Harold Eugene Martin (1923-2007) was a distinguished Alabama journalist, businessman, and Baptist layman who won a 1970 Pulitzer Prize for a 12-month series of articles on abuses of state prisoners published in the Montgomery Advertiser and Alabama Journal. Combining these three careers, he followed in a long line of crusading Alabama journalists who won the profession's highest award.
Martin was born on October 4, 1923, to Rufus and Emma Meadows Martin, a family of modest means living in rural Cullman County. The family later moved to Jefferson County, where Charles attended Birmingham's Phillips High School. During his senior year, he began working as a copy reader for the Birmingham News and found his career. When he sold his first article to Parade magazine for $40.00, he bought himself a black poodle as a reward.
At the age of 17, Martin joined the U.S. Marines Corps and fought in the Second World War. When the war ended, he returned to the Birmingham News and enrolled in Baptist-affiliated Howard College (present-day Samford University). Harold married Jean Elizabeth Wilson of Goldsboro, North Carolina, in 1945, and the couple would have three children. After graduating from Howard in 1954, Martin remained at the News, which by this time had been taken over by the Newhouse newspaper chain, and also earned a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University. He left the News in 1963 to become publisher of the Montgomery Advertiser and Alabama Journal and became editor in 1967.
In 1970, he investigated and wrote a year-long series of articles that revealed how large pharmaceutical companies were conducting drug-testing experiments on state prison inmates without their informed consent. Aided by some prison officials, the series created a sensation and led to reforms. At the end of the series, the nominating committee for the Pulitzer Prize for journalism awarded Martin its highest honor for investigative reporting.
Martin proved as willing to tackle political giants as he was to take on national pharmaceutical companies. During the 1960s and 1970s, he clashed frequently with Governor George C. Wallace, criticizing the governor's segregationist policies as harmful to the state. Wallace retaliated by cancelling state-run liquor advertisements, costing the paper an estimated half-million dollars in revenue.
Wearying of the fight, Martin left Alabama and investigative journalism in 1980 to become president of Jefferson-Pilot Publications, a publishing company headquartered in Beaumont, Texas. The chain owned seven papers in Texas, Florida, and Oklahoma, and Martin spent the remainder of his career in the business side of journalism. He and his wife, Jean, also became co-owners of the daily paper in Cookeville, Tennessee, the Herald-Citizen, as well as weekly papers in Crossett and Mountain Home, Arkansas, the News-Observer and the Baxter Bulletin, respectively. A life-long Baptist layman, Martin served on the board of directors of the Alabama Baptist, the state denominational weekly newspaper based in Birmingham, from 1964 until 1973 and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for two decades. After his retirement in 1985, he also helped reorganize the Methodist Church's publishing operation in Fort Worth, Texas.
Martin died at age 83 on July 4, 2007, in Bedford, Texas, and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Montgomery, Alabama.
Published June 2, 2008
Last updated February 25, 2011