1622 Van Buren Avenue

This is a draft, now being reviewed by members of the McCrorey Heights Neighborhood Association. Please share comments with Tom@HistorySouth.org 

Built 1955 – 56 for Dr. J. Dwight Martin, a dentist, and his wife Ruby Barr Martin, a teacher and college administrator who had worked on Wall Street before coming to Charlotte. 

J. Dwight Martin was part of one of Charlotte’s most distinguished families. His father, James D. Martin, was an early professor of Latin at Biddle University/Johnson C, Smith University. Martin Street on the southern border of campus is named in his honor. Other Martin kin in McCrorey Heights included:

  • Prof. Martin’s daughter Bernice Martin Richardson Bullock at 1611 Patton Avenue.
  • Beulah’s daughter Catherine and her husband Dr. Reginald Hawkins at 1703 Madison Avenue. Dr. Hawkins was a regionally important Civil Rights leader, at the forefront of desegregating public accommodations, schools and North Carolina’s medical profession.
  • Beulah’s daughter Emily, widow of Rev. Cecil Ivory, at 1631 Van Buren Avenue (house moved to Hyde Park when land was taken for construction of Brookshire Freeway). Rev. Ivory was also a regionally important Civil Rights activist, working from a base in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

Little is known about Dr. J. Dwight Martin, but he evidently inherited the family’s penchant for Civil Rights. He gave a recruiting talk for Charlotte’s NAACP chapter in 1955, noted the Charlotte Observer: “The Professional Man and the NAACP.” In 1961 he joined fellow doctor and McCrorey Heights neighbor Dr. Roy S. Wynn (1721 Oaklawn Avenue) in filing a lawsuit to block construction of Carver College. The City of Charlotte had begun building two college campuses, one called Charlotte College on suburban Highway 29, today the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and the other called Carver College (in honor of African American scientist George Washington Carver) on Beatties Ford Road near Interstate 85. They would be permanent homes for segregated colleges that had been operating in borrowed space since the 1940s. The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in 1954 that racial segregation was illegal in education, so city officials blithely asserted that the new campuses had nothing to do with race. Martin and Wynn’s lawsuit called that bluff.

The court action failed in the short term. Judge Susie Sharp (herself a history-maker as a pioneering female judge) ruled that Martin and Wynn did not have standing to sue. Martin and Wynn appealed to the North Carolina Supreme Court, which also decided against them. But in 1964 city officials abandoned the pretense of separate-but-equal institutions and merged Carver into a new community college, creating Central Piedmont Community College.

Dr. James Dwight Martin passed away in 1980 at 80 years of age. The notice in the Charlotte Observer indicated that he still resided in this house on Van Buren Avenue.

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Dr. Martin’s wife Ruby Barr Martin ( ____ – 12.9.1959) was born in Columbia, South Carolina. She made her way to New York City where she took business classes and worked for Domnick & Domnick, a long-time leading brokerage on Wall Street that still exists today.

“On August 14, 1920, she became the bride of J. Dwight Martin and in later years they moved to Charlotte,” said her funeral program. He set up his dentist office in the bustling Brooklyn neighborhood at 417 1/2 E. Second Street, upstairs in the building that had been constructed for the Afro American Mutual Insurance Company. She enrolled at Johnson C. Smith University, graduating summa cum laude in the class of 1948.

When the couple moved into this house in the mid-1950s, Mrs. Martin listed her profession as “teacher” in the city directory, but Johnson C. Smith yearbooks in the 1950s listed her as “assistant bookkeeper” at the University — a profession in keeping with her early employment on Wall Street. Her funeral program indicated that she also worked in administration at Barber Scotia College, JCSU’s junior-college “sister institution” in Concord, North Carolina.

Mrs. Martin’s civic involvement included membership in The Links, the national social group for upscale African American women. She also was active in Kappa Alpha Kappa Sorority and in the women’s auxiliary of the black Charlotte Medical Society.

The Martins moved into this house as Mrs. Martin neared retirement. She passed away only three years later in 1959.

Dr. Martin subsequently remarried, to Erma L. Martin, who continued to live here after his death in 1980. 

*      *      *

In the 1950s – 1960s, dentists seem to have been some of the most architecturally progressive members of Charlotte’s African American leadership. Dr. Martin’s neighbor and kinsman Dr. Reginald Hawkins’ house at 1703 Madison Avenue is also a notable example of Modernistic Ranch style design. Fellow dentist Dr. Spurgeon Webber, Jr., went on to commission an architect-designed house in the Hyde Park neighborhood further out Beatties Ford Road.

VanBuren-1622-c-web
VanBuren-1622-b-web

Architecture

Ranch style house, one-story tall in red brick. Its Modernistic architectural details make it one of the most sophisticated designs in McCrorey Heights.  It sits at a slight angle on a rise above the intersection of Creek Street and Van Buren Avenue. There is a main hip-roofed block and a smaller hip-roofed east side wing, both sheathed in extra-long “Roman” bricks, plus a projecting front hip-roofed wing sheathed in stone. There is a prominent chimney, an architectural sign of a welcoming hearth within. Front windows are unusually large, extending from floor to ceiling. A two-vehicle metal carport makes an “L” at the rear, facing Creek Street.

Note that dwellings exist only on this north side of Van Buren Avenue. Houses on the south side were demolished or moved about 1968 to allow construction of the Northwest (Brookshire) Freeway. Today the Freeway’s tree-covered embankment rises above the Avenue.

Building permits

VanBuren-1622-permit
Date issued: October 7, 1955
Owner: Dr. & Mrs. J.D. Martin
Contractor: Ross Supply Co
Estimated Cost:
Other permit info: Build residence

First appeared in city directory

1957 – J. Dwight Martin & Ruby B.
He: Dentist at 417 1/2 E 2nd.
She: Teacher.

1982 city directory — Mrs. Erma L. Martin

Resources

Golden Bull yearbook, JCSU, 1948. On-line at: https://archive.org/stream/goldenbull1948john/goldenbull1948john_djvu.txt

Golden Bull yearbook, JCSU, 1950. On-line at:https://archive.org/stream/goldenbull1950john/goldenbull1950john_djvu.txt

Wynn v Trustees of Charlotte Community College System. 122 S.E.2d 404 (N.C. 1961). On-line at: https://www.courtlistener.com/opinion/1336914/wynn-v-trustees-of-charlotte-community-college-sys/

“NAACP Sets Meet Sunday,” Charlotte Observer, November 26, 1955.

“Carver College Suit Goes Before Judge Sharp Today,” Charlotte Observer, May 31, 1961.

“Carver College Suit Dismissed,” Charlotte Observer, June 1, 1961.

“Negro Students Shy Away from Central Piedmont College,” Charlotte Observer, March 3, 1968.

Hawkins, Catherine, with Lorena Hawkins and Darnell Ivory, oral history interview by Tom Hanchett, October 17, 2017, transcript in Hanchett’s possession.

Martin, Ruby, funeral program in the Obituary Project notebooks, African American Genealogy Interest Group collection, Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. Martin_Ruby

James Dwight Martin death notice, Charlotte Observer, July 14, 1980.