Jackson State University Visiting Professor Sylvester Murray recently received national recognition for his long career of mentoring students who later became public administrators across the country.
Murray was presented the 2014 Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Exemplary Practice Award by the American Society for Public Administration during the organization’s annual conference in March. Others who received the award during last month’s event included U.S. Rep. John D. Lewis, D-Ga., and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.
The award is the latest in a long list of achievements for Murray, who was one of the first black public administrators in the U.S.
“I consider this award a great honor as it recognizes that I have mentored and impacted numerous lives,” Murray said.
Murray earned his master’s degree in state and local government administration from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1965. He was called up to serve in the Vietnam War, and after his return was appointed city manager in Inkster, Mich., in 1968. He and the city manager of Compton, Calif., were the only black city managers in the country and they were appointed within a month of each other.
“So we both are considered to be the first,” Murray said. “The city manager is the chief executive officer of the city. The city manager does the hiring, firing and signs the paychecks.”
Murray’s 20-year career took him to Ann Arbor, Mich., Cincinnati and San Diego.
“In all my city manager jobs, my performance in finance and budgeting earned the greatest accolades because I was able to manage the city’s money very well,” said Murray. “The second greatest performance was in affirmative action, which is now referred to as diversity. In all the situations where the majority of the city council and the city itself were white, I instituted hiring policies that included minorities and women.”
Dr. John Gilleylen, interim director of JSU’s Master of Public Policy and Administration program, said Murray is respected across the country for his work.
“Our students have the incredible opportunity to learn from a true master in this field,” Gilleylen said.
During his career, Murray was selected as president of the International City Managers Association, representing all city managers in the U.S., Canada and Great Britain. He was the first African American to hold the position.
When he decided to change his career, he chose academia. He was asked to become a professor of Public Administration at Cleveland University.
“Those who approached me said they wanted the students to be taught the theory and the doing of the work,” Murray said. “It was also an opportunity for me to write and publish scholarly articles about the practice.”
He was named president of the American Society for Public Administration, making him the first person to serve in both the practitioners’ trade association and the group devoted to academia.
Though Murray had a personal goal to help more African-American, males become city managers, he ended up as a mentor to all public administration students, regardless of race or ethnicity, which is the reason he received the ASPA award.
The organization said the award is given to individuals “whose accomplishments have contributed to groundbreaking scholarship, professional excellence, service to ASPA and contributions to the community.”