Rhoda L. Martin may not have commanded your presence when she walked into the room, but she would definitely leave a lasting impact in your life.
Mother Martin, as she was so affectionately called, was a soft-spoken lady, but she was full of wisdom and character. She was born as a slave in Abbeville, South Carolina and moved to what is now Jacksonville Beach in the late 1800’s with her family.
Marjorie Holloway was only a teenager when her great-great grandmother passed away in 1948, but she remembers clearly how small and quiet she was. Marjorie said that Mother Martin would rise early and go to bed in the late afternoon with the chickens.
Mother Martin not only started the first African-American school for Jacksonville Beach in her kitchen, but started the St. Andrew African Methodist Episcopal Church and held the First Baptist of Jacksonville Beach services in her kitchen, with the stove as the altar. Marjorie remembers that if any one of the kids were talking or chewing gum during service, Mother Martin would come over and make them spit it out or stop talking.
She is remembered as a woman of great faith and great character and loved children. Mother Martin thought it was very important to teach children, and tried her best to educate them in reading and arithmetic. Duval County built Mother Martin a schoolhouse in 1939 to continue educating the African-American children in the area.
After only having the schoolhouse for less than 10 years, Mother Martin passed away from pneumonia at the amazing age of 116. She left behind a legacy that is continuing today with the re-opening of the Rhoda L. Martin Cultural Heritage Center. Her influence on the Jacksonville community will hopefully never be forgotten.