The Son: I. Maximilian Martin Jr.

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Max Martin as he appeared in the University of Pennsylvania yearbook, circa 1932.

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West Philadelphia High School, October 13, 1934. The first public secondary school west of the Schuylkill, by the time Martin attended West Philly High, it had an integrated student body, yet all of the teachers were white. Regardless of their credentials, African American educators could not teach in Philadelphia's secondary schools until the late 1930s.

Experience the curated audio indexes of I. Maxilmilian Martin, Jr.'s oral history interviews.

Isadore Maximilian Max Martin Jr. (1910-1992) was three years old when his father moved the family from Enfield, North Carolina to Philadelphia in 1913. There, Martin excelled academically. After graduating from West Philadelphia High School, he earned a degree in economics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1930, and then a masters degree in business administration from the Wharton School in 1932. Despite the educational opportunities available to Martin and other African Americans, however, Philadelphia was a Jim Crow city.

And the West Philadelphia theaters, like many of the others, segregated. They’d either have the colored patrons go up in the balcony, or they would go at one side and have one side for white, and one side for colored….

About the only place in those days where one could go would be Horn and Hardart’s Automat where you put a dime or a quarter in the slot, and got your meal. And, of course, some of the Horn and Hardart’s cafeterias, they had segregation. They had some suits on them, which finally broke that up. But you were just barred as far as getting a meal was concerned, unless you went to a stand up counter, a 10-cent store or fast food—well, there weren’t fast food places then, but a little counter where they had no seats, just handed it out…. 

And then, of course, in employment. As far as white-collar employment, there just was not, except, unless it was with a firm, a colored business, or a colored firm. The National Negro Business League—met here one year, and they were entertained down at the Wanamaker’s store, and my father made the comment, Well, the only job they can get down there is running an elevator.  I. Maximilian Martin Jr., February 24, 1987.

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Founded by Booker T. Washington in 1900, the National Negro Business League promoted the development of African-American businesses.


After graduating from the Wharton School, Martin joined his father's real estate business and soon became secretary of the Philadelphia NAACP. 

“I mean, when I was a kid, that’s what I heard. I heard NAACP at the dinner table, I heard it every day...And it so happened that a very able secretary, Julian St. George White, died very suddenly, and I moved into the gap to be secretary. The secretary was the one who was really the administrator. And of course, there was no salary attached to it. But you’re the one that did the writing, kept the ball rolling, together with the president, of course. But the secretary was more or less the dynamo.  I. Maximilian Martin Jr., February 24, 1987

In the early years of the Great Depression, the Philadelphia NAACP mounted a new campaign for a state equal rights law to end segregation in the Pennsylvania’s hotels, restaurants, and theaters. To draw attention to racial discrimination in Philadelphia, Martin and some friends in the spring of 1933 bought tickets at one of the city’s largest downtown movie theaters, where Africans Americans could only sit in the balcony.

“The Stanton Theater was owned by the Stanley Company of America, and it originally was the flagship of the group…. And they had a practice of Negroes would sit in the gallery.  So together with a friend I went there—two friends.  One was George Evans, who was the brother of Orrin Evans, the newspaper reporter. George was an art school student. I was just finished Penn, I think, or going to Penn. And we went there, and right behind us was a friend of mine, Paul Binford, who was a dental student...

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First opening its doors at 1620 Market Street in 1914, the Stanton Theatre was one of Philadelohia's first motion picture palacces. Like other downtown theaters, it segegrated African American moviegoers in the balcony until passage of the state Equal Rights Bill in 1935.


Of course, we were told to go upstairs, and Paul Binford came up.  He went downstairs.  I mean, he was swarthy complexion.  So I got a warrant out.  George and I got a warrant out for the manager of theater.  We got his name, and he was, they had a hearing.  At first, Austin Norris was the attorney, and I think somebody put some pressure on Aus, and he bowed out, and Bob Nix Senior took over, at the magistrate’s.  We went to the magistrate’s hearing.  They held them with the Grand Jury, and the Grand Jury blew it out.  I didn’t understand it then, but now I understand what goes on.  I mean, they just, someone in the District Attorney’s office was reached by this.  I. Maximilian Martin Jr., August 30, 1984

After the Grand Jury threw out the case Isadore Martin Sr. stepped in and appealed to Jacob Belikoff, director of the Federation of Jewish Charities and a longtime supporter of the NAACP.

““[A]nd he was a friend of my father. My father wrote to him about this. This was at the time when the Jews were being persecuted in Germany. And he told Mr. Belikoff what was what. He wrote William Goldman, and he said, ‘My heart bleeds when I think about what happened with my friends, particularly when I think of what is being done to our people over in Germany.’ He said, ‘I have written this to him, and he is a very fine man, and I’m sure he will do something.’ He didn’t. Never answered.  I. Maximilian Martin Jr., August 30, 1984

Martin worked hard for passage of Pennsylvania's Equal Rights Act of 1935, wrote up an article about its reception for The Crisis, and after passage of the law tested its enforcement by going with friends to movie theaters in the city.  Pressure from the Philadelphia NAACP and its allies soon forced the Stanley Theatre Company to end segregation in all of its Philadelphia theatres.  Segregation in Philadelphia and elsewhere in the state, however, did not end. 

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Penn-Harris Hotel, Harrisburg, PA, circa 1940.  Located only a few blocks from the state capital, the Penn-Harris Hotel was infamous among African Americans for its refusal to provide them rooms. On the eve of World War II, Isadore Martin and Max Martin Jr. were accomodated only after they protested their exclusion.

“Discrimination became very, very subtle and was not outright. They didn’t want to, you know, if you had an open-shut case, you got service...there were some cases of it, and in some cases, people said, Well, are you aware this is so-and-so?” And then the people would, they’d go into a restaurant, and...they’d serve them. 
I. Maximilian Martin Jr., February 24, 1987

In the decades that followed restrictive covenants prevented African Americans from living in many sections of Philadelphia and the surrounding counties.

He [African American] was limited as to where he could live. He would go into a real estate office, and they’d have a big sign up there: ‘Real Estate, Houses for Rent. One black board would be, say, White, the other would say… And this, actually, this happened at the time of World War II, that was still here. I know of several offices in West Philadelphia on 40th Street that had that sign. I mean, that was a very common thing. They would have Colored, and there was advertising in the newspapers that would say, Colored. If it’s not Colored, then you knew it, a colored family was not welcome. And it was not until after World War II that we were able to get the newspapers to stop advertising the Colored in the real estate sale and rent listings.”  I. Maximilian Martin Jr., February 24, 1987

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I. Maximilian Martin Jr. outside the Berean Savings Association, Philadelphia, PA, circa 1972.

Following his father's death in 1954, Martin took over the family real estate business and took up leadership roles in a number of organizations. In 1962 he joined the Berean Savings Association’s board of directors, then became its president in 1970. Martin also served as advisory director of Keystone Automobile Club, Treasurer of West Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, a director of the Pennsylvania Association of Savings Institutions, secretary of the Philadelphia Board of Realtors, and President of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Society of Real Estate Management. Martin also taught real estate courses at the University of Pennsylvania and at Temple University. I. Maximilian Martin Jr. died on August 10, 1992, at the age of 82.

The Son: I. Maximilian Martin Jr.