Louis E. Martin: The Godfather of Black Politics

Today’s post was written by Billy R. Glasco, Jr., archivist at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum

Lewis Martin seated at a desk with a pen in his hand
Louis E. Martin, Assistant to President Jimmy Carter (NAID 181236)

On his 108th birthday, The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum highlights the life of African American journalist and political activist, Louis E. Martin. Although inconspicuous, Martin’s contributions to the political empowerment of African Americans is undeniable. Martin’s political prominence influenced some of the most historical Presidential decisions regarding African Americans in the late twentieth century, thus being called the “Godfather of Black Politics”.

Louis Emanuel Martin, Jr. was born on November 18, 1912 to Dr. Louis E. Martin and Willa Hill Martin in Shelbyville, Tennessee. Dr. Martin later moved his family to Savannah, Georgia because the weather in Savannah reminded him of the weather in his childhood home of Santiago, Cuba. While growing up in Savannah, Martin would also meet his wife of 60 years, Gertrude Scott.

Martin returned to his birthplace of Tennessee to attend Fisk University and later graduated from The University of Michigan with a degree in Journalism. Within the first year of his career as a journalist, Martin was employed at two esteemed Black newspapers – The Chicago Defender and Detroit’s The Michigan Chronicle. He also was a founding member of The National Publishers Association.

JFK, Gus Hawkins, Louis Martin standing in the Oval Office
President John F. Kennedy visits with Democratic Congressional candidate from California, Augustus F. “Gus” Hawkins (center), and Deputy Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Louis E. Martin (right). Oval Office, White House, Washington, D.C. (Courtesy of John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum)

Louis Martin’s career as a presidential advisor began in 1960 when Democratic politician Robert Sargent Shriver recruited him to work with the Presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy. In the same year, Martin was pivotal in advising Kennedy to contact Coretta Scott King to express his grievance over her husband Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. being arrested at a sit-in protest in Atlanta. This moment was instrumental in Kennedy gaining the majority of the Black vote in the 1960 Presidential Election. During this time, Martin also began his tenure as Deputy Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, a position he would hold until the end of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s term in 1969.   

After Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, Martin was one of a few advisors that transitioned to the Johnson administration. During Johnson’s presidency, Martin was influential in the President’s decision to nominate Thurgood Marshall as the first African American to serve as Justice on the United States Supreme Court.

LBJ and Louis Martin walking and talking between the White House and West Wing
Walking to the Oval Office: President Lyndon B. Johnson and Louis Martin (Courtesy of Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum)

Martin also was a mentor and key benefactor to the political rise of Clifford Alexander, first African American Secretary of the Army and Vernon E. Jordan, advisor to President Bill Clinton.

Jimmy Carter and Louis Martin seated in chairs across from each other and smiling in the Oval Office
President Carter with Louis Martin (NAID 180706)

Collections containing the records of Louis E. Martin housed at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum consists of textual documents, photographic material, and audiovisual material related to the work Martin did as Special Assistant to President Carter from 1978-1981. Under the Carter administration, Martin served as the primary liaison between the President of the United States and the Black community. Martin’s experience as a journalist and tenure as advisor to two previous Presidents made him a successful representative of the Black community during Carter’s presidency.

a group of 8 women and men standing with Louis Martin in the center
Louis Martin with Guests Visiting the White House (NAID 184022)

Works cited: Lewis, Neil A., Louis E. Martin, 84, Aide To 3 Democratic Presidents.  New York Times, January 30, 1997.

Collections containing records related to Louis E. Martin at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum:

  • JC-1003: Records of Louis Martin, Special Assistant to the President: A Guide to Its Records at Jimmy Carter Library. (NAID 1084). 
  • Jimmy Carter’s Presidential Photographs, 1/20/77-1/20/81.  (NAID 173341), JC-WHSP
  • Bradley Woodward Audiovisual Files. Media Liaison Office, 1977-1981. (NAID 7560727) JC-WHPO
  • Oral History Exit Interviews (NAID 162691) JC-OH
  • Black Media Mass Mailing Files, 1977-1981 (NAID 6210723) JC-WHPO
  • Roddey E. Mims’ Files, 1976-1982 (NAID 150769) JC-1130

Other records related to Louis E. Martin at The National Archives:

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