Press Release from Coahoma Community College Public Relations; (662) 621-4061 - Brittany Davis-Green - firstname.lastname@example.org
Former CCC President McKinley Martin pictured along with President Valmadge Towner
CLARKSDALE – As a young boy, Dr. McKinley C. Martin’s ultimate career goal was to one day, with any luck, become an assistant superintendent, but a long-term affair with Coahoma Community College evolved into a career that included a term in just about every collegiate position imaginable—even serving as the institution’s third President.
For Martin’s unwavering dedication over the years, CCC’s newest building—a two-story, 56-bed, female dormitory—will be formally dedicated in his honor. The special ceremony being held Monday, June 8, will include CCC administration, faculty, staff and city officials. It will be followed with a reception.
A longtime citizen of Clarksdale and current resident of Memphis, Martin said he feels honored to have been chosen for such a special distinction by his alma mater, a place that will always hold a special place in his heart.
“You’re talking about somebody that loves Coahoma Community College … I really do. I’ve been on the campus basically since I was a teen,” said Martin.
Born in 1936 in Clarksdale in a servant’s house where his mother worked as a cook, Martin was legally adopted as a newborn by his aunt and her husband and reared by the couple in Friars Point. While his father made a living for the family sharecropping and performing other odd jobs, Martin attended “church” school and later Friars Point Junior High School through 10th grade. It was during this time his interest in sports was sparked.
“We had a super athletics program,” recalled Martin. “We were the only 10th grade school at the time to win the district basketball tournament and advance to the state.”
Advancing to Coahoma Agricultural High School, Martin continued his interest as a student athlete, playing center for Aggie’s basketball team. A natural leader, Martin was also elected as class president by Aggie’s Class of 1955.
“I was blessed to graduate high school with honors—not high honors, but with a B average,” said Martin.
After high school, Martin did a three-year stint in the US Army.
“In the army, I made the flag football team … at that time I could catch and didn’t mind hitting folks,” he said.
At 23, Martin returned home and landed a scholarship with the then Coahoma Junior College football team, enrolling in school as an Elementary Education major. Martin said he was lured to the field by the prospect of stable pay and possible career advancement.
“I just wanted to do better … my dad wanted me to come back and take the farm over, but I knew that if I went back (after going to school) I would still be his child—just older.
At CJC, the charming Martin gained popularity quickly after serving as the MC to the Freshmen Talent Show and was once again elected as class president. He also was recruited to join CJC’s yearbook staff. In fact, when the 1958 yearbook almost didn’t happen due to lack of funds, it was McKinley who provided the leadership to come up with a plan that involved selling ads to help raise revenue.
After graduating from CCC, Martin had plans to attend Jackson State University after landing a teacher’s scholarship. Although his tuition for the coming fall semester was covered, Martin had plans to finish up his studies in just one year, which would require attending summer school prior.
With only $25 from a Citizenship scholarship presented to him by Aaron Henry in tow, Martin left Clarksdale for Jackson.
“When I went to register for summer school, I didn’t have any money,” he said. “All I had was $25 when I left home and I had spent half of it by the time I got there.”
Once on campus, Martin was met with bad news regarding his plans to register summer school.
“The Dean noticed how troubled I was about money, and told me the school couldn’t offer me anything (for the summer term) until my scholarship began in the fall. He told me to go back home, and I said ‘Well, you’re going to have to get me a ticket … I don’t have any money to go back home, but I can work.’”
Martin said the Dean called back home and spoke to a man who happened to be Martin’s longtime friend and classmate— Bennie Gooden. Well-respected in the community, Gooden reportedly told the Dean “He’s as good as I am, or better”. It was that “good word” that not only gave Martin the head start in college he wanted but also a lesson he would carry with him for the rest of his life.
“If you do good and do what you’re asked of—somebody is going to see you. That good word from Bennie Gooden gave me the opportunity to start school,” Martin said. “Young folks, old folks too, need to respect and treat others right. If you do right, people see that. If you don’t, they notice that too.”
Martin landed his first teaching job back home in Friars Point, which was operating on a “split session” schedule centered around the cotton harvest. However, it wasn’t long before another life altering event happened for Martin.
In 1962, CJC President B.F. McLaurin, who had first noticed Martin as an 11th grader at Aggie, made the decision to hire him as the principal of the former Sandy Bayou Elementary School, operated under the auspice of CJC.
“Even when I was a student he loved me like I was his,” said Martin on his relationship with McLaurin. “Not that I didn’t get into some trouble like other kids—that showed I was human, but he always trusted me.”
Although he was younger than every teacher in the school, Martin’s honest nature and no-nonsense attitude easily won him the allegiance of the faculty and staff.
Not even 30-years-old, Martin was then hired as CJC’s Registrar.
“I couldn’t believe it, at 27-years-old I was the registrar for a college … that’s the job you wait until you’re in your forties to pursue. I wanted the job, but I never asked for it because I was satisfied being principal.”
Adding to his accomplishment, Martin became one of the first African Americans to register at Delta State University in 1967, where he would receive a master’s degree in Guidance Counseling.
After finishing up his degree, Martin moved from the Registrar’s Office and became a full-time teacher and Public Relations Director. In addition to his official duties, Martin wrote numerous grants and played an instrumental role in CJC’s accreditation.
During a brief hiatus from CJC to serve as the Executive Director of Delta Opportunity, Martin was offered the chance to obtain a doctorate from Florida State University. He would commute between Florida and the Mississippi Delta while performing consultant work across the South.
Martin had returned to CJC to help institute and serve as the Director of Continuing Education when the school began to look for its next President. He applied and snagged the top spot, leading the institution from 1980 to 1992. Martin was the college’s youngest serving president and the first to have attended both Coahoma Aggie and Coahoma Junior College.
His accomplishments include overseeing the construction of several buildings on CCC’s campus, including the Pinnacle, and he also pushed the idea of offering courses at unconventional times to cater to non-traditional students.
He said it was a concept he was first introduced to during his time at Florida State University.
“I was told that in Chicago people would get off work, shower, get something to eat and go to school … you could get a whole degree without ever going to school in the sunlight — that’s what a community college is suppose to be about, providing education to its citizens whenever they are available,” he said.
With his experience and extensive resume, Martin could have gone anywhere to be anything that he chose. But his heart always stayed with CCC.
“Right up the road (from CCC) was the church I’d been in all my life, my parents were getting older … I had a lot of places I could have gone, but this was home,” he said.
The ceremony honoring Martin will begin at 1 p.m.