Dr. Carl J. Murphy was born in Baltimore, Maryland on January 17, 1889. His father, John H. Murphy, Sr. established the Afro American Ledger in 1892. The Murphy family lived at a few locations in Old West Baltimore: 1336 Carey Street in 1900, 1320 Druid Hill Avenue in 1910, and 1051 Myrtle Avenue in 1920.
Carl graduated from the Colored High School at Pennsylvania and Dolphin Street in Baltimore. He received his B.A. from Howard University in 1911 and an M.A. degree from Harvard University in 1913. In 1915, Murphy was denied admission to the Johns Hopkins University summer courses on the grounds that "no provisions had been made for colored students."
In 1918, he became editor of the Baltimore Afro American when his father became ill. He took over as Chairman and President upon his father's death in 1922. He expanded the newspaper's circulation to include Newark, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and Richmond, Virginia and it reached over 200,000 people when he stepped down as editor in 1961.
In 1929, Murphy, along with his wife, Vashti Turley, a co founder of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, and their five daughters, moved to Morgan Park, an affluent African American community connected to Morgan State University. The Murphy's home at 2406 Overland Avenue was known as "Five Elms" because of the five elm trees that Carl and Vashti planted for their five daughters. He lived there until his death in 1967.
Murphy revived the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP and initiated legal action that opened the University of Maryland Law School to all students, regardless of race. In 1935 Murphy supported the election of civil rights activist Lillie Carroll Jackson to the presidency of the branch. He was also a charter member of the Board of Trustees of Morgan State and served as Chairman of the Board from 1953-1967. In 1957, Morgan State College held a testimonial dinner to honor Murphy's many accomplishments with the university and in the community. The university dedicated the Carl J. Murphy Auditorium in 1960 and opened the Carl J. Murphy Fine Arts Center in 2001.
Among his many honors were an honorary doctorate degree from Lincoln University of Pennsylvania in 1948 and a Spingarn Medal in 1955 for Achievement In Journalism.