A Memorial Brick for the O’Hairs

Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the controversial founder of American Atheists, was murdered in 1995 along with her son Jon and her granddaughter Robin. Their remains were eventually found and buried — but there was no gravestone to mark the location. In fact, we still don’t know where their remains are. (Maybe it’s for the best, since there are many theists who would want to desecrate that site.)

Last year, Joe Zamecki helped raise $500 to purchase a memorial brick for them and, as of today, that brick is finally in place. It’s located at Lou Neff Point in Zilker Park in Austin, Texas — the money went to the Trail Foundation, which helps improve/upgrade biking and hiking trails in the city. The brick is only symbolic, obviously, but it’s the only memorial that exists in honor of the O’Hairs:

Joe writes:

… So this memorial brick stands in place of a proper gravestone on their grave, and as far as I know, it’s the only physical memorial in public, to the Murray-O’Hairs. It’s far away from their grave, but it exists, and its ours.

… This is a long time coming, and we can be proud that it’s a respectable way to memorialize them. All three of them sacrificed and worked tirelessly for many years as a team of Atheist activists who got things done. So here is a memorial brick in public for them, and for the movement.

There’s no reason to vandalize the brick, but knowing the sort of disgust O’Hair generated, you have to fear the worst…

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • SteveS

    After doing some reading up on O’Hair, I fall on the side of the fence where I think she’s a rotten woman (I mean, c’mon…disowning your own son for becoming a minister…can’t we leave disowning people for changing their religious beliefs to fundies?), but I can appreciate the the strides she’s made toward a secular America. I think she was a bit mentally ill (perhaps paranoia), but that’s just me.

    • Anonymous

      I had to read up on her as well. I agree that there was some mental health issues going on. I have three children and have always told them the decision (regards religion) was theirs to make. As it stands two are Christians and one is Atheist. They accept my choice and I accept theirs. It is what being a family is about. It is what being an American is about.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      And they think atheists today are strident.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.zamecki Joe Zamecki

    Thanks for posting this Hemant! I’ll be visiting the brick often to check up on it. :o)

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.zamecki Joe Zamecki

    Here it is. Not bad, eh?

  • Kahomono

     There’s no reason to vandalize the brick, but knowing the sort of disgust O’Hair generated, you have to fear the worst…

    I give it until Wednesday.

  • Anonymous

    William Murray, Madalyn’s estranged son, supposedly converted to christianity in the late 1970′s and then wrote an undistinguished “Mommie Dearest” book about his mother. I had the opportunity to talk to him in the 1980′s when he appeared on the exorcist Bob Larson’s radio talkshow, and I managed to call in and get on the air. I told him about my atheism, and William said something to the effect that atheism only “works” for young, healthy white men up through the age of 40 or so, after which we have to fall back into religion because of the debility caused by aging.

    I turned 52 back in November, I still don’t believe in the gods,  and I still don’t understand what William meant. 

    I also have to laugh at him now because he wrote after his mother’s murder that organized atheism in the U.S. depended mainly on her cult of personality, and that it would probably go away in her absence. From what I’ve read, Madalyn’s American Atheists organization did seem small and shabby from its founding through the late 1990′s. But it has apparently hung on and arguably thrived since then, along with newer atheist organizations which can put up billboards in ignorant, superstitious places like Tulsa. Many of today’s 20- and 30-something atheists have probably never even heard of Madalyn.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ORRVVC5R2QWLTXEM6SX5L6BORE Jay Arrrr

    How long before the family of Glenn Williams starts pitching a frothing fit about who’s next to Glenn’s brick?
    Not to worry, some Good Christian will take a hammer to it before Easter.

    as for disowning a kid for becoming a minister? Depends, how many phone calls a day from the kid informing mom she’s going to hell?

    Hey, I love ya, but that don’t mean I gotta put up with your insanity. I raised you better. Get help.

  • MG

    Raises the question: Can you “desecrate” something that isn’t considered sacred?  Vandalize, certainly–but how, and to whom, is the grave of an atheist “sacred”?

    • Bree

      As an atheist I still assign emotional value to things. It’s symbolic, but it’s still an attachment I have. Humans are irrational sometimes. So I believe a gravesite should be respected, but it’s not protected by a deity or anything. A different form of imbued meaning.

  • Sue Blue

    I’ve always heard how unattractive and abrasive she was, but whatever her problems, no one deserves to be murdered.  And what did her children do to deserve it? Just the fact that she and two of her children were killed and no one cared enough to memorialize them until now makes me sad.  

    As far as the reactions of the religious go, I’m sure there will be outrage far out of proportion to the size of the brick.  I have a perverse desire to put up a big, ostentatious memorial on private property next to the local Baptist church and see what happens.  No one has ever vandalized the Baptist marquee with its weekly proclamations of stupidity, but I’d be wiling to bet my next paycheck that an atheist marker or memorial nearby would be smashed, spray-painted or burned within a week.  Of course, I’d have hidden security cameras stashed about and would take great pleasure seeing them all in court.

  • N Beazwachs

    I saw her in person once back in the late ’70s when I was still a Christian. She and some minor evangelist were doing a series of debates in what I assume were all little no-name bergs. The local paper’s headline read, “Preacher throws lion to Christians,” and that was about right. She wasn’t gentle, and often displayed contempt – not without reason – but, even as a Christian, I knew she made more sense than the theists did.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Natalie-A-Sera/743004321 Natalie A. Sera

    She was vocal, and worked to exercise her and our right to freedom of and from religion, but let’s never make a saint of her. 

    • Demonhype

       I don’t think anyone here has made her a saint.  Nearly everyone admits she was not the gentlest or most likeable person, and that’s at best.  Mainly, all that has been expressed is the fact that she made great strides promoting freedom of and from religion, that she was murdered and no one deserves that no matter how abrasive they may seem to others, and that it’s kind of sad that absolutely no memorial exists for her.  Also, that it’s sad that if her and her chidrens’ bodies whereabouts were known, some Good Christians would probably dig them up to take a piss on them and that this simple memorial brick probably won’t last long before some Good Christian decides to destroy it for Jesus.  No sainthood nominations there, just plain factual acknowledgements of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

    • Matto the Hun

      riffing a little off of Demonhype’s comment.

      Perhaps this is a little distasteful (I don’t agree else I wouldn’t post it… well I suppose I might) but we should look into doing a traveling O’Hair tombstone/burial site. It would never be real of course , but just to occupy rabid Christian Soldiers and give them something to do while amusing us. After they dig one site up or whatever hateful thing they might do, we simply plop down another stone elsewhere and say “oh no, this is the real site, for real!” We might even consider planting a surprise in each one, like a copy of the God Delusion or a fake skeleton with a Santa suit.

  • http://www.loujost.com/ Lou Jost

    When I was a kid in the ’70s she was the only public, in-your-face atheist I had heard of. She inspired me. She sent me a tape of one of her KLBJ radio programs (imagine her nerve–this was Texas, after all!) –”Why I am an atheist”. I played it in class in high school—it was liberating to be able to say those things in our conservative high school. Seems to me that the reactions of my classmates and teacher were reasonable, and people engaged with the issues, unlike what would happen today. I’d probably be kept from playing the very strongly-worded tape for fear of insulting someone, and half the kids would have plugged their ears instead of engaging.

    • Demonhype

      That’s cuz back then they still believed they had the upper hand and all the facts and could honestly engage atheism on an even footing and win–after all, religious belief and especially Christianity had a total stranglehold on the world for so long, how could that be if it wasn’t clearly true?

      Nowadays, they’ve learned through hard experience that they do not have the upper hand, they have zero facts, and cannot hope to engage atheism honestly and must rely on lies, tone trolling, and any one-sided censorship they can get away with–the latter being preferable, because if you’re engaging you’re too close and stand too good a chance of getting yucky corrosive reality all over your precious delicate easily-shattered faith.


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