History of Alto, Texas Martin Family Legacy is this month's featured Cover Story!
Alto, TX. – The first one hundred years following slavery was filled with struggles for Black farmers due to discrimination. Much history and wealth has been lost to families and communities due to other factors, also. Among these are failure to leave a will specifying who is the responsible person(s) to carry forth what has been gained. Emery and Mae Belle Martin appeared to have been wise and very aware of the importance of this fact. They were keepers of the legacy left to them by their parents then passed the torch to their children. They raised their daughter Linda and son George keeping them informed and involved in the family business of farming & ranching.
Members of the Martin family contributed greatly to the Alto Community. Grandfather George Martin gave his daughter Brunet (George and Linda's aunt) and her husband Alford Willis five acres of land about 1946. The land was located on highway 69 north, Alto. They opened a barbeque restaurant, back then called a cafe, around 1948 and kept it open into the eighties. Brunette Willis was also a teacher who taught at G. W. Bradford School, Sweet Union Forest and Alto ISD.
Martin Family's tractor used to harvest crops for themselves and neighbors in Alto, Tx. community.
Jacob Martin, Paternal great- grandfather, began a long legacy of pride of land ownership and farming for the Martin family in 1883. His grandson Emery being raised on a farm, raised his son George and daughter Linda on the family farm. He taught them the business and allowed them to work beside him learning firsthand the day-to-day operations of their farm. By the time Linda was eleven and George not much older, Emery had purchased a new tractor and hay baler and all that goes with it. He grew and baled hay for himself and other farmers in the Alto area. George Stated," We learned management on the job on our own farm.
Joe Williams was Mae Belle Martin's dad. Everybody called him Uncle Joe. He started Williams Chapel AME Church in 1937 next to Willis BBQ, on land George's grandfather gave for the church.
Emery & Mae Belle Martin owned Martin’s Grocery & Feed; they purchased this store from his brother Booker T. Martin in 1948. The family ran the store until 1957.
Joe Williams, their mother's dad went to Farmers Home administration, around the time early loans were given to Black farmers, got a loan and purchased 180 acres, some of which he farmed. He was a very generous and caring person. He sold small acreage to people that he hired to work on his farm. They would come to him for help in finding land to purchase for their family. This allowed them to become landowners and to farm for themselves. Linda said the farm paid for his children’s college.
As a young boy, George remembers there was an old guy by the name of Elbert York who hung around Willis's barbeque. He loved the Houston Post, so every day he bought one. Every day he gave the paper to George and had George read it him. For a long time, George thought he couldn't read, but he could read. He had seen many Black men cheated because they couldn't read, so he just wanted to make sure George got started on the right foot.
Booker T. Washington High School, impacted George's life in a meaningful way. It was a place of involvement for the students. There were no specific counselors, but a place where teachers cared enough to give students guidance. His agriculture teacher was Valentine Waddleton. One day he told George about a trip he was about to take to Prairie View College and ask him to go. He took George, William Morrison, Alford Wade, Bouche Mickey, Henry Thacker, and Larry Christopher. George toured the campus that day, but little did he know he would return in a few years to earn a Bachelor of Science Degree in Agriculture. He also remembered well what Mr. Waddleton told him, "Get a degree in a field that you know a little about, and you will enjoy your work."
Linda Martin Skinner was very involved in School from cooking and sewing in 4-H to high school home economics classes to plays to fashion shows and proms. While many local people in small East Texas towns chose to leave the area for higher education and better jobs, Linda choose to get her education at Stephen F. Austin State University and return to Alto. She began her career at Alto High School as a Head Start teacher and taught for forty-one years. She married the late Rollie Skinner. They purchased three farms where they grew cattle and hay and did commercial farming about thirty years. The Linda Skinners has three sons who helped run the farms, Crispen Skinner now an Agricultural teacher, Byron Skinner a DPS agent and Craig Skinner an athletic trainer for an NBA G-League. Linda's time today is spent volunteering in different community activities. She is on the board of trustees at St. Thomas Chapel AME church and played a very active part in the Booker T. Washington Alumni Association as well as helping establish The Booker T. Washington Community Center. The Center is one of a kind that has been built by an alumni association in the East Texas area.
They did row cropping and purchased a pea sheller which their boys ran for years. They shelled their own peas and for other farmers in the area. She fondly remembers the many trips they made to the Dallas Farmer's Market.
George has been married to Bernice Brantley Martin for more than fifty years. They have three daughters who are all college graduates, Angela Terry, Hope Andrews, and Cicely Henderson and four grandsons. He attended Booker T. Washington High through the 11th grade and graduated Alto High School in 1967.
George graduated Prairie view A & M University. He is now retired and moved back to Alto after working for the United States Department of Agriculture NRCS conservationist, Nacogdoches and San Augustine, Texas and NRCS District Conservationist San Augustine, Texas. In 2009 George was inducted into the Prairie View A&M Sports Hall of Fame for Track and Field. He is currently a member of the Alto Booker T. Washington Alumni Association, Alto Area Christian Brotherhood, New Hope Community Cemetery Board, Cherokee County Historical Commission, Cherokee county Genealogy Society, and New Hope Baptist Church.
Linda and George are very deeply committed to their community of Alto and surrounding communities and will serve anywhere they are needed. He recently took the lead in establishing a Wall of History Mural in the Cherokee County Courthouse, did a Black History presentation at the Cherokee County Courthouse Annex, the Museum in Rusk and the History of Black Education at the Alto High School Black History Program. Linda was right there working with the awesome production crew for that program. It's seemingly just natural that they carry on the Martin family legacy.
George said he was asked why he serves so much. He shared a great quote from the late Willie Lee Campbell Glass, "Service is the rent we pay for living on God's green earth." Story by Maxine Session