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Bezelee Martin

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Information about Bezelee Martin

Profile image of Bezelee Martin

Profession

Category:
BusinessMakers
Occupation(s):
Retail Entrepreneur

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Brown
Favorite Food:
Turkey, Dressing, Corn, Macaroni, Cheese
Favorite Time of Year:
Summer
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Bahamas
Favorite Quote:
You Can Do Whatever You Like To Do.

Birthplace

Born:
9/29/1932
Birth Location:
Dumas, Arkansas

Profession

Category:
BusinessMakers
Occupation(s):
Retail Entrepreneur

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Brown
Favorite Food:
Turkey, Dressing, Corn, Macaroni, Cheese
Favorite Time of Year:
Summer
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Bahamas
Favorite Quote:
You Can Do Whatever You Like To Do.

Birthplace

Born:
9/29/1932
Birth Location:
Dumas
See how Bezelee Martin is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

Head of the Black family-owned Lena’s Food Market, Bezelee Martin was born on September 29, 1932, in Dumas, Arkansas, to Tom Martin and Ruthie Hall Martin. He was named by an aunt who found “Bezelee” in the Bible. Martin’s aggressive mother reared him with strict rules of behavior and taught him to always be on time. He was raised mainly in Boley, Oklahoma – an all Black town. Being raised in this independent African American environment influenced Martin’s world view. As a child, he went into the lawn mowing business, employing other children as workers. Martin always had a pop and chicken concession stand at baseball games and sold Blair’s products. He attended Rust School in Boley, Boley Grade School, and Boley High School.

Martin attended Milwaukee Area Technical College where he took business and bookkeeping while working at a tannery. By 1950, he was the first black licensed car dealer in Wisconsin. By 1957, he was selling his own brand of stockings, Martin Hosiery, to women, and by 1958, Martin was operating his own trucking company. In 1960, Martin and his wife, Lena, opened a store in the Harambee section of Milwaukee, and by 1965, they owned a 3,000 square foot location. Martin purchased Milwaukee’s 13,000 square foot Kohl Food Store in 2001. During this period, Martin purchased four sites for Lena’s Food Market giving it a square footage of 87,000 to utilize.

Martin’s family is deeply involved with the businesses, especially sons Gregory and Bruce Martin. Ownership and distribution make it possible for Martin to serve the specific product requests from the African American community. In 2005, Martin used $3.7 million in New Market Tax Credits through the Wisconsin Housing and Urban Development Authority to open a more spacious store. That made Lena’s Food Market the first minority owned business to receive these credits. In 2007, Lena’s Food Market purchased two new locations raising the total to six stores employing 600 people.

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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Bezelee Martin's interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Bezelee Martin lists his favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Bezelee Martin describes his mother's family background, pt. 1
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Bezelee Martin describes his mother's family background, pt. 2
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Bezelee Martin describes his father's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Bezelee Martin recalls moving to Boley, Oklahoma
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Bezelee Martin describes which parent he takes after
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Bezelee Martin describes his earliest childhood memory
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Bezelee Martin talks about his early entrepreneurship, pt. 1
  • Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Bezelee Martin talks about his early entrepreneurship, pt. 2
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Bezelee Martin remembers the community of Boley, Oklahoma
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Bezelee Martin describes the community leaders of Boley, Oklahoma
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Bezelee Martin describes his roles on the sports teams at Boley High School in Boley Oklahoma
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Bezelee Martin describes his early education
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Bezelee Martin recalls his early experiences of religion
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Bezelee Martin remembers Boley High School in Boley, Oklahoma
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Bezelee Martin recalls moving to Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Bezelee Martin describes his early career in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Bezelee Martin remembers the Martins Hoisery company
  • Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Bezelee Martin describes his trucking business
  • Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Bezelee Martin describes his transition to the wholesale food business
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Bezelee Martin describes the expansion of Martin Wholesale
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Bezelee Martin recalls entering the retail industry
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Bezelee Martin talks about his stores' competition
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Bezelee Martin talks about his African American customers
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Bezelee Martin describes his specialty products
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Bezelee Martin describes the expansion of Lena's Food Markets
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Bezelee Martin talks about his wife
  • Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Bezelee Martin describes his sons
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Bezelee Martin talks about African American grocery stores
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Bezelee Martin describes the Lena's Food Market locations
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Bezelee Martin talks about the importance of his employees
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Bezelee Martin describes his plans for Lena's Food Market
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Bezelee Martin describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Bezelee Martin reflects upon his life
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Bezelee Martin reflects upon his legacy
  • Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Bezelee Martin describes his business philosophy
  • Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Bezelee Martin describes the advertising for Lena's Food Markets
  • Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Bezelee Martin talks about business loans
  • Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Bezelee Martin describes how he would like to be remembered