Posted on Mon, Feb 10, 2020
There is an old southern saying that says, “It’s a poor frog that won’t praise its own pond.” Although no one else is more deserving of praise than Jesus Christ, we believe honor and appreciation are in order and that charity (love) begins at home and then spreads abroad. Stay tuned for our “In the Spotlight” segments featuring members of our congregation each week during Black History Month.
Pastor Barney Washington Martin was born in Bryant, Mississippi to parents David Martin, Sr. and Maggie L. Jones Martin. His father was a veteran who managed the family’s large farm and his mother was a school teacher both at the Bryant/Pleasant Grove School and at the Colored, later Central Elementary and High, schools in Coffeeville.
Pastor Martin’s parents were one generation removed from slavery. Yet, they stressed education, saving and ownership of property and businesses. His mother was an educator to and from her heart. She graduated from Rust College and was the inspiration for many other blacks attending college. Even after her retirement, she continued to teach and encourage people in the community to do those things she had always stressed. She also wrote a weekly news column in the Coffeeville Courier and, along with Mr. J.W. Hunt, Mrs. Mamie Shields and Mr. John Herod fought to bring the Head Start program to Yalobusha County. She was known to write letters to government agencies and anywhere else she could to get information to help others or bring new opportunities to the area. Later, she would keep the phone next to her and stay on it for hours doing the same. His father served in World War I, stationed in France for much of his tour of duty. Although he was not in combat, he was injured while in the military and had to have a rib removed. This caused permanent disfigurement and much discomfort, so he was honorably discharged with disability. After being discharged, he went to Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University and a National Historic Site, in Tuskegee, Alabama where he emerged with great skill in agriculture, carpentry and the craft of rug making. He always had a catchy phrase, line or comeback that came from his military days or his time in Tuskegee. Often when his children would ask him what he was doing, he would reply in jest, “I’m making a submarine chaser!” or “Ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies. Give me no flour, I’ll make you no pies.” Known for his excellent penmanship which was very rare at that time for black men, there is still evidence of it today in old ledgers preserved from when he was Pleasant Grove's recording secretary. Pastor Martin reflected, “It may seem like I’m talking more about my family history than responding to this interview, but this is my history. You have to know the before, so you can understand the after. There's so much I could tell, but there isn't enough time or space. See, this history is important for our family, for Pleasant Grove and for everyone. I’m glad you all are doing this because history needs to be preserved and used as a foundation to keep building bigger and better."
"We have to go a little farther back. So, take this down…” The first Barney Washington Martin, Pastor Martin’s grandfather, was a slave from South Carolina who picked up and left with Union soldiers during the Civil War and served as their water carrier. He traveled all over with them and during their travels, the Colonel endeared himself to him. After the war, the Colonel settled in Memphis. He had visited Mississippi and heard about land available in a little settlement. Surprisingly, he told Barney about the land and helped him in the purchasing process. As a result, he acquired over 100 acres and was one of the first black settlers in Bryant. He had siblings that settled in Grenada and in Taylor, but rarely saw either after a few years. After marriage and beginning a family, he and his wife, Hannah Turner Martin, were among the founders of Pleasant Grove Church. They had 17 or 18 children. Some people may be old enough to remember a few of them like Aaron, Mose and Susie Martin or Rosie Colbert, Mary Ella Roberts or Lucy Kelly, but most would be more familiar with some of their grandchildren who remained at Pleasant Grove or in the Bryant Community or surrounding area like Nathaniel “Cooter” Roberts, Everlena Martin Covington, Hattie Roberts Kee, John Robert Booker and David Martin, Jr. Countless families came from this one Turner-Martin union. Many are still around and many migrated to Illinois, Michigan, Missouri and other states, but they all called Bryant home.
By the time Pastor Martin was old enough to remember, he recalls Bryant having more conveniences, for that time, than most smaller areas. He said, “We had stores, a post office and the whites were good in the neighborhood…the Snells, the Moshers, the Meeks. The Stones farmed land there. Mr. Snell, the postmaster, was a really good man. He was never cross, always polite. There was Pleasant Grove school and the church. We even had baptism in Mr. Snell’s pond, which by the way, was a big, big thing. It even got coverage in the newspaper. Everyone from miles around would come.”
In his youth, Pastor Martin attended the school at Pleasant Grove, graduated from Central High School and went on to Piney Woods Jr. College and then to Mississippi Industrial College in West Point. Somewhat like his father and his grandfather, Pastor Martin felt ties to the military. Knowing that the draft was inevitable, he enlisted before he was summoned. While in the armed forces he was in the Signal Corps and served as a pole lineman and a switchboard operator primarily at Ft. Jackson in South Carolina, but also at Camp Gordon, Georgia and other bases. After discharge, he moved to Memphis temporarily and on to Jeffersonville, Indiana then to Louisville, Kentucky followed by Detroit, Michigan where he worked and attended Lewis Business School and then Chicago, Illinois and finally to Benton Harbor, Michigan where he stayed for many years before returning home to Mississippi in 1974. It was in Benton Harbor that he accepted his call to the ministry of the Gospel and was ordained.
Pastor Martin was a proponent of equal rights. Even before moving back to Mississippi, he attended meetings and participated in marches on trips home, along with Pastor J.C. Hentz, other ministers and lots of others who would go on to become ministers. Upon his return to reside here, he was active in the Yalobusha County Branch of the NAACP and Yalobusha County Organization for Better Education.
While away and even after returning, Pastor Martin held many occupations. In remembering his parents’ teachings, he tried his hand at entrepreneurship. After maintaining offices in Coffeeville and Water Valley as the community liaison for the director of Central Mississippi Incorporated, he opened a commercial cleaning service. Having had other businesses, this one proved to be the most rewarding and profitable. The service mainly concentrated on flooring, but was equipped for upholstery and other effects and had major clients such as banks, grocery store chains and other commercial buildings in multiple counties. Before long, he was able to hire a staff, some of which later started their own businesses. Pastor Martin kept this operation through retirement. Anyone who has ever been around him for long knows he consistently tells people, “Get you some business!” He means this literally and figuratively.
Throughout his ministry, Pastor Martin was blessed to pastor Blue Cane and Rocky Branch in Charleston, Macedonia in Batesville and New Providence in Water Valley where he met his wife, Sister Julia Woodard Martin. He pastored Muddy Creek for 30 years and Antioch for 17 years simultaneously. He envisioned that the two churches could accomplish far more for the glory of God together than separately. Graciously, the members of both congregations agreed. He commented, “I’d like to think that this is one of my greatest accomplishments. If not the greatest, it is my proudest. I know it was by the grace of God, but He gave me the honor and privilege of leading wonderful people willing to unite for a greater purpose. The churches merged, built a new edifice and, with prayer, we renamed them United Missionary Baptist Church. They allowed me to continue to lead until I felt my health was not allowing me to be as productive as I would have liked. But even still, the Lord allowed me to see a young man I pastored as a young boy at New Providence take the reigns as pastor. They have paid for the church building, burned the note and are continuing to grow spiritually and in numbers. That’s a blessing!”
Pastor Martin is enjoying spending his golden years with his wife. He is proud of his children, adores his grandchildren, nieces and nephews, likes conversing with other relatives and friends and is thoroughly encouraged by his surviving sister and 108-year-old father-in-law. During the interview, he kept speaking of his love for Bryant and Pleasant Grove. He says he hopes and prays that those who come along next preserve all the history that lies in both for posterity.
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