Louis E. Martin: The Legacy of the ‘Godfather of Black Politics’


There’s no denying the impact that journalist and civil rights activist Louis Emanuel Martin has had on history. However, there is much more to “the godfather of Black politics” than meets the eye.

Louis E. Martin was born in Shelbyville, Tennessee, in 1912. The city of Savannah, Georgia (which Martin’s father chose because the weather was reminiscent of his childhood spent in Santiago, Cuba), where he grew up, is also where Martin met his future wife, Gertrude Scott.

Later in life, Martin returned to his Tennessee roots to attend Fisk University. He soon transferred to the University of Michigan, where he graduated with a degree in journalism in 1934. 

Martin’s career as a journalist allowed him to work with numerous publications like the Chicago Defender and the Michigan Chronicle, which eventually led him to become more closely involved with politics, especially that of the democratic party. 

According to Black Past, Martin’s time with the Michigan Chronicle (of which he was a founding member) helped him to “[recognize] the benefits the Democratic Party offered in terms of advancing the cause of organized labor and Black civil rights.”

In fact, in 1961, Martin became the deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee; he held the position until 1969.

As a key advisor to multiple presidents such as John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, Martin’s position was vital in helping to win Black voters’ support of both presidents.

Martin was instrumental in convincing President Kennedy to get in touch with Coretta Scott King after her husband, Martin Luther King, was jailed for a traffic violation. Martin was also involved in the appointment of Thurgood Marshall, to the Supreme Court, as the first Black Supreme Court justice. 

In addition to Thurgood Marshall, according to The Washington Post, Martin was also crucial to the appointment of many other Black government officials. 

“Among [those appointed include] Andrew F. Brimmer, the current chairman of the D.C. financial control board, who was the first black member of the Federal Reserve Board; Patricia Roberts Harris and Robert C. Weaver, former secretaries of the Department of Housing and Urban Development; and Clifford L. Alexander Jr., former secretary of the Army.”

Additionally, in 1978, Martin was appointed by President Carter (whom he was also an aide for) to be a special presidential assistant focused on both minorities and women.

Although Martin continued to be involved in politics throughout his life, his passion for journalism lived on. In the years that followed, Martin served as vice president and editorial director of the Sengstacke Newspaper, a chain that owned both the Chicago Defender and the Michigan Chronicle.

Martin became assistant vice president of communications at Howard University in 1981. He suffered a stroke seven years later, in 1988, and passed away on January 27th, 1997, from pneumonia. He was 84 years old.

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