YoFresh Yogurt Cafe’s Larry Murphy featured in PBS documentary on the Black church


Screenshot from “The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song.”

Dr. Larry Murphy, co-owner of YoFresh Yogurt Cafe. Murphy was featured in a recent PBS documentary entitled “The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song.”

Laya Neelakandan, Assistant Arts & Entertainment Editor

For Dr. Larry G. Murphy, his approach to faith and equity traces back to his time as a religious studies student at University of California, Berkeley in the 1970s.

“It was really formative in how (my wife and I) came to view the world and our place in it, and how to be advocates for equity,” said Murphy, who Evanston residents best know as the co-owner of YoFresh Yogurt Cafe.

A historian, professor and religious leader, Murphy recently worked as a script consultant and an interviewee in the making of a PBS documentary entitled “The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song.”

The documentary, hosted by historian Henry Louis Gates Jr., is a two-part series exploring the history of the Black church in America and its implications for the Black community. The documentary is available for viewing on PBS until Mar. 16.

Murphy, who has chronicled Black history for decades through several books and projects, said the production team reached out asking him to help ensure the script was historically correct.

He said the documentary allowed him to uncover new details about the history of the Black church.

“People aren’t always aware of how (religion is)… either the backdrop for, the instigator of or the guiding principles behind what happens in the public scene,” Murphy said. “To be a part of telling that story in the documentary about the role of the Black church and Black religious leaders in the national life of the United States was energizing and exciting for me.”

After working through the script, Murphy said he was asked to fly to New York to be interviewed on camera for the documentary, alongside people like Oprah Winfrey and John Legend.

Murphy’s background in religion began when he joined the faculty at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston after he graduated from Berkeley. Once he retired, he opened up YoFresh Yogurt Cafe, but he is still a professor emeritus at the seminary.

Murphy’s wife of 53 years, Jean Murphy, called the documentary a culmination of all of her husband’s work.

She said the documentary built upon the research her husband has done by emphasizing the role of the church as both a support system and an “avenue through which Black talent and Black brilliance could be nurtured.”

“I’m truly excited for him that he was selected as a historian for this project — I think they chose right,” she said.

Vicki Bankston, a longtime friend of the Murphys, echoed Jean Murphy’s sentiments. She recalled a story from a trip to Europe with Murphy that she said exemplifies his eloquence and willingness to teach.

On the eleven-hour flight, Murphy turned to explain a point from the Bible to his mother-in-law, drawing a small crowd and eventually holding an hour-long Bible study with people of all different faiths and backgrounds.

“That is so Larry,” Bankston said.

Bankston has known the Murphys for years through Ebenezer African Methodist Episocopal Church, where Murphy was a minister of education.

“He is laser-focused on accurately telling stories about people who are in less-fortunate situations,” Bankston said. “He finds excellence in everyone, no matter what a person’s status is in life.”

Ultimately, Murphy himself was also impressed by the documentary and its strong production values. He said he was excited to see others in the documentary doing the “critical reflective work” of highlighting the Black church’s importance.

He said the documentary reaffirmed how central faith is to life, especially in the Black community.

“The call of the religious leader is to speak for all by challenging powers and principalities, by engaging the system, by being a voice at the table,” Murphy said. “It was exciting to know that I could be in some small way a contributor to tell a story that is a critical story to tell.”

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Twitter: @laya_neel

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