Hoyle Martin Sr. has never hesitated to give his opinion.
Not as a columnist for the Charlotte Post. Not as a Democrat on Charlotte City Council and later on the Mecklenburg County Council of Commissioners.
These views, especially about the LGBTQ community, made Martin not only a maverick in his party, but also a lightning rod during a 1997 uproar that made Charlotte national headlines.
Martin, 93, died on July 26. A funeral service is planned for 1 p.m. August 15 at Parkwood CME Church.
Martin served on city council for three terms when he lost the 1995 mayoral race to Republican and fellow city councilor Pat McCrory. He was no stranger to controversy. But it was in 1997, after being elected to the departmental council, that he found his greatest notoriety.
Upset over a local production of “Angels in America,” a play about homosexuality in America in the 1980s, Martin joined the four Republicans on the board of directors in voting to cut the county’s $ 2 million funding for Arts. They became known as the “Gang of Five”. The controversy has drawn national attention to a city aspiring to be âworld classâ.
Although affable in person, Martin had a history of homophobic comments. In 1995, he declared that Charlotte was threatening to become “the capital of Sodom and Gomorrah on the east coast”. And speaking of homosexuals a year later, he told an Observer reporter, âIf I had what I wanted, we would drive these people off the face of the earth.
The late Democratic Commissioner Jim Richardson, Martin’s predecessor, called Martin’s statements “petty.”
But Martin did not apologize.
âWell, I can’t be sorry for what I say and what I am,â he told a reporter in 1997. âGod made me who I am. So I have to say this that I think as I see it. ”
The same year, he sided with the Gang of Five, he resisted his fellow Democrats by voting to oust Democrat Parks Helms as commission chairman in favor of a Republican.
“A lot of people haven’t forgiven her for any of these (decisions),” said Herb White, editor of the Charlotte Post. âBut I think mostly with the Gang of Five. As a Democrat he was supposed to follow the line, but as a Christian and a black man he thought it best to swing with (Republican) Bill James and that crowd, at least on this occasion.
“Don’t follow nobody’s line”
Martin was born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1927. At age 16, he dropped out of vocational high school and went to work as an apprentice machinist. Then he joined the Merchant Navy and later the Army, where he graduated from high school and met his wife, Mary, at Fort Bragg. He went on to earn a degree from Columbia’s Benedict College and a master’s degree from Syracuse University.
After arriving in Charlotte, he ran a federal vocational training program and in 1968 began teaching economics at UNC Charlotte. From 1977 to 1989, he was Director of Real Estate Development for the City of Charlotte. He wrote for The Post as a second job.
His political career ended in 1998, when he tried unsuccessfully to be elected to the county commission as an independent.
Soon he got a new job: a teacher at New Life Theological Seminary – a small school that shared space with a Baptist church.
Faith has always been important to Martin. Handwritten Bible verses hung on his kitchen wall. His spiritual life included periods as a Methodist, Christian Scientist, Episcopalian, and Seventh-day Adventist, where he sometimes preached from the pulpit.
Martin never stopped confusing people with his opinions.
âThe way I remember him is that he couldn’t be clearly labeled,â White says. âAnd I think in a way that’s what frustrated people who thought he was politically their friendâ¦.
âThis in itself is a very good barometer of the kind of man he was. He wasn’t going to follow anyone’s line just for the sake of following.