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The Life of Eva Hester Martin

The Life of Eva Hester Martin

Note: The following appears in the SC State gameday football program. To purchase a copy of the program while supplies last, send a check for $6 to Clemson Athletic Communications; P.O. Box 31; Clemson, SC 29633 with your return address.

Eva Hester Martin, 90 years young, is a direct descendant of Sharper and Caroline and their daughter Matilda, who labored as slaves on the Fort Hill Plantation owned by John C. and Floride Calhoun, and later Anna Calhoun and Thomas Green Clemson, upon which Clemson University is built. It is not known how long Sharper and his family labored at Fort Hill.

However, he was sent to serve as an enslaved laborer for the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Near the end of the war, his wife and children were loaded onto wagons and taken to Abbeville County, where Sharper later joined them and they continued to live after emancipation.

Sharper eventually chose the surname “Brown” for his family, unlike many other former slaves from the Fort Hill Plantation who adopted the Calhoun name. His daughter, Matilda, was about eight years old when she was liberated, and later recalled the time, “when freedom come.”

Matilda, who was affectionately called “Mama Tildy,” grew up in the Calhoun Falls, S.C., area. She and Billy Williams had a daughter named Anna, who was raised by her grandparents, Sharper and Caroline. During her teenage years, Anna worked on a local farm owned by the Hester family.

It was there that Anna met Thomas Joshua Hester, who operated a ferry large enough to carry two wagons and mules plus passengers between South Carolina and Georgia, and she later became his common-law wife at the age of 16, as interracial marriage was illegal in the state at the time.

In 1926, Anna and Thomas’ 10th and youngest child, Eva Hester, was born. While growing up, Eva would sometimes catch a ride with the mailman from her home in Calhoun Falls to visit family members in Anderson, S.C., for 50 cents roundtrip. The postman tied a canvas bag full of mail on the front fender of his car and offered rides inside to passengers.

Eva attended elementary school in Calhoun Falls, skipping third and seventh grades, and then boarded with a family in Anderson while completing high school, graduating in 1945. In the fall of that year, she enrolled at SC State, where she majored in chemistry and became a member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

After finishing two years of coursework, Eva relocated to Chicago to complete training as a medical technologist at Michael Reese Hospital. She also reunited with her high school sweetheart, John Martin, a veteran of the Army Air Corps, a support service for the Air Force.

In 1948, Eva and John were married in Chicago, where two of their children, John Farrell and Valerie Ann, were born. The Martins eventually moved to California to be near one of Eva’s sisters and to seek more lucrative employment opportunities. Their younger two children, James Darryl and Carol Yvette, were born there.

Eva also completed her bachelor’s degree in public service management at Redlands University and coursework for a master’s degree in medical technology at Cal State Dominguez Hills.

In 1986, the Martins retired and relocated to Greenville, where they lived for 30 years. Eva and John Martin, who have been married for 68 years, recently moved to Decatur, Ga., to be near their oldest daughter and other family members. They have five grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

In April, Eva and her family were Clemson’s special guests at the groundbreaking ceremony for the installation of the historical marker located near the site of the Fort Hill Plantation slave quarters that were situated near Lee Hall and the stockade near the Strom Thurmond Institute that was erected for the predominately African-American convict labor crew that helped build Clemson’s earliest buildings.

On Saturday, Eva Hester Martin has the honor of “dotting the i” during the pregame ceremonies. It will be proud moment for Eva.