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Clyde Martin

Award-winning regional manager for Jay’s Potato Chips Clyde Martin never ate snack foods until he moved to Chicago in 1955. Born on September 28, 1936, on land his father owned in Bolivar County, Mississippi, Martin attended school at the White Star Missionary Baptist Church and later graduated from Cleveland (Mississippi) Colored Consolidated High School (CCCHS) in 1955. An honor student and an activist, young Martin led a student strike for a more relevant curriculum. Later, he refused to cooperate with an agreement his principal made with the state of Mississippi to impress the federal government, under which the school was to receive new school buses, and then exchange them with the white school in Cleveland, for their old ones.

In 1956, Martin was working in Chicago when he found out about a job at Jay’s Potato Chips. Hired as the first black route salesman, he determined that he could sell more Jay’s by distributing more of the smaller five cent bags. Martin was right and he more than doubled his sales. Consistently the top salesman during the 1960s and 1970s, he made assistant regional sales manager in 1967 and was the first African American to rise to regional sales manager in 1973. Martin fought racism and personally made sure that Jay’s hired other African Americans as drivers and salesmen.

Martin became an inspector for the Internal Affairs Division of the Cook County, Illinois, Sheriff’s Department in 1978. He was a beloved behind-the-scenes activist in Chicago politics and civic life.

Martin passed away on November, 21, 2017 at age 81.

Accession Number




Interview Date


Last Name


Maker Category
Marital Status



Colored Consolidated High School

First Name


Birth City, State, Country

Bolivar County



Favorite Season




Favorite Quote

Go To Work.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State


Interview Description
Birth Date


Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City




Favorite Food

Potato Chips

Death Date


Short Description

Regional sales manager Clyde Martin (1936 - 2017 ) staged protests as a student and later worked to integrate Jay's Potato Chips. The regional sales manager for Jay's, he also served as inspector for the Internal Affairs Division of the Cook County, Illinois, Sheriff’s Department.


Jays Foods

Cook County Sheriff's Department

Favorite Color


Timing Pairs

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Clyde Martin's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Clyde Martin lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Clyde Martin talks about his mother's family history

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Clyde Martin talks about methods of survival employed by black farmers in the South

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Clyde Martin talks about his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Clyde Martin recalls advice from his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Clyde Martin talks about his parents

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Clyde Martin recalls watching his parents bury money in the ground as a child

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Clyde Martin recalls his childhood in Bolivar County, Mississippi

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Clyde Martin talks about his schooling, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Clyde Martin talks about his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Clyde Martin talks about his schooling, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Clyde Martin recalls household appliances from his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 14 - Clyde Martin talks about his brothers' enlistment during World War II

Tape: 1 Story: 15 - Clyde Martin talks about attending church on Sundays

Tape: 1 Story: 16 - Clyde Martin recalls his experience at Cleveland Colored Consolidated High School in Mississippi

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Clyde Martin describes his role in distributing new buses to black schools as a high school student

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Clyde Martin talks about attending Cleveland Colored Consolidated High School in Cleveland, Mississippi

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Clyde Martin talks about moving to Chicago, Illinois after graduating from high school

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Clyde Martin talks about the beginning of his career at Jays Foods

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Clyde Martin talks about his career at Jays Foods, pt.1

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Clyde Martin talks about his career at Jays Foods, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Clyde Martin describes a memorable interview he conducted with a black candidate at Jay Foods

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Clyde Martin talks about his definition of an "Uncle Tom"

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Clyde Martin describes how he defines the difference between "Uncle Toms" and "sambos"

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Clyde Martin describes his friendship with Richard M. Daley

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Clyde Martin talks about boards he served on under Richard M. Daley

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Clyde Martin talks about working for the Cook County Sheriff's Department

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Clyde Martin talks about his role models

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Clyde Martin talks about political positions he has run for

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Clyde Martin describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Clyde Martin talks about why he seldom returns home to Mississippi

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Clyde Martin reflects on his life and legacy

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Clyde Martin narrates his photographs







Clyde Martin describes his role in distributing new buses to black schools as a high school student
Clyde Martin talks about his career at Jays Foods, pt. 2
I just wanted to ask you to go back to that bus story again.$$Well, when Dwight Eisenhower, who was the president of the United States, the first Republican president in, I guess, forty years, he desegregated the schools and then they began to go across the South and try to make the playing field as level as possible. They had a thing saying separate but equal. So separate but equal meant, meant to me, that we go get these buses, that's what it meant to me as a person, a kid, that these buses are ours. The principal told me of the school, his name was Dan Smith, God bless his soul, to take these buses to the white school. Didn't do that. We carried a bus to Mound Bayou, Mississippi. They're all black town. We carried a bus to Shaw, Mississippi. We carried a bus to Rosedale [Mississippi]. Then we brought the rest of 'em to Cleveland [Mississippi] and they were scared to use those buses. And then--then they started to use 'em because the white people didn't come to get 'em. They knew if they came to get 'em and anybody protested, that they would be in trouble. So they were just forgotten. And then I started driving school bus and went to--$$While you were still in school (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) High school, yes.$$High school, okay.$$High school kids drove buses and we made, I think--I think I made two hundred dollars a month. That was a lot of money but I would leave home at four o'clock in the morning on my run 'cause I would make three trips and when I got to the school, there would be so many kids on the bus that the bus would just, sitting down, and I would make three runs. When I got through, and I started my evening taking the kids home, it would be seven o'clock at night. And I did that all the way through school and I was glad to see the kids able to get a ride to school then but that bus thing was something that I did that I often thought about and, and people said, "You're crazy." You see, white folk think black people, you either militant or you're crazy. Now, do you know where I fit in? I was crazy. So I played it. I played the crazyism.$$All right that's--$$Now, and I remember a white guy--white bus driver ran me off the road with a bus and I shot up in his bus because I carried a .22 rifle with me. So then I ran and hide. I hid, so I know they're going to kill me now for shooting up in this bus but I'm prepared to die. But I was smart enough to go to the sheriff's house and sit in his garage. And he came home, his name was Will Earl Kent. He came home, I'm sitting up in his garage and he jumped out and pulled his gun out. He said, "We've been looking for you." I said, "I know it." I said, "Well can I tell you what happened before you kill me?" He said, "Yes." I told him. He said, "I believe that 'cause you wouldn't be here if you hadn't had done that." He said, "Do you know who I am?" "Yes." And he told me this, he says, "I got enough land to take a blackbird all day to fly across it, starting at sun up to sun down, he wouldn't fly across it." He had a lot of land, didn't he? He was awfully rich. So he took me in the house and he told his maid or cook, said, "Make him a pallet on the back porch 'cause I'm going to ride with him tomorrow morning on his bus." And he did. And they were running out there and I always remember, he had two .45s on him. He buckled them guns on and rode on the bus with me and I made my runs and they left me alone. And the bus story is history.$$That's a remarkable story. So, the sheriff just believes you, huh?$$He believed me.$$All right.$$I think going to his house, waiting on him to come home, was the turning point and I never had no problem with him.$So you stayed with Jays [Foods] (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Stayed with Jays. Then I worked and worked and every year, they would take enough stops away from me to give another black guy a job, had to be black, I insisted on that, give another black guy a job. And I worked and I worked and I went, found that boy that paid my way to Chicago [Illinois] (pause), gave him a job. He ended up being king of sales for (gesture) (crying)--$$Take your time.$$Sometimes I think about all these shit they put me through. So I found him and I gave him a job and he went (gesture) skyrocket. In the meantime I was playing the politics of a con man, moving along and in 1967 the same Silas Mattila [ph.] came to me. I was at 47th Street at the little Greek store and he was not going to fire me and he came in and touched me on the shoulders and I said, oh, I knew his feet. I said, oh shit, I've got these two kids with me. And he said, "When you're finished son, can I see you?" And I said, oh my god. I'm making big money now, helping a lot of people. And so I went on out to--he always bought convertible Eldorados and he always wore two guns 'cause he was nothing but a gangster and he said, "Follow me back to the branch and bring the kids with you." And I said, oh shit, I lost my job. I get a new truck every year now and you name it, I got it. Well, if I wanted somebody get a job, they got the job. So, went back to the plant and these, guy named C.J. Collier and Bruno Grund, they opened the door. Then I learned later that when he bought a new car, he would come by and let them hear that horn 'cause he was only gonna blow his horn one time. And he blew the horn and I'm right behind him with the two kids on the truck; I'm right behind this Eldorado. Oh, man, they fainted. They hit the floor. So he got out and got 'em up and says, "Come on in." I parked my truck. He says, "What do you want these kids to do?" I said, "I'll take the empty boxes off" 'cause you got a nickel per box then 'cause it would cost them fifteen cent to make a box so they'd bring 'em back and use them seven, eight times, many more time than that. So they made a ton of money on returned boxes. So, I went in the office and we had a sales room and a office where the girls sat. So he closed the door and he spin a chair around and sit back. He said, "I've got a job for you." I said, "I've got a job." I said, "I got a job." He says, "I want you to be assistant branch manager." I said, "I don't re- ." I'm sure I didn't ask him what the description of the job was. I didn't use those terms but it was in essence, what will I have to do? He said, "I want every route just like yours." I said, "Who will be my boss?" He said, "All three of you will be working together and I'm the boss." I, "Suppose I fail?" He said, "You're fired. If you don't take this job, you quit." The little Irish guy kicked me on the foot, he said, "Take the damn job." So I took the job and boy I went to work. We had two routes in the Loop. When I left there we had ten and I worked day and night and I built it from--when I took over, the division was running two hundred thousand dollars a week. When I left it was over ten million. And I worked and I worked and I worked more. And then the old guy that gave me the job, he got sick. He loved that sauce, he loved to drink but he was all right with me. And I had gone somewhere and I came back in the office and he was sitting at his desk with his head down crying, I said, "What's wrong, man? Your wife die or something or kids die? He said, "No, they fired me." I said, "Fired you?" So I picked up the phone off his desk and I called Mattila. I said, "Why'd you fire this man. I'm on my way out to see you." I went out there and I asked the guy, "How much more time do you need to work to get your house paid for and your car paid for?" He said, "If I can work another eighteen months, I'll be straight." I said, "Okay." I went out there and I walked in Mattila's office and I said, "If you fire him, I'm leaving." He told me, "You're a damn foolish ass nigger." I said, "If you fire him, I'm leaving too." I took my keys and threw them on his desk. He picked up the phone and called the payroll and said, "Reinstate Clarence Collier." I said, "You're not doing the work, I'm doing the work." And then it went on and went on and then Collier died and Bruno Grund got sick and they moved me into regional manager.$$Now this is 1973, right?$$Yes, it's about 1973 now.$$Seventy-three [1973], right.