Almost 100 years after his great-grandparents Archie and Nancy Martin opened their home as a meeting place and boarding home for African-American students attending Iowa State College during a period of restrictive on-campus housing for blacks, Grant Shipp and other members of his family are in the early stages of raising the money to restore and preserve Ames’ historic Martin House.
“Iowa State is a unicorn in that regard, with the progressive nature of the institution,” Shipp said. “I don’t think the day-to-day person or even the students, or even a lot of the people on campus realize what the Martin House was and represented.”
According to Shipp, the home, at 218 Lincoln Way, was built in 1919 by Archie and his three sons, six years after moving to Ames from Georgia. Shipp said that Archie (Sept. 15, 1857 to Feb. 29, 1960) and Nancy (May 22, 1855 to May 17, 1947), had been born into slavery in Wilmington, N.C., and Austell, Ga., and had migrated north to Ames in 1913 with their six adult children to live a better life, becoming one of the earliest African-American families in Ames.
The site — which is a historic landmark — housed numerous influential educators and professionals in their college years, such as Frederick Patterson, who later founded the United Negro College Fund and served as President of Tuskegee University, and Samuel Massie, who worked on the Manhattan Project and later became the first black professor at the U.S. Naval Academy.
“There were some really heavy hitters that came to the Martin household and were able to obtain their education through Iowa State,” Shipp said.
According to Ames Historical Society Research and Exhibits Manager Alex Fejfar, the house serves as a sense of pride for Ames as it paved the way for many black students to obtain their education, however he said it also is a reminder of how far Ames and the country has come since those days.
“It’s kind of a mix. I think we need to be very proud of the Martins and what they were able to do, but I think we also need to think about where we’ve come as a country since then in obviously changing those kind laws that were ridiculous and unfair, and being able to actually give civil rights to people,” Fejfar said. “It’s a bright light in a little bit of a dark era.”
Shipp, a native of Washington D.C., established a GoFundMe page for the house last week, and so far has raised $350 of the $85,000 goal. Currently, Shipp said the house is still being used for student housing, but hopes that once he raises the money for restorations, the home home will no longer be rented out to students. He said he has yet to reach out to ISU, but hopes that the university will help contribute to the restoration, and help spread the word of what this house has contributed to Ames, the United States, and black history as a whole.
“When you live in a house you’ve got to keep it up, and that house is 100 years old,” Shipp said. “It’s been through quite a bit, and has an unbelievable story to tell.”