James D. Martin Sr.
The following biographical sketch was compiled at the time of induction into the Academy in October 2009 and was updated in 2017.
James Douglas Martin Sr. spent a lifetime in public service. His roles included soldier, businessman, Congressman, and conservationist.
The firstborn son of a school teacher and a railroad engineer, Martin attended public schools in Boyles, Alabama. After studying at Massey Business College and Birmingham School of Law, he worked for Pan Am Petroleum Corporation until he enlisted in the U.S. Army, where he rose to the rank of major. Serving in World War II under General George Patton, he helped to open the gate of the first concentration camp liberated by American Forces and was instrumental in Austria’s cleanup and restoration.
Upon returning home from the military, he established Martin Oil Company. A successful and respected businessman, he was elected president of Associated Industries of Alabama, now known as the Business Council of Alabama. His friends and colleagues in the business community encouraged him to run for public office. In 1962, Martin entered the U.S. Senate race but lost to incumbent J. Lister Hill by a narrow margin, with 49.1% of the votes. His campaign, though unsuccessful, marked a significant shift in politics in Alabama and Republican politics nationwide. In 1964, he launched another campaign and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a member of the Eighty-ninth Congress. Forfeiting his personal desire to run for a second term, he accepted the Republican nomination for governor, but lost the 1966 election to Lurleen Wallace.
Martin was later appointed Commissioner of Alabama’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, where he set to work making his mark on the agency and creating his legacy. Under his leadership, the agency renovated all of the state’s parks and worked with Alabama Power Company to establish a 15,000-acre wildlife management area. Because of his unrelenting efforts, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed Alabama to restore the offshore boundary line for drilling oil, ultimately earning the state more than a billion dollars. Martin also initiated an audit of oil companies that resulted in adding over $200 million to the state’s oil and gas trust fund. A portion of the interest earned by this fund made Martin’s dream of “Forever Wild” possible. Approved by an overwhelming majority of the voters, this program allows acquisition of land for permanent preservation. These wildlands, now more than 180,000 acres, protect our natural environment and provide opportunities for recreation and for the enjoyment of nature.
He served as National Committeeman for the Republican Party. He was a long-time member of the Gadsden Kiwanis, and served as local president and state lieutenant governor of that organization. He headed the Gadsden Concert Series and continued to be a contributor to the Gadsden Symphony. He taught Sunday School and served on the Board of Stewards of The First United Methodist Church. Martin and his wife Pat, a former Miss Alabama, had three children, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. Martin passed away on October 29, 2017.