and was considered her father’s “right arm” because her mother was in a constant pregnant condition.
“‘Another baby?’” Murray recalls often asking, at the joyous announcement of another mouth to feed. “They would just say ‘shut up girl,’ but I would sass them back because I didn’t like all the work and I couldn’t play.”
Though there was little time for her to enjoy her favorite ball and jacks game, Murray did enjoy attending school, even though she didn’t begin until age nine, when her brothers and sisters were able to make the hour-long journey with her.
Eventually, the family returned to their Baltimore roots, begun by grandfather, Thomas Thomas. CQ
Inside the classrooms of East Baltimore’s Dunbar High School Murray earned a high school diploma, preceding the likes of philanthropist Reginald F. Lewis and Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, who would both follow in her footsteps as alumni years later.
Upon graduating, Murray took the only job she could find, dedicating herself to helping the children inside the Children’s Hospital School, now the Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Painter Building, located at 3825 block of Greenspring Ave.
“I went to the children’s hospital to see what it was like and when I got there I said ‘Oh gee, this kitchen floor is dirty-someone should clean it.’”
It would soon become the only steady job she had in adult life.
Before long, the hospital administration asked her to assist the doctors and nurses, making beds and looking after the children who all had special needs.
Her last five years at the facility were completed working full time in the kitchen, cleaning and helping the chef on the 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift.
“I loved the hospital- I loved it,” Murray recalls, laughing at the beginning pay of nine dollar a week she proudly brought home to her family consisting of husband, Walter Murray, a son and a daughter.
Fond of dancing to good music, a smile spreads across Murray’s face when remembering the Black royalty that would parade up and down Baltimore’s Pennsylvania Avenue.
“Ella Fitzgerald- Lena Horne- everyone- we could see them real in life and it was beautiful,” she said. “I enjoyed it whenever any of the artists came to Baltimore because everybody would be on Pennsylvania Avenue.”
Still, Murray’s memories of living in a segregated Central Maryland aren’t all happy.
“It felt like we were in a black hole,” she said, unearthing long-buried experiences of racism and cruelty because of her brown skin. “We just obeyed the rules and we knew what we had to do – we didn’t think about it.”
A day Murray will never forget came when she was still a young girl, not yet a teenager.
“My mother sent me to the store and when I was leaving a boy about 15-years-old came up to me,” she said.
The stranger offered to help with her bags, as she had a snowball ice cup in her hand. Thinking he meant well, Murray said she turned around. It was then that the teen grabbed her head and forced apart her lips.
“He spit in my mouth and then made me swallow all of it.”
“I never got over that.”
Replacing many of the more degrading moments of her childhood are ground-breaking events such as the advancements made in the civil rights movement, and in today’s time, the election of President Barack H. Obama.
“Wasn’t it wonderful,” asked Murray, recollecting the night in 2008 when the nation elected its first Black leader. “What’s so nice about it is that he’s cultured and understanding- he’s everything that I think a person should be.”
Murray said both elections are proof that “God make anything he wants to happen- happen.”
And while some may disagree with the statement, undisputable is the many years of experience Murray has had to test her theory.
“Health wise, for her age she’s doing good,” Franca Uzoaga, who supervises the FutureCare CQ Lochearn ward now caring for Murray.
Because she is receiving palliative care, or care focused more on comfort than on prolonging life, Uzoaga says the lively senior citizen can do as she pleases and eat whatever her heart desires.
“She’s the oldest patient on this floor and the oldest in the facility,” said Uzoaga. “She has an opinion and she doesn’t hesitate to tell you the way it is, whether it’s about a new hairdo or the clothing you have on.”
“I once asked her how she made it to 103 and she told me ‘Be yourself,’” said Uzoaga, who’s also had less-than-savory reviews about past hair stylings.
Murray said that central to her survival is letting go of stress and “fussing and cussing” with others.
“Let God do your work,” she said. “He’s up there working and He shows people. He doesn’t tell.”