Louis E. Martin

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Louis Emanuel Martin, Jr. (November 18, 1912 - January 6, 1997) was a renowned American journalist, newspaper publisher, civil rights activist and advisor to three Presidents of the United States. Through his pioneering political activism during the civil rights era, he came to be known as the “Godfather of Black Politics.”

Early Life

Born in Shelbyville, Tennessee to Dr. Louis E. Martin Sr. and Willa Martin, Louis Jr. grew up in Savannah, Georgia. His father, a physician of Afro-Cuban ancestry was a graduate of Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. It was there that he met and married the former Willa Hill of nearby Shelbyville. Louis Jr. was their only son. Dr. Martin moved his family to Savannah when Louis Jr. was four years old, largely because the climate of southeast Georgia reminded him of the sub-tropical climate of his native Santiago, Cuba. It was in Savannah that Louis Jr. later met and married the former Gertrude Scott, his wife of 60 years.

Newspaper Career

After first attending Fisk University, Martin went on to graduate from the University of Michigan in 1934, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism. Following college, Martin traveled to his father's native Cuba, spending two years there as a freelance writer based in Havana. Returning to the United States in 1936, he was hired as a reporter with the Chicago Defender, a major black newspaper published in Chicago, Illinois. After just six months in Chicago he was dispatched back to Michigan to help launch a new black newspaper, the Michigan Chronicle, serving as its first editor and publisher. Martin remained at the Chronicle for eleven years. Louis Martin was a founder of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a group of black publishers. He was also (n 1970) a founder of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, which provided technical support for black officeholders and scholars throughout the country, serving as its first chairman for eight years.

Political Career

Originally recruited by R. Sargent Shriver, Martin joined the 1960 Presidential campaign of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. During the campaign, Martin was instrumental in persuading candidate Kennedy to place a telephone call to Coretta Scott King to express dismay over the jailing of her husband, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. That phone call was widely credited with helping Kennedy win a major portion of the black vote in the general election that year. It prompted Dr. Kings father the Reverend Martin Luther King Sr., a registered Republican, to vote Democratic Presidential candidate Kennedy.

Following the assassination of President Kennedy, Martin was among the few close Kennedy advisors to make the transition to the new administration of President Lyndon Baines Johnson. In 1967, as a Presidential adviser to Johnson, Martin was influential in the President's decision to nominate Thurgood Marshall as the first black Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.Of his close working relationship with President Johnson it was said that They talked to each other in the shorthand of experienced political pros, according to Clifford Alexander, Special White House counsel and the first African-American Secretary of the United States Army. Secretary Alexander regarded Martin as his mentor. Among the other leading black public figures whom Martin helped raise to prominence was Vernon E. Jordan, later a close adviser to President William Jefferson Clinton. Martin helped recruit Mr. Jordan to head the National Urban League.

Eddie Williams, president of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a research organization in Washington D.C. said it was surprising that Mr. Martin was largely unknown to the public at large, given his wide-ranging influence in the White House and his role in the development of black political power in the Democratic Party. One reason for this is that in Washington, he was the consummate political insider, Mr. Williams said. He traversed the corridors of power for many years without calling attention to himself and his achievements. Als according to Williams, it was in The Washington Post that Martin was first called the godfather of black politics. On Monday, January 6, 1997 Louis Emanuel Martin Jr. died in Orange, California. He was 84.


In author Alex Poinsett’s book Walking with Presidents Louis Martin recounts his first awareness of race and its peculiar significance in American society. Here he reflects on an event that occurred in 1919 when he was seven years old:

“I always regretted that my old man got up. It struck me that just being a white man made a hell of a lot of difference. It impressed me so much that I became a civil rights advocate at the age of seven. From that time forward, I kept looking for signs and studying people closely as I began to understand how crazy this society is.”

In the Foreword of Poinsett's biography of Louis E. Martin, Vernon E. Jordan Jr. wrote:

“…a testimony to the enthusiasm, wisdom, and optimism with which Louis Martin approached politics. For more than half a century he was an indefatigable participant in America’s political affairs. After helping FDR with reelection in 1944, he went on to serve as advisor and assistant to Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Carter, and along the way initiated generations of black people into the leadership ranks of the American political system. For me he not only was a teacher and a mentor but remained a steadfast friend and a constant source of inspiration. Louis was always immensely generous with his time, and I - like so many others - knew that I could call him anytime and hear that familiar greeting, ‘What’s up?’ by which he meant ‘fill me in and let’s see what needs to be done’ “

Career Achievements

Michigan Chronicle, editor and publisher, 1936-47

Chicago Defender, editor-in-chief, 1947-59, editor, 1969-78, columnist, 1987-97

Democratic National Committee, deputy chairman, 1960-69

Political advisor to President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 1960-63

Political advisor to President Lyndon Baines Johnson, 1963-68

Special Assistant to President James Earl Carter, 1978-81

Assistant vice president of communications, Howard University, 1981-87

Chairman of the board, Calmar Communications, 1981-97


National Urban League, Equal Opportunity Award, 1979

National Newspaper Publishers Association, John B. Russwurm Award, 1980

Howard University, Communications Award, 1987

Democratic Party, Larry O'Brien Achievement Award, 1992

Honorary Degrees

Wilberforce University, 1951

Harvard, 1970

Howard University, 1979

Wesleyan University, 1980


Louis E. Martin, 84, Aide To 3 Democratic Presidents - New York Times By NEIL A. LEWIS Published: January 30, 1997