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Sarah Alderman Murphy Papers

Identifier: MC 1321

Scope and Content Note

This collection is a combination of papers accumulated by Murphy during her years as an activist and materials used in writing her book. Among the latter are the papers of Billie Wilson, a former member of WEC. Wilson gave Murphy her papers, which included correspondence, pamphlets, and press clippings, to aid in the writing of Breaking the Silence. Because of the overlapping subject matter in Murphy's and Wilson's papers, Wilson's materials have been integrated into the greater collection. In the course of doing research for her book, Murphy conducted several dozen interviews with participants in the Little Rock school integration crisis; cassette tapes and transcripts of these interviews make up a major portion of this collection. Also, Murphy examined materials at several different repositories, including the Arkansas History Commission and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Special Collections and Archives. To reflect the composition of her original research files, photocopies made for Murphy of original documents from these repositories have been retained.

Materials in this collection include interviews on cassette tapes, transcripts of interviews, films and video cassette tapes, correspondence, booklets and pamphlets, newspaper clippings, and broadsides. When possible clippings have been integrated with other materials on the same subject. Among the materials of the collection are several front pages from the Arkansas Democrat and Arkansas Gazette dating from the period of the Little Rock school integration crisis. The collection also includes three photographs featuring Sara Murphy.


  • Creation: 1950-1994


Language of Materials

Materials are in English.

Access Information

Please call (479) 575-8444 or email at least two weeks in advance of your arrival to ensure availability of the materials.

Use Information

Because of its poor condition, the original taped interview of Sara Murphy by John Pagan is restricted from use; a user's copy is available.

No Interlibrary Loan.

Standard Federal Copyright Laws Apply (U.S. Title 17).

Biographical Note

Sara Alderman Murphy was born in Wartrace, Tennessee, on June 17, 1924, the daughter of David M. and Sadie Stephens Alderman. She received a B.A. in Social Studies and English from Vanderbilt in 1945, and a M.S. in Journalism from Columbia University in 1946. In a short autobiography, Murphy relates that at Columbia University she developed a social consciousness on race that she lacked as a young girl in the South; that social consciousness propelled her into social activism later in her life.

She married Patrick C. Murphy, and together they had three children: Ellen, Patrick, and Robert. From 1947 to 1950, Murphy was a member of the faculty of Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. She and her family later moved to Little Rock, where she served on the faculty of the University of Arkansas in Little Rock in 1958. The late 1950's witnessed the eruption of racial tensions in Little Rock, as the city attempted to integrate the whites-only Central High School in the fall of 1957. When Governor Orval Faubus ordered the Little Rock public schools closed in the fall of 1958, a group of women led by Adolphine Fletcher Terry organized the Women's Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools (WEC). Following her convictions opposing racial prejudice, Sara Murphy joined the WEC, serving as a member of its board in 1962 and 1963. When the WEC disbanded in 1963, Murphy redirected her energy into the Panel of American Women (PAW), a multi-ethnic, multi-racial group which sought to lessen racial and religious tensions by promoting understanding through discussion. In 1963 Murphy founded a branch of PAW in Little Rock; her activity in PAW culminated in her serving as vice-president of the national PAW from 1971 to 1974. Murphy's activism earned her recognition among Arkansas's highest governing officials, and from 1972 to 1975 she served as vice-chairperson of the Governor's Commission on the Status of Women.

In 1967 Murphy began working in the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE). Completing her Ed.D. in Education Administration at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville in 1977, she became the ADE's associate director in 1979. She held that position until 1985, when she became an independent educational consultant working with the Arkansas Educational Renewal Consortium; she served as that organization's executive director in 1987 and 1988.

Murphy renewed her career as an activist in 1982, when she joined Betty Bumpers, the wife of Senator Dale Bumpers, in founding Peace Links, an organization intended to lessen international tensions through exchanges of persons and discussion. She served as the president of Arkansas's Peace Links from 1982 to 1984, and in the late 1980s was instrumental in arranging exchanges between women from the United States and the Soviet Union. Murphy also found a local focus for her activism; from 1989 to 1993 she chaired the advisory committee of the Conflict Management Program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. While remaining active in Peace Links, she dedicated the last years of her life to writing Breaking the Silence, a book detailing the role of the WEC in the Little Rock integration crisis. But the onset of cancer prevented her from finishing her book. She died on April 15, 1995; her son Patrick completed the editing of Breaking the Silence.


9.6 Linear Feet (17 Boxes)

Arrangement of the Papers

Materials are arranged and described in two series:

  1. Series 1. Materials on Individual Persons. Boxes 1-7
  2. Series 1, Subseries 1. Individual Files
  3. Series 1, Subseries 2. Cassette Tape Interviews
  4. Series 2. Subject Files. Boxes 8-17

Acquisition Information

The papers of Sara Alderman Murphy were donated by her husband, Patrick C. Murphy, on July 26, 1995.

Processing Information

Processed by Todd E. Lewis; completed in August 1997



Sarah Alderman Murphy Papers
Todd E. Lewis
August 1997
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid is written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Department Repository

University of Arkansas Libraries
365 N. McIlroy Avenue
Fayetteville AR 72701 United States
(479) 575-8444