Born in 1877 in Raleigh, North Carolina to two formerly enslaved parents, Mary Brown Martin brought hope to young black students and enjoyed tutoring young immigrants who needed help learning English. In the 1920s, she taught in the Cleveland Public Schools system, and during her free time, she was actively involved in the women’s suffrage movement.
Indeed, Martin was one of the leaders in Cleveland of the movement to obtain women’s right to vote. As a Bahá’i, Martin let her actions be guided by what Abdu’l-Baha, the Leader of the Faith at that time, wrote, “The world of humanity has two wings—one is women and the other men. Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly. Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible.” (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha)
Martin participated in the NAACP, NACW, Amity Fellowship League. Before becoming a Bahá’i, serving with the Mt. Zion Congregational Church, and later the local Baha’i community. She also served on the boards of the Phillis Wheatley Association and the Wilson District Comm. of Associated Charities, among other organizations.
Martin was known to have said “If a woman is good enough to be the mother of the president, she is good enough to vote.” She worked as a teacher in the Cleveland Public Schools in the 1920s before winning election in 1930. Becoming the first black person — and only the second woman — to be elected to the Cleveland Board of Education. She was elected to three four-year terms on the board but died in 1939 before she could complete her third term. In 1965, the Cleveland Board of Education named a new elementary school, the Mary B. Martin Elementary School, in her honor.