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From shame to pride: Meet the Martins

Thomas Granning

Raymond Martin of Atlanta was 9 years old when James Meredith made history as the first black student to attend The University of Mississippi. As a little boy in 1962, Martin remembered troops around Oxford, a lot of confusion and “just a prayer for the future.” The tense and violent atmosphere led his parents’ decision not to walk around town anymore. Martin lived with his family about two miles away from the university golf course. “At that time, we did a lot of walking on the roads,” he said. “We would be walking and people would stop and call us all kind of names, threaten us and tell us what they were going to do to us.” Martin said it was a very “frightening time.” His family avoided going to town because they didn’t know what was happening or what would happen. “It was a lot of uncertainty and fear,” he said. “My parents were older at the time and there was a fear of repercussions.” Martin went on to study chemistry at Ole Miss from 1975 to 1979. Afterward, he accepted commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and served for 10 years. He has since moved to Atlanta where he worked for private industries. He also bought several businesses and ran them until he sold them about four years ago. He said he is proud of the progress made at Ole Miss and throughout the state, but he said he wasn’t always proud of his Mississippi background. “At one time, I was really ashamed to say I was from Mississippi,” Martin said. “I really didn’t want anyone to know.” Martin is now proud of the university and the town. “I’ve seen the change, not only in the university, but in the attitude of the people,” he said. “Not just on the campus here, but in the city itself.” Martin said Oxford wasn’t always such a pleasant place. “I remember Oxford when they had the ‘colored’ signs, the ‘colored’ water fountains,” he said. Martin, who has lived in Atlanta since 1992, returned to Oxford this weekend to celebrate the anniversary of integration. “I had to,” he said. Martin hopes his 12-year-old grandson, Cameron, will “understand the struggle of the growth of this state, the growth of the people,” as he passes it along to his family. Martin also wishes that Cameron won’t take life or an education for granted. “I want him to understand that you have to give something to get something,” he said. “You get nothing for nothing.” Martin’s wife Benilda said she wants Cameron to understand that James Meredith’s struggle gave her grandson the opportunity to attend college. Benilda has told her grandson “his sacrifice will allow you and others to attend many universities.” Cameron, a student at Olive Branch Middle School, said he already knew what his grandfather had told him about the “colored” water fountains and Martin Luther King Jr., but he learned a lot more from Sunday night’s narratives about “the troops that came here and the gun fires, a lot of different stuff.” Cameron said he plans on sharing these stories with his future children and grandchildren as his grandfather has shared them with him. Benilda, who was born and raised in Panama, came to the U.S. in 1976 and saw a society different from what she was used to. She didn’t realize at the time that the color of her skin mattered. Her first encounter with the history of racial discrimination came when “Roots,” a television mini-series based on Alex Hayley’s novel, “Roots: The Saga of an American Family,” was showing. “Meeting my husband, I knew that there was a lot of history and pain,” she said. “I just appreciate the fact that I am able to share this time with him.” She said she has noticed a growth in her husband as they witness the anniversary. “We talk about demons, and these type of events allow him to get rid of those demons,” she said. While Raymond, at one time, wasn’t very proud of his Mississippi roots, Benilda is very proud that her husband attended Ole Miss. “It’s great to know that my husband was able to attend The University of Mississippi,” she said. “I’m very proud of that; he may not have been proud of that at the time.” Benilda acknowledges that it wasn’t an easy path for the university and the nation, but she said that James Meredith’s sacrifice “has paid off today.”