Archie and Nancy Martin were gentle, caring people who provided rooms for African-American students attending Iowa State College in the 1930s and 1940s. In search of a better life, the family had moved from Austell, Georgia to Ames in 1915. Archie (1857-1960) found work with the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad as an assistant to the yard master. Nancy (1856-1947) was a cook for a local Ames doctor as well as for one of the Greek houses on campus. The couple had twelve children.
Since its founding as a land-grant institution in 1858, Iowa State University has always welcomed students of color. Until the late 1940s, however, unofficial campus residence policy stipulated that students of color had to room together. This effectively meant that black students, being few in number, had to find accommodations off-campus. Always supportive of education as a means of getting ahead in life, Archie expressed concern when learning about this restrictive college policy. He became a proponent of equal treatment of black students regarding campus room and board.
Archie was one to whom a growing number of black students could go for counsel. Many of those black students found rooms at the Martin home. Perhaps 20-some African Americans lived with the Martins at one time or another. Many earned advanced degrees and went on to make major contributions to society. Former roomers recall that the Martins also served as mentors and disciplinarians enforcing a studious atmosphere throughout the house. George Washington Carver was a resident in their home when he had occasion to return to Ames. The Martins provided lodging for black students until after World War I, when the number of black students attending Iowa State increased and it became impossible for the Martins to house them all.
The home was built by Archie Martin and three of his sons around 1919 and is still standing today at 218 Lincoln Way.
When it became apparent that the Martins could no longer meet the lodging needs of black students, Archie made an appointment with R. A. Pearson, president of Iowa State, to discuss the problem of housing for black students. President Pearson agreed to see that black students would be admitted to the residence halls on an equal basis with other students. During the following fall, black students complained to Archie informing him that their difficulties securing campus housing still existed. It was only after a second visit to President Pearson’s office did black students find it easier to secure campus housing.
To learn more about the Martins, check out this article from the Ames History Museum.