Ed Murphy, 67, a Washington restaurateur and business promoter who became a leading figure in the city's black entrepreneurial community in the 1960s and 1970s as the operator of Ed Murphy's Supper Club and the Harambee House hotel, died of cancer Dec. 21 at Washington Hospital Center.
For 10 years beginning in the late 1960s, Mr. Murphy planned, cajoled, wheeled and dealed with a plethora of federal, District, financial and neighborhood officials to win support and backing for Harambee House, which he envisioned as a showcase for minority business development.
With great fanfare, the $10 million, nine-story luxury hotel opened in 1978 at Georgia Avenue and Bryant Street NW amid high hopes that it would become the cornerstone to a revitalization of the once-grand lower Georgia Avenue area and a bulwark against increasing crime and drug activity.
But within a year, those hopes and dreams had collapsed in a morass of financial disarray, and in 1981 the federal Economic Development Administration ended its grant support, debt forgiveness and sponsorship of the project. It sold Harambee House to Howard University for $1.3 million.
Earlier, from 1965 to 1972, Mr. Murphy was the proprietor of Ed Murphy's Supper Club. On Georgia Avenue at the site where Harambee House later stood, the Supper Club became a gathering place and retreat for community, business and political activists. Most were black, but on many nights, about 20 percent to 25 percent were white. The menu ranged from chitterlings to filet mignon, and the entertainment featured the likes of Stevie Wonder, Redd Foxx and Roberta Flack. A sign at the door said, "Gentlemen are expected to wear neckties, turtlenecks, ascots or dashikis."
A native of Raleigh, N.C., Mr. Murphy moved to Washington as a child and graduated from Armstrong High School. During the 1950s, he served in the Army for two years.
The only child of a single mother, he delivered newspapers and shined shoes during his boyhood years. At age 17, he started his own business, selling hosiery to waitresses on consignment. "I was determined to work for myself," he once said. "There's something about being in the 'hood that gives you that drive to be independent. I sort of liked that freedom of movement when you didn't have to answer to the man."
Soon after his discharge from the Army, Mr. Murphy opened a variety store at 11th and O streets NW. For a time, he had a fireplace construction business, then he operated Thorpe's Restaurant at 415 H St. NW.
But not until he opened Ed Murphy's Supper Club did Mr. Murphy hit his stride as a businessman. He formed an African American business association and published a magazine, "Black Dollar," which promoted a program of economic empowerment and urged blacks to spend their money in African American neighborhoods, supporting African American businesses. "There are really only two choices," he said. "Either you burn it down or patronize your own." In Southeast Washington, he ran a convenience store and a takeout soul-food outlet.
Tall and articulate, Mr. Murphy looked the part of a businessman. He sported a platinum watch and drove a gray Cadillac with the license plate "Murph." He did volunteer work at shelters for the homeless and showed up regularly to help cook Thanksgiving dinners at the House of Imagene shelter in Northwest Washington. But as a businessman, he expected to be paid when someone owed him money.
In 1972, Mr. Murphy closed the supper club to work full time raising money to open Harambee -- which means "unity" in Swahili. But soon thereafter, his fortunes began to turn sour. Progress was slower than he expected. Money was not immediately forthcoming, and for a time, he was on unemployment.
When the hotel finally opened, there were problems from the start. The rooms charged luxury prices, but they looked out on a landscape of unrelenting urban blight, including a junkyard directly across the street. Hotel staff members, hired from the ranks of the hard-core unemployed, often failed to perform such basic tasks as relaying telephone messages or setting up rooms for business group meetings. Eventually, customers stayed away. The relationship between Mr. Murphy and federal agencies who had bankrolled the project deteriorated, and the property was sold to Howard University for a fraction of its cost.
Since then, Mr. Murphy had been a partner in a Nigerian-based export-import business and a hats and accessories retail store. From 1989 to 1992, he ran a cafeteria and restaurant catering operation at the Reeves Municipal Center at 14th and U streets NW.
His marriages to Edna Beasley Murphy and Sandra Murphy ended in divorce.
Survivors include his wife, Sharon Pearl Murphy of Washington; two children from his first marriage, Marlene Stewart of Dallas and Keith Murphy of Washington; two children from his second marriage, Stephen and Julie Murphy, both of Atlanta; and three grandchildren.