Dr. Maurice M. Martinez, Jr., professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, son of Mildred and Maurice Martinez Sr., founders of the Martinez Kindergarten School in the 7th Ward of New Orleans, passed peacefully in the arms of his family on Monday, Sept.12.
He was a fighter for social justice, a renaissance man, poet, educator, musician, writer, documentarian, husband, father and grandfather. He breathed life into every room he entered. He loved to build camaraderie through stories, wit and humor. His personality was magnetic and his passion, inspiring. He touched everyone he met in a way that left them brighter.
With his passing, Dr. Martinez joins our African ancestors, and will be ever present in our lives and memories; there to assist when called upon in times of tribulation and moments of joy.
A wake will be held from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 14, at the Rhodes Funeral Home, 3933 Washington Ave. in New Orleans. A Jazz Funeral service will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 15 at the Corpus Christi Church, 2022 St. Bernard Ave.
A protégé of Langston Hughes, Dr. Martinez was steeped in the African American culture through both his heritage and scholarly endeavors. He has written numerous articles about Mardi Gras Indians; and his award-winning film, titled “The Black Indians of New Orleans”, 1976, edited by Sam Pollard of Spike Lee fame, is considered a classic. It was shown for a full week at the New York Whitney Museum’s “New Filmmakers” Program, and received a favorable review in The New York Times.
Dr. Martinez was frequently called upon by arts and cultural centers to present keynote speeches on the sociocultural history of the Black Indians of Mardi Gras. He has published three college textbooks, a memoir, BlackCreole: Too White to be Black, Too Black to be White and his most recent book titled, No I Won’t Bow Down On That Dirty Ground: A History of the Black Mardi Gras Indians, a photobook, From the Dirt Streets They Came and a volume of original poetry, New Orleans Blues.
While professor of education at Hunter College, CUNY, Dr. Martinez was artistic director for several of the Caribbean Cultural Center’s “Expressions” concerts, including “Trumpet Traditions,” with Wynton Marsalis, and “Carnival in New York” at Lincoln Center. In addition, Dr. Martinez was the host on National Public Radio, WNPR, of a 15-part program series titled “North Carolina Blue Notes” that focused upon the lives of famous Jazz, Blues, and R&B musicians born in North Carolina, including John Coltrane, Theloneous Monk, Max Roach, Nina Simone, Blind Boy Fuller, and Percy Heath.
Dr. Martinez earned his bachelor’s degree at Xavier University, and his M.A. and doctoral degrees at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He taught for 51 years before retiring, eight years in New Orleans at Joseph S. Clark and George Washington Carver high schools; 24 years at Hunter College, and 19 years at UNCW.