Primary Resource

"Faithful Janitor Dead at 89," Charlottesville Daily Progress (October 6, 1915)

In this article, published on October 6, 1915, Charlottesville's Daily Progress reports on the death of Henry Martin, the head janitor and bell-ringer at the University of Virginia.

Transcription from Original

He claimed to Have Been Born at Monticello on Day Thomas Jefferson Died There–Was of Imposing Appearance and Stately Manner–Was Remarkable For a Memory Tenacious of Faces and Names–Was a Local Leader in His Race, a Discreet One, Always Counselling Good Behavior and Good Will Toward the Whites.

"Uncle Henry" Martin, colored, for fifty-four years active head janitor of the University of Virginia, and for five years retired janitor, died last night in the ninetieth year of his age.

In many ways Henry was the most distinguished colored janitor in the United States. He claimed to have been born at Monticello on the day that Thomas Jefferson died there. He was well over six feet in stature, of imposing appearance and stately manner. He was a mulatto with no negroid feature. He was remarkable for a memory tenacious of faces and names. Alumni returning to the institution after twenty-five or thirty years absence were very usually greeted by name, although in many cases the facial changes have been marked.

Although not a typical negro in appearance he was a local leader in his race–a discreet one, always counseling good behavior and good will toward the whites. He was a strict churchman. Although a man of good mind and good sense he never acquired enough education to be able to read. In that respect he withstood the atmosphere and influence of a great institution of learning at which he spent all of his mature years.

Henry Martin was the personification of the qualities that go to make the faithful servant, and a signal compliment was frequently paid him by University professors, who used his name in their lectures as the truest example of unblemished negro character. He often served as deacon in the church of which he is a member, but his views did not always coincide with some of the second issue. His were the sentiments of the ante-bellum negro and for that reason were not always popular. He loved to philosophise with both white and colored. His favorite bit of advice was that reputation and character are worth more than money. He argued that if you have character and reputation you can make money, but that money without character is worthless. "Uncle Henry" also had some ideas on the negro question, chief of which was that too much time is being spent in teaching the young negroes "words that hain't in the dictionary," instead of putting them to manual work.

"Uncle Henry" was married four times and was the happy father of twenty-four children: only six of whom are now living. His fourth wife survives, also nine grandchildren and one great grandchild.

The funeral will take place from the First Baptist Church (colored) at 3:30 o'clock Friday afternoon.