Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Joe H. Martin, July 9, 1986

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:01 - Introduction

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Partial Transcript: --Okay. Uh, I’m George Wright, and the day is July the 9th, 1986.

Segment Synopsis: Wright introduces the subject for his interview about black people in Kentucky, Joe H. Martin. The interview takes place in Shelbyville, Kentucky, where Martin was born and raised.

Keywords: 20th century Kentucky; African Americans of Kentucky; Black people of Kentucky; Living in segregated Kentucky; Segregated Kentucky

Subjects: African Americans--Kentucky; Civil rights and the struggle for Black equality in the twentieth century; Civil rights--Kentucky--Shelbyville; Kentucky; Kentucky--History; Shelbyville (Ky.)

00:00:25 - Childhood and family history in Shelbyville, Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: Uh, Mr. Martin, have you spent most of your life here?

Segment Synopsis: Martin talks about his immediate family, including a brother, father Henry “Son” Martin, and mother Eileen Martin. He discusses their economic situation and their living situation, as Martin’s brother lived with his grandmother, Liza Norris, in Shelbyville. Martin recalls stories his grandmother told him about racism she experienced during her youth in Kentucky. He details his relationship with his parents, including never calling them “mother” or “father” or any other related name for a parent. He talks about his father’s job as a hardware store shop worker.

Keywords: Black people of Kentucky; Families in Kentucky; Family history; Life in Kentucky; Parent-child relationships; Racism in Kentucky; Social life in Kentucky

Subjects: African American families; African Americans--Kentucky; Childhood; Education--Kentucky--Shelbyville; Families; Parent and child; Racism; Segregation; Shelbyville (Ky.); Social change

00:10:23 - Living in Shelbyville

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Partial Transcript: Where did you all--(clears throat)--live?

Segment Synopsis: Martin discusses living on Bradshaw Street in Shelbyville and talks about his neighbors, including a school teacher, a post office worker, and a professor. He recalls having running water at home, unusual for many of the houses in Shelbyville. He talks about going to school in Shelbyville and the logistics of the grades the schools in Shelby County included together.

Keywords: Families in Kentucky; Kentucky homes; Kentucky neighborhoods; Neighborhoods (Shelbyville, Ky.); Running water; Streets in Shelbyville

Subjects: African American families; African Americans--Education; African Americans--Kentucky; African Americans--Kentucky--Louisville--Social conditions; Kentucky; Neighbors; Racism; Schools; Shelbyville (Ky.)

00:15:59 - Public hanging in Shelbyville / The Ruben family

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Partial Transcript: Uh-huh. And, and you said “incident,” I’m not completely clear on it. Could you explain the incident a little bit before we talk about it?

Segment Synopsis: Martin discusses a hanging in Shelbyville involving a white woman and two black men, the former of whom became Martin’s mother’s employer. Martin recalls the incident which incited the hanging, which was a fight between the two men at a saloon, one of who knocked the woman, Bess Ruben, over during the fight. He discusses how the townspeople were the ones who decided to hang them, despite the white woman objecting to it. Martin tells Wright how one man died during the hanging, but one escaped. Wright and he discuss the details of the hangings, including the remorse of Ruben’s father regarding the hangings. Martin then talks about the Ruben family, which was a Jewish family, and their details of their lives as he can recall.

Keywords: African American families in Kentucky; Bar fights; False accusations; Hangings in Kentucky; Jewish families in Kentucky; Jewish women--Kentucky.; Social conditions of African Americans

Subjects: African American families; African Americans--Kentucky; Civil rights--Kentucky--Shelbyville; Crime; Hanging; Jewish women; Jews--Kentucky--Shelbyville; Kentucky; Shelbyville (Ky.)

00:27:04 - Experiencing racism in the South

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Partial Transcript: And then, after school, you left and went to the service?

Segment Synopsis: Martin talks about being drafted into the military from high school in 1942. He discusses the differences between living in Kentucky and living in Alabama during segregation, the former being easier to live in than the latter. He also recalls racism he experienced in Mississippi while he was in the service when he missed the last bus and was forced to march on the street for 5 hours until the next bus arrived.

Keywords: African Americans in the military; Deep South; Public transportation segregation; Racial segregation; Racism in the South; Segregation in the military

Subjects: African Americans--Kentucky; Alabama; Civil rights; Discrimination in the military; Draft; Mississippi; Racism; Racism--United States.; World War II

00:31:54 - Segregation in Shelbyville

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Partial Transcript: You've said several times, "Shelbyville is segregated town." What do you mean by that?

Segment Synopsis: Martin discusses what segregation was like for him as a child, which he believes is a different experience than dealing with segregation as an adult. He talks about the qualities of the schools and black education during segregation. He also discusses the segregation of restaurants in Shelbyville and how some of the segregation was at times inconsistent, with some soda fountains serving black people as well as white people. Martin recalls Wilbur Brown, who opened up a soda fountain for the black community in Shelbyville. He also recalls not feeling too uncomfortable around white people during his childhood, but talks about stories he heard of other black people who were unfairly treated by white people.

Keywords: Children in segregation; Segregation in Kentucky; Segregation in schools; Segregation--Shelbyville (Ky.)

Subjects: African American businesspeople.; African Americans--Education; African Americans--Segregation; Schools; Segregation.; Shelbyville (Ky.); Shelbyville (Ky.)--Social life and customs; Soda fountains

00:39:57 - Civil rights in Shelbyville

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Partial Transcript: Do you, do you remember, other than this Dr. Rab, other blacks who were active, being ministers or politicians, anyone, and what they were trying to do, and were they successful in doing anything when you were a young person?

Segment Synopsis: Martin recalls not having an NAACP branch in Shelbyville during the 1940s. He begins to talk about one man in particular who was instrumental to civil rights in Shelbyville.

[Tape cuts off at 00:43:03]

Keywords: Black people in Kentucky; Civil rights in Kentucky; Civil rights in Shelbyville; NAACP; NAACP in Kentucky

Subjects: African Americans; African Americans--Civil rights--Kentucky; African Americans--Kentucky; African Americans--Segregation; Kentucky; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Racism

00:40:58 - Returning to Shelbyville after World War II service

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Partial Transcript: Or, or another way of asking the same thing: After you'd been to the service--After you'd been to the service, you have to make a decision to come back.

Segment Synopsis: Martin discusses his strong ties to Shelbyville and close connections with many of the citizens of Shelbyville. Martin recalls working at a pool room his father owned in Shelbyville. He talks about his time in the service in World War II, telling stories about his experiences. He also talks about a black hospital in Martinsville, Kentucky.

Keywords: African American hospitals; African American soldiers in World War II; Family histories; Family ties; Kentucky families; Martinsville (Ky.); Personal connections; Personal ties; World War 2; World War II

Subjects: African American families; African American veterans; African Americans--Kentucky; African-American soldiers; Families; Kentucky; Shelbyville (Ky.); Veterans; World War, 1939-1945

00:46:41 - Marriage and family

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Partial Transcript: Mr. Martin, um, okay, when did you get married?

Segment Synopsis: Martin talks about getting married in 1943, a year before he left for the service. He discusses his wife, who was from Fairfield, Kentucky. He recalls how he met her and when they got married, as well as his 5 daughters.

Keywords: Fairfield (Ky.); Grown-up children; High school sweethearts; Kentucky marriages; Young married couples

Subjects: Adult children; African American families; Families; Marriage; Shelbyville (Ky.)

00:49:02 - School integration in Shelbyville

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Partial Transcript: When were the schools integrated in Shelbyville?

Segment Synopsis: Martin recalls having no issues with school integration in Shelbyville, though he does remember having issues with integrating the public swimming pools and golf courses. He talks about learning how to golf from caddying for white men and then being able to play on “Caddy days”.

Keywords: Golf caddies; Integration in Kentucky; Integration in Shelbyville (Ky.); Segregation in recreational activities; Swimming pool segregation

Subjects: African Americans--Kentucky; Country clubs; Golf; Integration; School integration; Shelbyville (Ky.); Swimming pools