CLEVELAND, OH – The voice of Caucasian reporter Mark Naymik leads off a WKYC “Black History Month” segment about the late American Negro attorney born Eugenia Marie Murrell. It is claimed by WKYC’s editorial staff on February 2, 2021 that she was the first “Black” woman to serve on Cleveland city council. Romney Smith then told her “brief” story.
If Naymik, Romney Smith and the WKYC staff had actually met the woman who died under the name Eugenia Marie Murrell-Capers, and had a meaningful conversation with her, they would have known not to describe her as a “Black.” Even cleveland.com’s Phillip Morris got the “Negro” part of her ancestry right when he wrote about her July 18, 2017 death at 104. Naymik and his WKYC co-workers offered only wrong “conclusions” about Eugenia Marie Murrell-Capers.
Eugenia or “The Judge” as her fans identified her would never call herself “Black.” The use of that identifier to her was offensive. The 2012 interview the station shared in support of the story includes “The Judge” being specific in saying that she was a Negro.
“We are Negroes,” attorney Eugenia Marie Murrell-Capers would say. “We are not Black or African American.” The point she made distinguished the Negroes of America, or American Negroes, from every other race or ethnic group of people including the traitorous Africans who sold our ancestors to these shores.
Negro History Week was founded exactly as I just wrote it on February 7, 1926 by Carter Godwin Woodson. It was expanded to “Negro History Month” and Mr. Woodson did not change the title of his creation to “Black History Month.” The wrong use of the late Eugenia Marie Murrell-Capers’ ethnic identifer reinforces Mr. Woodson’s belief that American Negro history should be told by American Negroes. Like Eugenia Marie Murrell-Capers, Mr. Woodson did not identify himself as a “Black.”
In his book, The Mis-education of the Negro, Mr. Woodson identifies American Negroes as “Negroes” and those who look like us from Africa as “Africans.” Mr. Woodson selected February because both President Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809) and newspaper publisher Frederick Douglass (February 14, 1818) were born during it. People who are culturally ignorant and stupid enough to think Caucasians gave us a holiday believe the coldest month of the year was chosen by Caucasians, too. During segregation in our segregated schools American Negroes did not need a designation to study our ancestors here in this nation and their achievements.
Caucasians had nothing to do with Negro History Week or Month. To alter the title is like changing the NAACP to the NAABP. Says who? We were offered Negro History Clubs in our segregated schools where we investigated our own people. It kept us from buying into the the Caucasian-owned media’s distortions.
WKYC’s Negro History Month honoree’s name was not “Jean.” The station should have identified Eugenia Marie Murrell by her birth name and explained that “Jean” was a nickname she used like Richard Michael DeWine calls himself “Mike” when he campaigned for governor.
WKYC tells its viewers Eugenia Marie Murrell-Capers was a Democrat and it’s not true. Eugenia Marie Murrell-Capers began her civic and political life as a Republican, switched to the Democratic party to campaign for a seat on Cleveland city council between 1943 and 1959; and returned to her Republican roots when she lost to Democrat James Bell after serving for 10 years on the city’s 33-member legislative authority. In 1971 she campaigned against Democrat and Mayor Carl Stokes as a Republican in the city’s “partisan primary election.”
Eugenia Marie Murrell-Capers was a Republican Cleveland Municipal Court judge when I met her in 1978 at the Call & Post, a year after local GOP chairman Robert Hughes backed Republican Governor James Rhodes appointment of her to the Cleveland Municipal Court in 1977. She was a Republican candidate for the Cuyahoga Juvenile Court before she “aged out” at 70 in 1983. Eugenia was 64 when Governor Rhodes appointed her to the city’s municipal court. She was a Republican when she died.
The original February 2, 2021 broadcast claimed Eugenia gave birth to no children. The “no children” reference appears to have been removed from the February 3, 2021 “updated” version of the story.
The year before Eugenia won a seat on city council, on the night of November 13, 1948, she was involved in a life-threatening car accident near Bowling Green which caused her to be hospitalized at Heller Hospital in Napolean, Ohio. Her parents were alive and at her bedside. She was 35.
Eugenia was driving and working for the city of Cleveland as an assistant prosecuting attorney when she and two friends were headed for Chicago where she had a speaking engagement. Mary McWilson died at the scene as one of Eugenia’s passengers. Mrs. McWilson sold insurance as an occupation. Close friend and campaign supporter Rose Baldwin was seriously injured.
Eugenia and her first husband, James Wilbur Strode, did not have any children. Two years after winning the council seat she won in November 1949, Eugenia and second husband Clifford Capers celebrated the birth of their son on October 30, 1951 days before her first successful re-election. He was born prematurely and died two days before the November 8, 1951 general election on November 6, 1951. The November 13, 1948 car accident had damaged her body internally as she
The year of her pregnancy in 1951, Naymik’s former Plain Dealer employer called for Eugenia’s defeat as she battled Ward Leader James Bell during her first attempt at being re-elected. She was seen as not being “a credit to her race.”
Eugenia had attendance problems and I suspect the cause was her healing from the severe accident and then following up with a difficult pregnancy that kept her bedridden. She also had friendships with “policy” or “numbers” men like Virgil Ogletree, William Seawright and Fred Hoge the clergy, media and “good citzens” did not like.
The houses of councilmembers like Charles Carr were being blown up with sticks of dynamite during this time period. The Plain Dealer and Call & Post editorialized that her support for their “racketeering” activities gave her an affiliation with the ward’s “most vicious elements” according to the daily newspaper.
Three years after Republican Thomas Fleming in 1910 became the first American Negro elected to an at-large Cleveland city council seat, the first American Negro woman who would join the legislative body was born on January 11, 1913 in Danville, Kentucky into the Republican family of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Murrell and Dolly Ferguson-Murrell. Eugenia Marie Murrell was three years old when Councilman Fleming, a barber, attorney and Cleveland Journal newspaper founder in 1903, was elected as a Republican to represent the 11th Ward in 1916. She would attempt three times to serve 27 years later beginning in 1943. [NOTE: Marie Remington Wing and Helen H. Green were the first Causcasian women to join Cleveland city council in 1923.]
Mr. Fleming and the Murrell’s were Republicans as were virtually all of the nation’s “literate” American Negroes thanks to Republican President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation during the Civil War. Eugenia Marie Murrell, like other young American Negroes at the time, was a Republican at birth. Edward Murrell was also close friends with Mr. Booker T. Washington, a Republican, before his 1915 death.
Attorney and fellow American Negro newspaper publisher Fleming served only one two year term in 1910 and 1911 after his first election. Claims that he was “appointed” are untrue. He is the first “elected” American Negro to serve on Cleveland city council when some seats then were “at large.”
When Democratic Mayor Newton D. Baker won in 1911, Republican Negro political progress slowed. Democrats can’t help but be racist. Fleming returned to council in 1916 to represent Ward 11 in the Central area when more American Negro Republicans moved from the south to the north to work in the city’s munitions plants during World War I. Attorney Fleming remained on council until his resignation in 1929.
Edward Murrell graduated from Kentucky State University in 1901 and began teaching English and printing at the Lucie Lane Institute and his college alma mater until 1914. He also studied embalming and joined the funeral business. Edward’s brother, Howard Murrell, had already moved to Cleveland from Kentucky and become a banker. Empire Savings and Loan was the city’s first American Negro-owned bank and Howard was its president.
Eugenia Marie Murrell’s father arrived in Cleveland with his family around the same time as my grandfather in 1919, and applied and was accepted to work for the United States Postal Service. She was six years old. Edward Murrell thought his children would experience some benefit attending “integrated” schools. The majority of the city’s American Negro families lived in the Central area. The Murrell’s attended St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church with my Grandmother.
Six months after Mr. Murrell’s arrival in Cleveland with his family in 1919, Eugenia’s father launched a printing business in the basement of his home at 5807 Central Avenue. My grandfather became a boiler operator and then bought and managed properties.
Two years after relocating to Cleveland, Edward Murrell joined with his brother and Republican attorneys Perry B. Jackson and Lawrence O. Payne to launch the Cleveland Call newspaper in 1921. Businessman and gas mask and stop light inventor Garrett Morgan founded the Cleveland Post. Harry C. Davis founded the Cleveland Gazette. The historian named Russell Davis I referenced earlier was Harry’s brother and the principal of the junior high school named after him. Mr. Murrell handled the Cleveland Call’s printing.
None of the competing American Negro-owned newspapers made any real advertising money since the number of American Negro-owned businesses in the town were still growing. Eugenia was 16 when Selma, Alabama-raised Mr. William Otis Walker, born in the 1890’s like my grandparents, took control of the Call & Post after her father, Edward, convinced Mr. Morgan to join him in a merger in 1929 that created the Call & Post.
Mr. Walker, my mentor … Mark, told me how he was working for a department store in Washington, D.C. managing its advertising department when Mr. Murrell and Mr. Payne approached him to lead their “merged” newspaper. He accepted and learned that not all was how they portrayed the publication. I’m the last journalist to interview Mr. Walker before he died. The same with Mayor, Judge and Ambassador Carl Burton Stokes.
Mr. Walker joked about how he literally had to rebuild the Call & Post from the ground up. Eugenia was 16 years old when he joined the publication. Mr. Walker decided to sell the Call & Post for two cents a copy and split a penny with the newsboys and girls.
Both newspapers were one-page, large-format broadsheets folded into quarters. Mr. Murrell, Judge Jackson and Mr. Payne retained an interest in the Call & Post until their deaths. Payne’s was worth $312,000 to his widow, Maybelle, on his death in 1973. For Eugenia Marie Murrell, her father’s relationship with Mr. Walker “initially” made her a well-covered “young socialite” in Cleveland’s American Negro community.
Eugenia Marie Murrell’s business and banking family connections helped her career and public elevation as she graduated Central High School, attended Western Reserve University and decided to teach while participating in “publicized” civic activities on the periphery of Republican Party politics. She once played on attorney and councilman Lawrence O. Payne’s girls basketball team with her sister and Ione Biggs. Ione lived in East Cleveland on Speedway-Overlook about 8 houses from my late Uncle and Aunt. She was the first American Negro woman to work as a Cleveland police detective. I knew her from working as a reporter and production technician for the Call & Post.
Eugenia Marie Murrell chose not to follow the politics of her Republican parents and the majority of American Negroes when she decided to become a “New Deal Democrat” as one of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s followers in 1934. Regretably, they were “turning Abraham Lincoln’s picture to the wall.” That’s the expression my Father told me American Negro Democrats used to convince them to support Franklin Delano Roosevelt for President of the United States of America. “It’s time to turn Lincoln’s picture to the wall.”
Eugenia Marie Murrell-Capers during her era was politically-similiar to Nina Turner and her “Progressive” affiliation with the child of illegal Russian aliens and a Communist named Bernard (Gitman) Sanders. Jet magazine described Eugenia as the “leading Negro Democrat” in America. Young American Negroes wanting to replace the American Negro Republican “Old Guard” did not care at the time how they were seen as selling their souls to Satan just to achieve their “personal ambitions” of holding elected offices. Like Turner, Eugenia Marie Murrell was close to Russian Jews.
The caliber of American Negroes serving on Cleveland city council at the time were more ambitious men and true leaders than those serving today. They were business owners, newspaper publishers, attorneys and doctors. The political office was not “their job.”
Some like dentist Leroy Bundy, who was known both in Cleveland and in East Saint Louis, Illinois as a “hero” for arming American Negro men to defend their families against holocaust-minded labor Irish Catholic, Russian, Polish and Ukrainian “unionists” who sought to “exterminate all the niggers” on July 6, 1917, were dually-educated. He was also an attorney. The majority of American Negro Republicans on council were business owners.
It took Eugenia Marie Murrell three attempts starting in 1943 to join Cleveland city council as a Democrat. Her New Deal political affiliation with Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt helped him get 75 percent of the American Negro vote and establish her political presence. It didn’t initially help local Democrats as Cleveland’s American Negro community stuck with the American Negro Republicans they knew were loyal to and fighting for the advancement of “the race” and not just their personal ambitions.
Eugenia Marie Murrell had already divorced her first husband, James Wilbur Strode, whom she married in 1937 when she sought a council seat as a write-in candidate against Attorney Augustus Parker in Ward 11 and earned 170 votes to his 2454 in 1943. By 1943 she’d married Call & Post employee and bellman Clifford Capers. Capers was known around town as a pool hustler. He also handled her ward duties when she was sick or out-of-town. Folk knew him as the “councilwoman’s husband.”
After graduating from Western Reserve University (not Case Western Reserve University) and John Marshall College of Law in 1945, Eugenia came within 170 votes of Ward 11 Councilman Augustus Parker as an “on the ballot” candidate. Eugenia finally won for council against Harper and was elected by the National Congress of Negro Women to the office of parliamentarian. [NOTE: Western Reserve University was a school that local American Negroes were allowed to attend. It merged with the Case Institute of Technology in 1967 to become Case Western Reserve University 23 years after Eugenia graduated. She could not have been a CWRU graduate in 1945 as claimed by WKYC’s editorial staff].
Two years after winning a council seat, Eugenia and Clifford celebrated the birth and mourned the loss of their son on October 30, 1951 as he was born prematurely. The car accident had seriously affected her internal health. They were still residing at 2380 E. 40th in the home of her parents.
Despite Call & Post Publisher and Editor William O. Walker’s business affiliation with her father, and her husband being a Call & Post employee, he cut Eugenia Marie Murrell-Capers no editorial slack as a member of a council he served on. He had rejoined city council in the November 1949 election by beating Robert Pinn 2154 to 1368. It was Mr. Walker’s expectation that American Negro elected officials would advance “their own.” He also expected dilligent, disciplined and high quality performance from incoming Democrats as had been delivered by American Negro Republicans.
After her election in 1949, the Call & Post welcomed Eugenia Marie Murrell-Capers presence on Cleveland city council with the warning that she would be judged “strictly on performance in office.”
“If motivated by honesty and sincerity, there is no reason why Mrs. Capers shouldn’t, as a councilman, make a contribution to the progress of our people in Cleveland and Ohio.
The article also noticed that the 1949 election brought the first “majority” of elected Amerian Negro councilmen who were members of the Democratic Party.
“It now remains to be seen whether service of the highest order which characterized the Republicans, will be equaled or excelled by its present Democratic members.”
Eugenia Marie Murrell-Capers did not make a good “first year” impression on Ward 11’s voters or the public. Where there are no or few jobs there is organized crime and it was proliferating in Ward 11 and throughout the city. The policy or “numbers” and drug trafficking were in full effect; and so was prostitution, pimping and gambling. My Father’s family was living in the ward Eugenia represented at the time at the age of 21. His Mother and my Grandmother, as I later learned, had a numbers
Eugenia Marie Murrell-Capers was close to “policy” Kingpins Virgil Ogletree, William Seawright and Fred Hoge. By the time she sought re-election in 1951, her relationships with Russian alien organized criminals like human trafficker Shondir Birns and Samuel Minkin, aka Sam Miller of Forest City Enterprises, was not playing well in the American Negro community. Neither was her support for gambling and her poor council attendance. Her attendance was the worst in council just as Jeffrey Johnson’s was the worst in the Ohio Senate before his federal extortion conviction. He missed 64 percent of the meetings with his 36 percent attendance. [NOTE: I met Mr. William Seawright at the Call & Post in 1978 and came to know him from his relationship with East Cleveland’s elected officials through its once profitable transfer station. He was buried by Pernel Jones Funeral Services. His wife called to thank me for paying final respects to him after I signed the guest book.]
Iin 1951 Eugenia and husband Clifford Capers were investigated for election fraud by Secretary of State Ted Brown because their signatures on her petitions appeared to be the same. During the hearing Mr. Capers testified that they’d done no wrong; and that he had not spoken to his “non-appearing” wife in over two weeks. He had no idea where she was he claimed. The last place he knew her to be was in New York he testified.
Rose Baldwin was also charged with election law violations by Secretary of State Brown. She was the woman in the car with Eugenia during the 1948 accident that resulted in Mrs. McWilson’s death. Attorney Norman S. Minor handled her legal representation. Mrs. Baldwin pleaded guilty to nothing more than being in the room when ballots were being counted. Her offenses had nothing to do with the signature fraud that had been assigned to Eugenia and Clifford.
Rose and Eugenia had also ended their friendship; and the councilwoman suspected her former friend in 1951 of helping Ward Leader James Bell campaign against her. Mrs. Baldwin called Eugenia a liar. Jack Oliver was Eugenia’s campaign manager and testified against Mrs. Baldwin in the election fraud case. It was Eugenia’s campaign team’s complaints against Bell to Secretary of State Brown that led to his opening the investigation that would include her and husband Clifford.
What Eugenia had with Mr. Bell was a man following the same determined path in challenging her election-after-election that she had followed in eventually defeating Councilman Augustus T. Parker.
Eugenia continued to be re-elected to council’s two year terms in 1953, 1955 and 1957 with dwindling votes and more opposition as she faced Bell and other opponents like Bertram Brewer, the Exalted Ruler of the Champion City Lodge #177 in 1955. Mr. Brewer withdrew as a Ward 11 candidate in the 1955 campaign after Eugenia used the “election fraud” claim Secretary of State Brown had used against her in 1951 against him. He was off the ballot but she didn’t get the lodge’s support in her campaign against Mr. Bell. An anonymous flyer claiming Mr. Bell had “shot at” his wife was connected to Eugenia’s alleged penchant for gutter politics. Mr. Bell would finally defeat her in 1959.
It was 19 days into her last term on Cleveland city council on January 20, 1958 that Mr. Walker and the city’s American Negro electorate decided they had enough of the politics of Eugenia Marie Murrell-Capers and support turned completely towards Mr. Bell. Mayor Anthony Celebreeze had asked council for permission to appoint American Negro Charles Lucas to the Cleveland Transit System board. He would be the first. Celebreeze was replacing Russian Jew Victor Cohen. The council vote was set for January 20, 1958. Eugenia had been administered an oath of office on January 1st.
Mr. Walker assigned reporters Al Sweeney and Art Sears to cover the council meeting that would decide Mr. Lucas’ fate on the CTS board. In a riveting story complete with pictures, the two reporters revealed how Eugenia in front of 400 attendees screamed “the time is not right to appoint a Negro the transit board.”
Her logic was that it would have an “ill effect on our race relations in Cleveland” with her Russian Jewish friends.
She accused Mr. Lucas’ supporters of being selfish and trying to grab everything without regard for the rights of others. She claimed the nomination was poorly-timed because two Negro men had defeated two Russian Jews on the council. The wards represented by the two Russian Jewish councilmen had become majority American Negro.
Mr. Walker went the fuck off on her. His newspaper’s words were that the “Jews seemed to have no problem taking care of themselves” and their advancement was not our concern.
Mr. Lucas got the appointment but Eugenia Marie Murrell-Capers’ career on council was done. Mr. Bell won in 1959 and she filed a lawsuit against Mr. Walker and the Call & Post for his coverage in a case that went nowhere.
After her defeat, Mr. Walker’s November 14, 1959 edition headlined her political demise.
“In ousting Mrs. Jean Murrell Capers from city council last week, James H. Bell has retired, at least temporarily, one of Cleveland’s most colorful and successful political demagogues,” the editorial began in the Call & Post.
I joined Mr. Walker’s Call & Post in 1978 and met Eugenia before I launched Clique as my first newspaper at 26 in 1979. By then she and Mr. Walker had mended fences. He would live only for another two years. His former business partner and friend, Eugenia’s father, had died four years before Governor Rhodes appointed her and Lillian Burke to the Cleveland Municipal Court. The date was July 14, 1973. He was 94.
Mr. Walker as the publisher of the nation’s 5th largest American Negro-owned newspaper had been instrumental in embedding his former business partner’s daughter’s presence in American Negro minds to give her a boost in public life. At this stage in her life and his own, his heart had softened and she was welcomed back into the family fold. Governor Rhodes counted on Mr. Walker for his newspaper’s statewide support. Eugenia would not have been given the judgeship if he had opposed it. The newspaper even backed her election to the appointed seat.
My close friend Robert C. Townsend, II worked for Cleveland Municipal Court as John O’Toole’s deputy administrator during “the Judge’s” single term in office. After researching her time on council nearly 30 years earlier, I asked about her tenure on the court. Mr. Townsend said court workers and the other judges loved her. He was somewhat shocked at the portrayal of her years on council. So, to be honest, was I.
WKYC appears to have updated its original February 2, 2021 story about “The Judge” on February 3, 2021. Some factual errors appear to have been amended. Others were not.
I would encourage anyone researching American Negro history in Cleveland and Ohio to begin with the Call & Post. Russell Davis’ “History of the Negro in Cleveland” is the second place I’d search.
The errors in the Caucasian media such as those displayed by WKYC about Eugenia Marie Murrell-Capers make it a necessity to look further.