Aunt Alger 109 years 11months and 5 days…may you rest in peace. We love you so much.
Article written on her 109th birthday by the GAZETTE
A Life that Spans Three Centuries
Alger Martinez recalls a bygone era at her 109th birthday party.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Born in 1898, Martinez was celebrating her 109th birthday last Friday afternoon at ManorCare Health Services on Collingwood Road. She has outlived two husbands and both of her children. About a dozen of the center’s clients, most of whom were at least 20 years her junior, surrounded Martinez’ birthday table, but she still appeared to be one of the more lively residents.
She told the friends, family and fellow residents how she always encouraged her great-grandson to read. “I told him, ‘Every time you come see me, you’ve got to bring a book and read me a story,’” she said. “And he did.”
“Back when your grandma was born, that’s about all there was to do,” Center Director Colleen Seaman told Paul, noting that video games and television had not existed in that era.
He protested that at least the radio had been invented and was surprised to learn that this was not so.
Martinez’ granddaughter-in-law, Jette Hansen, noted that, after Martinez’ second husband died in 1989, she had lived independently in New York City until the age of 102. Then, she came to the area to live with Hansen and Steven Whittington, her grandson. Born Alger Crawford in Dadeville, Ala., Martinez had moved to New York in 1926 after marrying her first husband, Major Mitchell, said Hansen.
Martinez recalled recently forgetting her first husband’s name. “I was in tears,” she said. “I said, ‘Well, that was my best husband.’ All I could think of was Ramon Martinez. ” Many years after her first husband died, she had married Martinez, a fellow elder at her Presbyterian church, at the age of 86. They were married for about six years before he died.
HER SON, Roland Mitchell, died in 2001. He had been a photographer, filmmaker and Howard University professor. Norma Whittington, her daughter, died of rheumatoid arthritis in 1981. Like her mother, Norma Whittington had worked as a schoolteacher.
Alger Martinez began teaching immediately after graduating high school, at the age of 15. She said she had walked to and from the small school, about two and a half miles outside Dadeville, “and there was nobody on that lonely road.” At that time, she said, school was out-of-session during planting and harvest seasons. Her father had been principal of Dadeville’s black school. Being of black, white and Native American descent, Martinez had simply been considered black.
She recalled attending school in a brick building that had been a white school during the era of slavery. “My father said, ‘We’re going to have our own school,” she said. He had set about raising money for a building, but blacks had little money at that time, said Martinez, because in Dadeville they could only serve white households or raise cotton, just as they had as slaves. “It was an awful way to live,” she said. “At the time, I thought it was OK, because I didn’t know anything different.”
Her father had decided that one way to raise money for a school was to invite Booker T. Washington to speak in town. “I guess all of us here have heard of Booker T. Washington,” she said, recalling the time she had actually seen the activist/educator speak. “You should have seen what happened to the town,” she said, noting that the grass was suddenly well-manicured, the courthouse cleaned up and the train station painted.
As an aside, Martinez added that the train station had been Dadeville’s most popular source of entertainment. “The only excitement was to see who came in on the train,” she said.
Rather than speaking at the black church, Washington spoke in the courthouse, she said. “They didn’t forget to separate us, though. I’ll tell you that,” Martinez recalled, noting that whites were seated first to listen to the black leader, while blacks got the remaining seats or stood.
Washington’s appearance had been a momentous event for Dadeville, she said. “The town was in an uproar. Everybody was happy.” The Dadeville Record newspaper devoted its entire front page to the story, said Martinez. Normally, she said, “the main news in there was, ‘Mrs. So-and-So visited Mr. So-and-So.’”
MARTINEZ GRADUATED from Cheyney Training School for Teachers, a school created by the Quakers for black students, now called Cheyney University of Pennsylvania. After moving to New York, she taught school in Harlem. When her first husband died, she enrolled in nursing school and then became a nurse in a baby clinic.
“She’s a real classy lady,” said Joan Hampton Fraser, a creative arts specialist for seniors who has known Martinez for several years. As Martinez polished off a piece of birthday cake, Hampton Fraser noted that she is still on a completely normal diet and also is still able to walk, with the help of a walker. Although Martinez has been hospitalized a couple of times for health problems, said Hampton Fraser, “She just seems to come back. I don’t know why.”
Martinez said she was as mystified as anyone. “It’s something I never thought would happen to me,” she said. “I didn’t even pray for long life. I thought I would die in my 40s.” Her own mother died when Martinez was 10. She recalled that, as a mother of five, Susan Crawford had worked hard to raise her family in a time when water was drawn from wells and rooms were lit with oil lamps.
Martinez said her mother had instilled a philosophy in her and her siblings: “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. That’s the way she raised us, and that’s the way I am today.”