When Gaithersburg resident Angela Martin, 57, inherited her mother’s genealogy project she had no idea just how unique the branches of her family tree would be.

Her mother, Dr. Ruby Martin, started researching their genealogy by interviewing her parents while they were living. And before her passing, Dr. Martin left her notes, books, interesting stories and grandparents’ taped interviews to her daughter. Dr. Martin had expressed an interest in writing a book about the accomplishments of the family. “I thought maybe I should try to pick up where she left off,” said the younger Martin. Inspired by such programs as the NBC television series, “Who Do You Think You Are?” and Dr. Henry Gates’ “African American Lives,” Martin began her quest, which was sent into high gear after she met famous author Michelle Norris and Bernard and Shirley Kinsey of The Kinsey Collection, who also inspired her to do research and tell the family’s story.

After Martin began the research, she was astonished to find that she had a very rich family legacy on her maternal and paternal side.  “I discovered that I have several family members that have made history as African-American trailblazers,” Martin said.

Many of Martin’s family members from different generations were high achievers and visionaries in education, sports, military, the arts and horticulture in the midst of racial discrimination in the South:

Viola DuVall Stewart, Martin’s maternal aunt, was a civil rights pioneer and educational justice advocate that made history in South Carolina in 1945, when her equalization lawsuit became law. The case, Viola Louise Duvall et al. V.J.F. Seignous, which was argued and won by Thurgood Marshall, was among the precedents that led to the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision. In May 2010, Stewart received a Congressional Record by Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.). She passed away at 91 in December 2010. Her husband, Nathaniel C. Stewart Sr., Martin’s uncle, was a Tuskegee airman, Class 43J, 553rd Fighter Squadron.

Jesse James Aarons, Martin’s maternal grand-uncle, was one of the most famous sculptors that ever lived. His works are well known, and there are several literary works with reference to his life.

Martin’s maternal grandmother, Pearl Dunn, was known in South Carolina for housing Black entertainers along the Chitlin’ Circuit during the Jim Crow era. Her father, Edward A. Martin Sr., was a well-recognized icon and coaching legend in the history of college basketball. He was also a pitcher in the Negro League, along with icons such as Hank Aaron, Satchel Paige and Jackie Robinson and was inducted into six Halls of Fame. Her mother, Ruby Martin, was an educator, writer and orator. She was head of the Department of Teaching and Learning at a Tennessee State University.

And Martin’s paternal aunt, Zora Martin Felton, 80, was the first African-American graduate of Moravian College and member of the pioneering team of the Smithsonian Anacostia Museum.

In addition, Martin is a direct descendant of the Gourdin and Noisette families on her maternal side. Both families are noted French African-American families of South Carolina with recorded histories that have been the subject of several literary works dating back to the 1600s. 

Living with legacies has inspired other family members to be appreciative of their past. Louis Stewart, 58, associate professor of accounting at Howard University, is the son of Tuskegee Airman Nathaniel and Viola Stewart. “My father was very humble. I had to find out from others about the great things he did. It inspired me to be successful,” he said.

Stewart also said he appreciated how his mother stood up at a time when Black people who took a stance like hers would mysteriously disappear. “She was a very courageous woman,” Martin remembered.

World famous producer and gospel artist Dr. Bobby Jones worked with Dr. Ruby Martin for 17 years. He also encouraged the aspiring author to write the book.

“Legacies like this encourage high achievement and give self-esteem to family members and others around them,” he said.

As Martin looked around the room at the memorabilia collected for her book, she encouraged others to do the same. “You cannot know where you are going in life, until, you know and appreciate where have come from,” she said. “Each one of us needs to help children learn the value of their place in history.”

Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO