James Martin believed that Black lives mattered. It cost him his life.
On Oct. 5, 1868, Mr. Martin, the S.C. state representative from Abbeville County, fell victim of assassination by ruffians. Having completed certain business at the Abbeville County Courthouse, he traveled to his home on Mt. Carmel Road. His body was later discovered thrown into a creek. It is said that his Black employee was also killed and tossed into said creek.
How can we relate the life of James Martin to our current day? We know much more about the life of James Martin than about his death. His parents immigrated from Ireland and are buried in Lebanon Cemetery in Abbeville County. James was young when the family crossed over, but quickly embraced his new country. He married into the family of Dr. Reid, who owned a plantation situated across the road from the Calhoun family. His bride, Anna Eliza, had been adopted by the Reids.
Martin succeeded in the mercantile business and also served at one point as superintendent of John de La Howe. After the Civil War, he won a seat in the S.C. House of Representatives, as a Republican. Newspapers of the day mockingly called this the “Negro Legislature,” since it had many Black Republicans in its seats.
At this point, the legacy of James Martin flourishes. It would have been enough that he was a successful, loving husband and the father of five children. That would have sufficed for any man, but James Martin, in his selflessness, took it upon himself to mentor and tutor the newly elected Blacks. Many, through no fault of their own, could neither read nor write. He stepped up to help them understand the many bills they needed to vote on.
On Dec. 1, 1868, the S.C. House proposed a resolution that stated “whereas there can be no doubt that Mr. Martin was murdered solely because of his political associations…..” It goes on to say that our state was in a condition in which political violence was the norm.
Various members of the House stood to speak in honor of Rep. Martin. They referred to his unobtrusive habits, his earnestness and his faithfulness. Rep. Ransier stated that James Martin was stricken down solely because he was a Republican.
The senior member of the House, Mr. Feriter, also of Irish heritage, stated that Martin was murdered “simply for supporting that government that guarantees to its citizens equal political and religious rights.”
What does the story of James Martin say to us today? Plenty. Often mistaken to be a minister, a kind and gentle man was killed and tossed into a creek for supporting the equality of all of mankind. He could not go back and remedy the sins of slavery, but he could help to fix the present. He was slain by cowards who could not accept the fact that the South was heinously wrong regarding the Black race.
Two things: Around the same time frame, Sen. Randolph, a Black politician from Orangeburg, was also murdered by white supremacists. Also, James Martin was my wife’s great-great grandfather.
What little we know about him is gleaned from the State Archives, and from an invaluable family history compiled by the late Joe Buddy Creswell.
Martin was a man who loved God, his fellow man, his family and Abbeville. He was killed by intolerant political opponents. You will not find anything about James Martin in the history books. The period of Reconstruction is a silent one. Newspapers, sadly, did not report the deaths of Black supporters, giving their tacit approval of their spilled blood.
There will never be a monument honoring James Martin. He would not have wanted one. He would just want us to love God and one another, regardless of color. That is what mattered to him.