AMES, Iowa — During the early part of the 1900s, African American students were not allowed to live on campus at Iowa State University because of an unofficial rule, according to Ames History Museum.
To help those students, Archie and Nancy Martin, an African American couple, offered up their home as a solution.
Archie (1857-1960) and Nancy (1856-1947) were born into slavery in the South. Archie in Wilmington, North Carolina and Nancy in Newman, Georgia.
They moved to Ames in the early 1900s and built their home in 1919.
Mary Martin Carr, their granddaughter born in 1940, described them as people who were quiet and full of faith. She had fond memories of them, but one of the most important was being able to witness them offer African American males enrolled at Iowa State University a place to stay in the 1930s and 1940s.
African American women who were enrolled at ISU during that time stayed with the Shipp family, another African American family in Ames.
"My grandparents lived in a first-floor bedroom, and then there were dorm-like rooms upstairs in the second story," Carr said. "They valued education because they didn't have that privilege."
It is unclear how many students the couple helped shelter, but the estimated total is around 20.
"The Martins did their part to help these kids get their education and were really kind of surrogate parents to them," said Alex Fejfar, exhibits manager at the Ames History Museum. "I know there are even stories of them buying simple things like shoes for people that came to town and didn't have those simple life necessities."
The Martins and seven other African Americans who were influential in Ames are now on display in an exhibit at the Ames History Museum called Black Trailblazers.
Carr said it is exciting knowing others will get to read about the legacy her grandparents left behind.
"We're glad they're honored."
The exhibit will be up for several more months and it is free to the public.
A residence hall at Iowa State University was renamed Archie and Nancy Martin Hall in 2004.
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