RALEIGH, N.C. | Luke Martin Jr., the son of an ex-slave and Civil War Union soldier, has died — 179 years after his father was born.
Martin was 97 when he died Sunday at his home in New Bern, North Carolina, said his daughter, Fannie Martin-Williams. Her father, who suffered from congestive heart failure and other ailments, had been in declining health for several months, she said.
“He had a long, full life,” Martin-Williams said of her father, with whom she lived in the house where he was born — a house his father built in the 1890s. “He enjoyed every minute of it.”
Martin had little memory of his father, Luke Martin Sr., who died at age 84 in 1920 when the son was just a few years old, according to Martin-Williams. The elder Martin, who was born in 1836, was married twice, the second time to a much younger woman.
According to multiple historical references, Luke Martin Sr. was enslaved at a plantation near Plymouth, North Carolina, but escaped and became a member of the 1st North Carolina Colored Volunteers, later called the 35th U.S. Colored Troops. The U.S. Colored Troops were established in 1863 and by the end of the Civil War, black soldiers comprised 10 percent of the Union Army.
The son was a master brick mason, contractor and teacher. He served as one of the lead brick masons at Tryon Palace, North Carolina’s first permanent state Capitol. He also worked as a funeral attendant at Oscar’s Mortuary from 1960 until August.
In recent years, Martin Jr. had received multiple accolades, including the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, North Carolina’s highest civilian honor. In addition, Craven County also designated Sept. 18, 2014, as “Luke P. Martin Jr. Day.” Two days earlier, Rep. G.K. Butterfield had honored Martin Jr. on the floor of the U.S. House.
Martin, a member of Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, also attended the 2013 unveiling of a historical marker at New Bern Academy that honors his father’s regiment. The group’s website said in announcing his membership last year that he was one of an estimated nine first-generation sons of Civil War veterans. One other man on that list died earlier in January.
All the recognition pleased her father, Martin-Williams said. “He was glad that he lived long enough to be recognized,” she said.
In June, the Martin family loaned the elder Martin’s Springfield rifle and a German-made Confederate sword to the state for one year. The items were part of a tour that also included North Carolina’s original copy of the 13th Amendment.
“He was a kind, generous man. He was a hard-working man,” Martin-Williams said. “Everyone respected him. He loved his church; he loved his community; he loved his family. … He met no strangers. And he left no task undone.”
His funeral will be held Thursday at St. John Missionary Baptist Church in New Bern with burial in Greenwood Cemetery.
Martin is the second child of a slave to die in North Carolina in recent months. In September, Mattie Clyburn Rice, daughter of Weary Clyburn, died at age 91 in High Point.
Martha Waggoner can be reached at https://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc