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West Virginia Archives and History Library

African American Life: A Personal Perspective
Block Speaker Series
June 29, 2017

On Thursday, June 29, 2017, Ella Jean Martin will present “African American Life: A Personal Perspective” in the Archives and History Library in the Culture Center in Charleston. The program, which is the second of the 2017 The Block Speakers Series, will begin at 6:00 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

A native of Charleston, Ella Jean Martin is the daughter of Emanuel and Vivian Robinson. When her father returned from World War II, he became a bricklayer. Her mother became ill at an early age, which may have been the cause of deafness for Jean and her siblings Nancy and Emanuel. The three children attended the West Virginia Deaf and Blind School in Institute. Nancy and Emanuel graduated there, but Jean left after the fifth grade and transferred to a school better suited for deaf people in Romney. She was an outstanding basketball player and a majorette for three years.

After graduating, Jean set her sights on college, but financial hardships led her on a different course. She loved having her own money while working summers at Elite Laundry, located off Virginia Street, East, and she decided to go to barber school in Institute, where she learned from Warren Felix. Upon completing school in 1961, Jean began working for a distant cousin John Lynch at Central Barber Shop on Court Street, a center for many African American businesses. During those years, she gave birth to her sons David and Harry. After marrying Jack Martin Sr. in 1973, she moved to Dunbar and had a third child, Shannon.

Central Barber Shop thrived at its Court Street location and later moved to Shrewsbury Street. In 1989, Jean purchased the shop, becoming the second deaf African American business owner in West Virginia—her brother Emanuel was the first. After 53 years, she still enjoys waking up and going to the shop. After receiving the West Virginia Minority Development Center Award and the West Virginia Executive Directors Award, people ask her when she plans to retire she just smiles and tells them, “I’ll retire when I don’t enjoy cutting hair anymore.”

Participants may park behind the Culture Center after 5:00 p.m. on June 29 and enter the building at the back loading dock area. There also is limited handicapped parking available in the new bus turnaround.

For additional information, contact the Archives and History Library at (304) 558-0230.

West Virginia Archives and History Workshops/Lectures

West Virginia Archives and History