It was never Ralph Martin’s intent to pursue a career in the law profession for recognition and personal glory. The retired federal criminal defense attorney never dreamed of being honored this year by the State Bar of Georgia and the Center for Civil and Human Rights for his contributions to the Civil Rights Movement during the late 1950s to 1970s. The first time Martin was recognized came during his apprenticeship as a young law clerk working in the Georgia Superior Court System in Fulton County. In the beginning, the young Morehouse College graduate didn’t realize he was making history until a fellow Morehouse graduate, state senator Leroy Johnson, pointed it out to him he was the first Black law clerk for the State of Georgia. Starting as a young sixth grader, who sent a quarter for a brochure on the legal profession to the American Bar Association, Martin has been laying his judicial mark.
The State Bar of Georgia in conjunction with the Center for Civil and Human Rights has honored more than 120 Georgia lawyers who worked for justice and equal treatment for all of Georgia’s citizens. Martin was among them. Read what he has to say. –mike james
How does it feel to reach a milestone?
I was taken by surprised. I feel so humble and honored.
Do you consider yourself a mentor?
I have mentored younger attorneys as I was mentored. Older attorneys mentored me. You would be lost in this profession [law] not to be mentored. I am more and willing to share. I feel an obligation to pass that tradition to the younger folks and to pass on that communication with the younger generation.
What is the significance of the Center for Civil and Human Rights?
The Center for Civil and Human Rights memorializes our people for achieving freedom, fair justice, and equality, fair education, job opportunities and decent human treatment.
Have we reached a milestone in terms of justice?
That’s a very difficult question. No, we have not reached the apex of a milestone. I did Federal Criminal Defense in my practice. There is unfairness in the criminal justice system. I have seen it [unfairness] all my life and through my experience practicing law. There is a book called “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander that states we as African-Americans represent only 13 percent of the American population but make up 40 percent of the incarceration rate. There is definitely a selective enforcement against us as a people.
What was one of the most significant and interesting cases you took part in?
I had a criminal bank robbery case against an African American woman back in 1974-75. My client was an administrator at a college with a Ph.D. She was employed at a university in Georgia. It was a clear case of mistaken identification. The wrong folks got ahold of the case. The FBI and the assistant U.S. attorney at that time just aggressively prosecuted this case. It was a terrible case in which the prosecution had her wrongly identified in this photographic spread. She frequently banked in this [bank] institution and was also wrongly accused of using stolen credit cards.