Interview with Wayne Martin
Civil rights movements
Radioactive waste disposal
African American universities and colleges
A National Park Service funded project to document the history of African American contributions to Hanford and the surrounding communities. This project was conducted through the Pacific Northwest Cooperative Ecosystems Unit, Task Agreement P17AC01288
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Robert Franklin: --the beginning and then we’ll get right into it. Does that sound--
Lori Larson: And you don’t have to politely look at me. [LAUGHTER] You look at him the whole time.
Wayne Martin: No, I will look at him. Because they always say is, if you’re being interviewed, look at the interviewer.
Larson: Very good.
Franklin: Right, don’t stare into the camera.
Martin: Don’t sit there staring at the camera.
Franklin: Yeah, looking into the camera freaks the people out that are doing it later. Because it feels like you’re staring at them, and you’re just like—ooh. Okay. Ready?
Franklin: Oh, we’re on. All right. My name is Robert Franklin. I’m conducting an oral history interview with Wayne—
Martin: Wayne Martin.
Franklin: Wayne Martin, thank you—on April 5, 2018. The interview is being conducted on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. I’ll be talking with Wayne about his experiences living in the Tri-Cities and working at the Hanford Site. And for the record, can you state and spell your full name for us?
Martin: Wayne Martin. W-A-Y-N-E. M-A-R-T-I-N.
Franklin: Wayne, when did you first come to the Tri-Cities?
Martin: First time I came to Tri-Cities was like 1975.
Martin: I came and did work as an intern and then a couple jobs here in the Area.
Franklin: And where were you from?
Martin: I’m an Army brat.
Franklin: Oh, okay.
Martin: So I’m from a lot of places.
Martin: Since birth. Until I was 15 or 16. We moved all the time. A lot of different forts and Germany and the South and just a lot of different places.
Franklin: Okay, and what did your father do in the Army?
Martin: My dad was a long-range artillery trainer, which is why he moved a lot. He was in the Army for 21 years. So, we ended up—he got to pick his last station, which was Fort Lewis. We had been to Fort Lewis once before. He picked Fort Lewis because he—pretty much, he kinda liked the Northwest. And that’s how we ended up in the state of Washington.
Franklin: Wow. When and where were you born?
Martin: I was born in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Although I don’t think we were there very long before we moved.
Franklin: Okay. And what year was that?
Franklin: Did your father serve in the military when it was still segregated? Did you ever ask him about that?
Martin: I don’t recall when the military was segregated; although he started, I believe, right around 1950s, if I recall.
Martin: He was Korean War. He was in the Korean War. Because he was from New Roads, Louisiana. And as he told me, the only way out of New Roads, Louisiana was to join the service—along with several of his other brothers and friends.
Franklin: Where is New Roads, Louisiana?
Martin: It’s about 30 miles north of Baton Rouge.
Martin: A little, small town. Very small town.
Franklin: Have you been there?
Martin: Yes, I lived there when I was in fifth and sixth grade.
Franklin: Oh, okay.
Martin: My father was set up to do three short-term what they call temporary duty assignments. So he plopped us down with my mother’s family. Because both of them were from New Roads. We stayed in my grandmother’s house when I was—pretty much all of fifth and sixth grade, for as best my memory can be.
Franklin: What was it like to—do you remember what year that was?
Martin: Okay. Sixth grade, that was mid-‘60s.
Martin: To be honest, it was my brothers’ and I first real experience with racism. We had lived in posts, they call them posts. Base for Air Force, post for Army. And we had lived in, like I said, Germany and a lot of different forts. And pretty much our lives were on posts. But going there was different.
Franklin: Why do you think the Army was—because certainly there were blacks and whites, all from around the US, but especially from the South, together in the Army. How was the racism different or more apparent off-post?
Martin: Well, if you know anything about the service, it’s like forced integration. You are under command. You are—and my father stated that they were subject to certain negative things if they didn’t have a decent one. And when you’re amongst the kids on post, everybody moved a lot, we all interacted with each other for usually a pretty short time. So we didn’t really experience a lot of negative racial tensions. You had a decent mix. I interacted with whites, Asians, and it was a—I always looked at it as a balance, balanced mix.
When we went to New Roads, Louisiana—I’ll tell you an experience there, the very first one that really kind of shocked me, is when we were driving into town, I saw a theater. When we got into—moved in with my grandmother, and we were playing. We went to a Catholic school, because one of our parents put us in the Catholic school. We were playing with the kids in the neighborhood. My brother and I, we were used to going to the theater. We always went to a movie on Saturdays on post. So I said, hey, wow, we saw a theater when we came to go to the movies. And they looked at us like, what are you talking about? Well, when we came into town there was a theater down there. And they basically looked at us and said, well, that’s not for us. We don’t get to go to that theater. And I said, well, why not? Well, that’s only for white folks.
And that was a shocker for my brother and I. We went home and asked my mom. And they politely explained things to us in a little more detail. So sometimes, I think, as you’re growing up, you kind of get protected a little bit, you know, by your parents. And from that point on, in that town is when I understood a lot more. Because there were a lot other incidences that happened. When we went to Catholic school, it was Catholic school for blacks. The public school was for blacks, and then on the other side of town was for whites. We started to see that difference. So, that was when the real lights came on about racism. That’s a long way around, here answering your question.
Franklin: No, no, that’s a wonderful, detailed answer. Were there still signs up when you were there for Whites Only/Coloreds Only for public accommodations or restaurants, drinking fountains or restrooms, that kind of thing?
Martin: To be honest, as we lived there—you gotta remember in fifth and sixth grade, we didn’t explore much of the white side of town. Black side of town was where we stayed, played, went to school. So we didn’t really see a lot of those. We saw maybe—I remember seeing maybe one when we went to the grocery store. But it wasn’t a real big part of our experience there. We were informed about certain things. Certain things came to me later on in life that I didn’t recognize at the time. The movie The Help?
Martin: My aunt and several other of my aunts and other ladies in town, I remember them going off, saying they were going to work. And they would be dressed in something similar to what you saw in The Help. But they never really explained to me that they were going to take care of a white family. Later on, after asking questions about it, that’s what they were doing.
So, some cases you feel a little bit like, why in the hell didn’t people just explain things to us? I think there’s a lot of protectionism that occurs when you’re younger. So get a little bit from the kids, going to school, but not as much as when, later on in life, you start to see and recognize things. So, like I said, that was an interesting experience.
Franklin: Yeah, I would imagine so. So you said you first came here in 1975.
Franklin: As an intern, and I’m wondering, what was your internship?
Martin: It turned out to be more of a record-keeping thing that I did for one of the contractors out here. At that time, I didn’t work for PNNL, which, at that time it was actual Pacific National—no, Pacific Northwest Labs. I did that because a friend of mine, Nestor Mitchell, which is the son of CJ Mitchell, had said, hey, you can come down here and get a summer job and make some dollars. So, that’s how I ended up coming here for the first time.
Franklin: How did you know Nestor?
Martin: Nestor? He went to school at WSU.
Franklin: And is that where you went to school as well?
Martin: That’s where I went, Washington State University.
Franklin: And what made you choose Washington State University?
Martin: When you’re young, you make decisions in odd ways. When I was going through high school, one unfortunate thing that happened was I lost my mother at 17. I was the oldest. She passed away when I was in eleventh grade. And so I became kind of like the surrogate mother. My brother is 32 months younger than me, and then my other brother is ten years younger than me. So he was seven; I was 17.
I tell you that, because the whole time I was growing up, I was always told, you’re going to go to college, you should go to college. All my aunts said, it was always evident that you’re smart enough, you should go to college. Well, I always intended to go to college, right? But that event caused me to have to think a little bit.
But then when the time came, my dad said, well, you know, I’m not going to be able to afford to send you much. I got a few scholarship things. And I said, well, I wanted to stay in-state, because of the cost. There was really only two options: University of Washington and Washington State. I said, you know, Washington State is just far enough that I don’t have to worry about being too close to home. A friend of mine, Dave Ware, he was a good friend of mine in high school, we both wanted to go and possibly become wildlife biologists and we figured that WSU had a good program. So I picked it, applied, and was accepted and that’s how I ended up there.
Franklin: How was campus life at WSU? Was that a big—I know you’ve been an army brat so you moved around a lot, but was that a big change? I understand there were—you would’ve been there in the early ‘70s, right? And that was kind of a period of some activism, turbulence, on campus, and real attempts to create multicultural opportunities for people.
Martin: Coming out of high school, there was a lot of issues in high school. I went to Clover Park High School. I remember there being, you might want to call them racial riots, but racial disturbances, racial interactions on campus. I came up in the era where, when we said the national anthem, we said, and justice for some. You know, we used to yell that out really loud.
And moved on into WSU. And WSU, there was a very small African American population, very few minorities. You used to get looks and kind of wondered what people might be thinking. But there wasn’t a whole lot of in-your-face as there was when I was in high school. You heard about those, you heard, talked to people, they were experiencing certain deals.
But to be honest, when I went to school there, I worked a lot because I couldn’t afford not to. A lot of my time was spent working and going to class and studying. That’s really—I mean. As a matter of fact, Nestor and a couple other of my friends, they didn’t study as much—matter of fact, Nestor ended up leaving after his third year. I think they partied a little bit too hard. But with that, they were talking about experiences they were having. They had a lot more free time than I had. That’s how I heard about most of them. Didn’t have a lot of in-your-face situations. So. It was reasonably comfortable, but, like I said, I probably worked 30, 35 hours a week while I went through school.
Martin: Yeah, I had to play a little bit of soccer. Because there was a soccer club there. I learned soccer when I was in Germany. When I came to the United States, there were never any people who played. So they had a club, and I got to play that for maybe about two of the years, two-and-a-half of the years. Interacting with those guys, you interacted with a lot of people from other countries, because that’s who played soccer. So, it was interesting to run into people that were from Italy and Germany, and we went around to different schools and played. So, got a little bit more culture that way than just at the campus.
Franklin: Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense. How large was the black community when you were there? And was it a close community?
Martin: Oh. One, I don’t know how large it was; it was small. And as far as a close community? When you don’t have very many people, then people don’t really come together very much. I don’t really ever see myself as an activist. Heard about things. People called a few meetings and you’d go to them. But I didn’t see a large groundswell. Let’s just put it that way.
Franklin: Oh, okay.
Martin: You’d have to go back and maybe get some data on what the size was.
Franklin: So what was your major?
Martin: When I went there, my intent was to become a wildlife biologist, so I majored in wildlife management. Wildlife management, and along the way, I minored in chemistry. Only because I was taking chemistry classes and kind of liked chemistry. And they said, well, you only need x number of credits and you get a minor. At the time, I thought, oh, okay, that’s nice. I’ll do that. [LAUGHTER] And in the end, it worked out to be advantageous for future things that I did. But wanted to be—me and Dave, we used to go fishing a lot.
Franklin: And who, sorry?
Martin: David Ware. David was a good friend of mine. White guy. We became pretty good friends. He lived down the street not very far from us. We always used to do stuff together. So, yeah, we’re going to go into the game department. That’s what I originally went for. Didn’t work out that way, but—
Franklin: Do you remember which contractor you worked for when you came out here?
Martin: Oh. I want to say Westinghouse. But I might be wrong. It’s been a while.
Franklin: Yeah, I understand. And you said it was mostly record keeping?
Martin: Yeah, it was just some records stuff. It was a lot of paper stuff. Which actually I didn’t care as long as I got a paycheck.
Franklin: How did you hear about Hanford and—yeah. And why’d you come out?
Martin: Through Nestor, that’s how I heard, for the one summer. How I ended up selecting PNNL? Actually, it was CJ Mitchell. Because what happened was CJ was recruiting on campus at the time—
Franklin: At WSU.
Martin: At WSU. And I was getting closer to finishing, and Nestor says, you know, look! My dad’s recruiting up there. You might check with him and see if there’s potential for a job down here. Because he had come down, established himself for about a year and had a house. I was looking at game departments, Oregon and Washington. There were some openings, you know. But CJ started talking to me, and said, hey, PNNL has things in the area for wildlife and studies of wildlife. You should check into it.
So I did. And to be honest, what ultimately made my decision was the amount of money they were going to pay me, relative to the other amount of money. Again, I looked at the salaries and I looked at that. And then he talked to me about it and he says, hey, there’s a possibility for lots of different things you could do at PNNL. And at that time it was PNL. And I said, huh, okay. And then I put my deal in.
What they told me was, we have a department called Water and Land. There’s a job coming in for a project that’s going to start in February—which I was getting done in June. But you have a chemistry background, and what we’ll do is we can give you a job as a chemical technician for that eight months until this job opens and then you can transfer.
Well, again, I was looking at how much they were paying me. And I said, well, I can do that. So I accept the job, and it was a rotating shift job. Again, not being very wise or understanding what rotating shifts really do and really do to your body. That was the last time I worked a rotating shift of any kind. That was murder. But that’s what brought me here.
Franklin: What is a rotating shift?
Martin: Every week you change from days to swing to graveyard.
Martin: Every week.
Franklin: Wow. That sounds—
Franklin: How long would it take your sleep schedule to adjust to your new shift?
Martin: I would say it never did.
Martin: I was a walking zombie in many cases. It was a forced thing. But you’re young enough that really—that’s really what it was. You’re young enough to adapt.
Martin: The work was—we were actually working out in one of the buildings that had a lot of radiation and high rad fuels. That’s what we did. So the work was active enough. So you weren’t—you never sat anywhere. You were constantly moving. So that’s what I did.
Franklin: Do you remember what building you were in?
Martin: The 324 Building?
Franklin: That sounds—
Martin: There’s 325 and there’s 324. I think it was 324. The one that had all the manipulators. The actual project at that time was, they were looking at fuel rods and chopping fuel rods and formulating for glass mixture. That was one of the first vitrification projects. That’s what I worked on.
Martin: Yeah. That was my first introduction to radiation. And all of the training you have to have and protective things and everything you have to do.
Franklin: Kind of not what you thought you were going to do when you were in school.
Martin: Not—no. That first job was not. But, you know, it got me started. So it was good in that sense.
Franklin: What were your first impressions when you arrived, down to the—
Martin: Warm. I like the warm, compared to on the west side and the rain. Since I had a connection through Nestor and his family, so I had that connection and was able to get engaged with their family and all of Nestor’s friends when I first came. So my landing here was pretty soft, as I would say. And I enjoyed it.
Got to experience a lot of lab and got to understand more about the lab as I looked around. Because one of the things we were saying is, this one job was going to open. Periodically, when I had time, I would check into that organization, and then read a lot of materials about what the lab did. Coming into it, you know, you had a lot of colorful pamphlets and all this stuff about—well, you know, it’s not untrue, but it highlights things in a way that makes it a lot more attractive than really what was going on. I’ll just put it that way.
Franklin: [LAUGHTER] Yeah, I understand. We have a lot of that material in our archives, and, yeah, it certainly paints—I mean, it’s all promotional material, right, it paints the rosiest picture that it possibly can without outright lying.
Franklin: Yeah. Where was the first place you stayed after you arrived?
Martin: There was a house that Nestor had, and it was on Hawaii Place in Kennewick, not far from the Columbia Center. He already had a house, he had a roommate, they had an extra room. Like I said, it was a soft landing.
Franklin: Yeah, no kidding. What was the hardest aspect of life in this area to adjust to?
Martin: There wasn’t a lot to do for young folks. We did a lot of traveling outside, going to Seattle, and making contacts with some of my friends from college in other towns. So, like I said, there wasn’t a lot. I got used to a lot of different things in this area with Nestor and his family. Enjoying the water. Nestor and I, we got boats and played around on the water. I already had a passion for outdoors. Fishing. Got a little bit more into hunting. David introduced me to hunting when I was in high school, so I got to do a bit more hunting. So I ended up meeting people who, after being here about a year or so—met a friend, Doug Usher, he was really into outdoor activities. So I made connections pretty easy. I think, to be honest, as I grew up, with us moving as much as we did, you learn to make friends or make relations pretty fast.
Martin: I would say that that’s a characteristic that I’ve acquired, and I think it came from moving a lot and then interacting with people. You make friends quick. Otherwise, you’re a loner. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Right, right.
Martin: I think that that helped me in connecting with people here. A wide variety of folks. So, like I said, it was a pretty soft landing. From there, I mean, I never had any intentions—I didn’t think of—some people come and say, well, shoot, I’m staying here a couple years and then I’m off to something different. Didn’t really come with that intent. I was just coming off of being in college, being poor, or what I considered poor, most of the time.
Actually had learned about food stamps when I was in college. Some guy says, for as much as you make and stuff, you should check into food stamps. That wasn’t until—because I went five years—wasn’t until, I was in my, I think my fourth year that I found out that I could get food stamps. That helped out a lot.
But learning, coming out of that kind of environment, and coming to an established—and having a decent salary. Again, all of that was a big leap for me. And I use that term “soft landing,” because some people have hard—get hardships coming out, with very difficult to find a job, very difficult to make a connection into a town, right? I didn’t really have those.
Franklin: How long did you work the analytical chemistry job?
Martin: That was eight months.
Franklin: Okay. And then what did you do after that?
Martin: Then I got into the Water and Land group. What you find out when you want to go into wildlife, wildlife management and wildlife biology, you really don’t do a lot of studying of animals. What you study is habitat. Because if you want to control the population of a particular species, then you control their habitat. Control how much food they have, how much hiding cover they have, how much water accessibility they have. So I had a lot of soils. Soils, and botany. And by going into Water and Land, I got hooked up with a group that did soil science. That soil science, we looked at a lot of different aspects of soil.
But what connected me, initially, was I got into waste and waste soils. One of the very first big projects was Uranium Mill Tailings Remediation project, where they were looking at these big waste sites from the mining of uranium. I had just come out of this group that was a lot of radiological, so I ended up learning a lot about radiation. So it was kind of the perfect project.
But one thing you have to understand about PNNL: it’s all about projects. You get the work on projects. If you don’t have a project, you don’t have a job. So whatever projects needed people, you worked on that. If you had a set of skills that would help that—so, by having a lab background, and then having a background in understanding environments, it was kind of a little bit of a match. And that’s where I got connected into waste management. That’s kind of what kicked off the first beginnings of what I consider the primary elements of my long-term career.
Franklin: Which was around waste management?
Martin: Yes, around waste management. And then it ended up focusing on geochemistry.
Franklin: What is geochemistry?
Martin: Geology, chemistry. So the chemistry of the earth. So, understanding the interaction of water, soils and how they interact. How once you put waste in the ground, it transports, subsurface transport. If you look at the things I’ve told you that I had in my background, they all kind of came together in that field.
Franklin: Yeah, yeah.
Franklin: So you had mentioned earlier about your soft landing on the Tri-Cities and this connection with the Mitchell family who was a real—one of the big families in the area that people remember. CJ was a very public-spirited person. How would you describe life in the community? What did you do in your spare time? Do you remember any particular community events?
Martin: There were different types of events, but there wasn’t—you know, first off, the black population was not that large. I would say a couple percent. I don’t believe it has changed much over the years. I don’t follow the population numbers. I did follow some of the population—or, employment numbers within PNNL over time. But we created a lot of our own events, to be honest.
Franklin: Such as?
Martin: Such—well, we’d have potlucks and we’d have—oh, I would say, I know that there were some black churches that would throw some events and so I would go to those.
Franklin: In Pasco?
Martin: In Pasco.
Martin: And I got to meet a number of other black families. The Sparks family, which is a pretty good-sized family here. I’m trying to think of the other names. It started with a B. I can’t remember the name of the family right now but maybe it’ll come to me. So that’s how I got to meet individuals in the community. They are the ones that explained to me a lot of the history. Or their experience. And about the different cities.
Matter of fact, they’re the ones where I had heard about what they called the sundown law in Kennewick. He goes, man, you realize back not that long ago, this is where blacks had to be back across the green bridge. At that time it was a green bridge. Any person that was in Kennewick at the time had to be back in Pasco. Of course, not even sure if that law is still on the books. You know how sometimes laws are still in the books but just not enforced? I’m not sure if that law ever got officially removed, how’s that? Now, take that for what it is. I don’t know. But they explained to me these things.
So they asked, well, where are you going to live? And I said, well, I was living in Kennewick with Nestor. And he says, yeah, yeah, we know the Mitchells. Many of the Mitchells lived in Richland. And I got to know a lot of his brothers, and they have one sister. Cameron actually came up and was at WSU for a little while, his younger brother, while I was finishing up.
So that’s how I ended up meeting and going to different events. Like I said, there wasn’t a lot to do here. You had to make a lot of your own activities. We’d spend a lot of time going to Seattle or Portland, up to Spokane, for different reasons. To be honest, a lot of them for what we might call partying. [LAUGHTER]
I didn’t experience a lot of racial deals. Oh, every once in a while, you’d hear somebody call a name out of a passing car. And you’d look at the car and then they’d be gone. But I didn’t really experience a lot of in-your-face—I think I might’ve said that before—here. Although others have. It could’ve been who I was around. Could’ve been just, I didn’t go to certain facilities or—it was difficult to find, getting your hair cut. Another reason I had to go to Pasco, because you would find folks. I found a young woman who everybody knew. Carmen Will was her name.
Franklin: Was it difficult in that you weren’t welcome there, or a white barber would refuse to cut black hair, or was it just, you were more comfortable in east Pasco?
Martin: Not necessarily—well, not necessarily east Pasco, but in Pasco.
Martin: Once you talk to folks, you would say, okay, it is a little more comfortable in Pasco, there were more black faces in Pasco. I got introduced to—because you get your hair cut—look, I mean, you’re not going to go to a white barber. Not initially. You’re going to ask, and say, who cuts, man? And they tell you. You’d go to that barber. There was a black barber in Pasco. And then later on, I got introduced to Carmen. Carmen, she was in several different spots and she always did a good job. She also knew a lot was going on.
Franklin: How so?
Martin: Oh. She’d say, well, did you hear about such-and-such and what happened to her at work? There were some incidences of people, racial situations, and some of the contractors. Interesting, you said something about union, people that you might have interviewed? Some of the black individuals who were in unions, they got a harder reaction and a lot more negative reaction than I did within PNNL. Now, I would call white collar/blue collar. I think the blue collar situation, a lot of times, those guys got in-your-faced, and had to react with people who were a little more vocal with their opinions. They also experienced lack of opportunities within their jobs, promotion, and we ended up talking about that. I can’t say that I had a lot of that in PNL. Oh, I mean, I would talk to a few other black individuals there and they would say, yeah, well, you know, to get a job at such-and-such, you got to know x, a person. And some of the black individuals didn’t see promotions like they thought they should’ve seen within PNNL.
The number of people, of black individuals, within PNNL was very small. When I looked at the numbers, I never saw more than—it was less than a hundred. As a matter of fact, I remember always seeing the number floating between 50 and 75, and the number of staff at PNNL increased from like 2,800 to 4,500-ish that I recall, watching those numbers. And that number of black individuals stayed very low. There seemed to be people attempting, as I would say, to bring about diversity. The Hispanic population increased.
But of course, when you—what you have to recognize with the national laboratory: it doesn’t recruit locally. So it doesn’t have to reflect the local demographics. It has to reflect the national demographics, as they always say. So because they recruited nationally, internationally. Which tend to make sense. But there are some jobs, hate to say it, you don’t need to be international to do. Janitorial, let’s pick. They have all those types of job. Welders. Some people in the bargaining units, you’d have to talk to a number of them.
So back to the original deal, I didn’t experience as much of it as I heard about people who were in other contractors on the site, out on Site. And I think you’ll have to compare my knowledge or experience or anecdotal information with others who may have truly experienced it.
Franklin: Sure. You’ve mentioned the barbershop earlier. Was that a real kind of locus of the community—was the one of the major kind of meeting points or locus for the black community in the area?
Martin: Absolutely. [LAUGHTER] Absolutely. You’d go in there, and you would get to hear about a lot of things. I always would say, you know—I have a scientific—my background’s in science. I’m very careful about taking a broad input of information and then deciding what’s real and what’s not. So, with that said, you’d hear of a story. So I’d go and check with somebody else, and go, what did you hear what happened? And they’d have a little bit different twist on what happened.
I’ve also been a manager for a long time. And not something necessarily racial, but when an incident happens, it’s not always as it was first initially reported. You have to go gather—so, the same thing goes for things that are race-based. Go and really find out what really happened. But more often than not, things did happen. Then, as a black individual in the community, I’m going to be careful. And if somebody tells you there’s a certain place that you maybe shouldn’t go, then you don’t.
Franklin: Yeah. Did you attend church?
Martin: No, to be honest. I wasn’t a regular—I was raised Catholic. So I went to Catholic school, went to catechism, my brother went to Catholic school. So, yeah, we always went to Catholic church. But once I got into college, I just stopped. Just wasn’t a major goal of mine. It wasn’t—so I never did.
Franklin: Sure, sure. No, no.
Martin: So it wasn’t until later on, after being married, I started going to a more interdenominational church. Because I just—I am a Christian, I am faithful in that sense. But I’m not sure what your life is like, but you tend to flow the way everyone you’re around flows. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Oh, yeah, no, absolutely no judgment. I don’t go to church. So I understand completely. But I was forced to go as a kid, and so was my wife. She went to Catholic school all twelve years. And you know, you just kind of, yeah, it can have the opposite effect, when you’re an adult.
But I was going to ask because—I ask that question because it’s my understanding from a lot of these interviews and research that the African American churches in Pasco played a large role in the community. And you had kind of mentioned that you would go to events at a couple of them. So I was just going to ask, for you or what you saw, what role did church play in the African American community in the Tri-Cities?
Martin: For many blacks, it was the bedrock for them. It is where they could go and actually feel comfortable. To go and commiserate with individuals who are of their same upbringing. Many that may have come from the South, which a lot of them did and their families did, the church was a central point for the African American community. It is, should be, and well-recognized, and that still exists today. That is how it was in Pasco. I didn’t find myself attracted going to doing that. It just wasn’t in my—wasn’t something I really wanted to do. But I knew a lot of black individuals that did. For them, it made a big difference.
Black churches help people cope, okay, with what was happening around them. It was a central point for discussion; it was a central point for a lot of families and helping encouraging a lot of the youngsters make those next steps. So, yeah, I knew that—Morning Star is one of the churches that probably—I would say it’s probably the biggest one, but I’m not sure. So I heard a lot about them. The Mitchells, they went, if I remember—they went to the Baptist church.
Franklin: New Hope.
Martin: Yeah, yeah. But they didn’t corral—Nestor never went. [LAUGHTER] We never really went that direction.
Franklin: Right, I mean, yeah. Yeah, no it’s—
Martin: So that’s about as much as I know about the churches.
Martin: And with time and off time—because I’ve been here 40 years—I’ve always heard about them interacting with people who had—and gone to some of their gospel events, gospel singing events. I’ll tell you, they’re always extremely welcoming, open arms, in those churches. There’s no doubt about that.
Franklin: Hmm, that’s good to know. We’ve been planning to do some outreach to the churches and talk to some of the folks there and interview—maybe hopefully interview the pastors about their roles in the black community.
Martin: That would be a very good thing to do.
Franklin: Yeah, thank you. Well, it was not our original idea. It was the idea of AACCES and Tanya and Vanessa. Do you recall any family or community activities, events or traditions, including food, that people brought with them from the places they came from?
Martin: Well. Soul food, always the case with black individuals. But to be honest, the thing that I learned here, and the food that I learned here that I ended up liking is Mexican food. I mean, in Pullman there wasn’t a lot of it. So you ate fricking dorm food.
Franklin: Still isn’t any good Mexican food in Pullman.
Martin: Or you cooked your own. But here, it was everywhere. And it was inexpensive. And a taste that I wasn’t familiar with. I mean, we only lived in one fort, Fort Huachuca, and I think that was in Arizona, Fort Huachuca, and I don’t even remember a lot of it then. So I wasn’t exposed to it that much. But coming here, and then you learned a lot about Hispanic food. And damn if that stuff ain’t good.
Franklin: Yes, it is.
Martin: But people did bring a lot of their traditional Southern food. I knew how to cook a lot, myself. My mother was very good at teaching us how to cook.
Franklin: Did she teach you how to cook soul food-type stuff?
Martin: Yes. As I look back on what my mom did for us, or did for me, probably not knowing she was going to pass early: she taught us how to iron our clothes, wash our clothes, taught us how to cook. She was a stay-at-home mom, because we moved all the time. And in the end, that actually worked out extremely well for us. For me, after she passed, because then I had to do all that. Because my dad was still in the service, so he had to go. So I was the one that ended up taking care of a lot of that.
But as I moved on as a young man, I knew how to take care of myself. Which was—that’s not something I saw in a lot of other young people. I don’t want to say both female and male, but most of the males, they didn’t know how to hardly do any of that. But my mom taught—
When I lived in the South, you got a real good understanding. And of course we visited our aunts and uncles. There was a migration from New Roads to LA. So I have a lot of relatives that live in LA. Whenever you go to their houses, pfft, they’d always have food cooking, and it’ll always be Southern-type cooking. So I ended up learning how to do it myself. Even today, I mean, like, I still eat grits. You have to actually—you’re not going to go to a restaurant around here and find grits. If you do, you found something interesting.
I bring up that one food, because that’s something from the South. So here in the Tri-Cities, not a lot. There’s a couple of soul food places now. But you go to some families, you know, they would have—some black families, and you’d have a meal other than what I cook for myself. So, again, it’s kind of odd that the one food that really was new to me was Hispanic cuisines. I still, like I said, today, I love it. I go to taco wagons. You know. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: I know, me too, it was a real pleasant—I grew up in Alaska and lived in Hawaii.
Martin: Oooh, Alaska.
Franklin: Not really food meccas. Besides, you know, kind of the normal Chinese food and the normal American food. So moving here was—yeah, the variety and abundance of Mexican food—I’ve always loved Mexican food and it’s pretty legit here. You can get—as legit as you want to go.
Martin: Yes, you can.
Franklin: Which is great. What about community activities or events? Things like Juneteenth or—did you attend any of those?
Martin: Yeah, I probably—for Juneteenth, I think over the years, I think I’ve gone to about a half a dozen.
Franklin: Why is that celebration so important to the African American community?
Martin: As you look at past history, there was an event that most of the black community would lean toward. A lot of things that are—people will ask the question, why do you have events like that that are separate from the white community? Not only that, but anything with having to do with black history. I’ve read a lot of books on black history. Our society, as I was growing up and going to school, they never highlighted much of the black history. Which actually, as I grew, really upset me, that I didn’t know these things. It wasn’t in the books.
So, Juneteenth is just one of the events. They wrap the beauty pageant around that particular event, because it was an event which helped the changing of recognition of slavery and so forth. But all of the other aspects of black history and highlighting it were so that’s not forgotten. And here in the Tri-Cities, there wasn’t a lot of events. I can’t remember when Black History Month was actually established. Sad that I don’t know the actual dates. But when that thing happened—I know I did a lot more within PNNL as time went on to lift the people’s consciousness around what the black experience and the black history has done for America.
People will question, why should there be something separate for you? And I always say to them, because if we didn’t do it, you may not ever really know. So, we want you to know that a bedrock of the United States was built on the backs of blacks. People need to recognize that. Not only white individuals or Hispanic individuals, but black individuals. I mean, some black individuals really don’t know the history. If they didn’t go to college and get exposure, they’re going to get what’s ever fed to them. Without highlighting it, and they get to see certain things, they might not have known. I just went to the Smithsonian African American Museum of History. I’ve now gone twice. Anybody I say, you need to go, and you need to walk through that a couple of times to understand the lineage there. I say all of that, because when an event happens here in town, you need to go and understand it. And I mean any person should go to it and understand some of the aspects of it.
So Juneteenth, back to the original question, is just one other way to highlight an event in black history. Some people say, well, why do you have one just for black girls? Well, in the Tri-Cities, I’m not sure many black girls would make it in the Miss Tri-Cities Pageant, you know? Was there something in that pageant that made it so that black individuals wouldn’t do very well in that pageant? I don’t really say that I would go there, because I don’t know. I would be making a falsehood. But with that event, it was more about the Juneteenth event and black individuals being highlighted for their experience and their talents associated with that event. Hopefully—you’re going to always get your naysayers and negative folks about just about anything. But it’s important to have those.
The people who have done that—the ones that have also supported the awards: one for African American kids, for educational awards; there’s also HAAP, the Hispanic Academic Achievement program; there’s also the African American Achievement Program, to bring funds to create scholarships for African Americans and for Hispanics. And people will say, well, why just for them? And I’ll keep going back to, there’s sometimes a competition that they don’t win in the big scheme of things, if you just pool everybody in one set, you don’t see the attention given to the minorities that are there. And trying to create some things and give advantages to some of the folks who don’t get those. But if certain people were to see my interview, they would say, well, we’ve heard that before. They just don’t want to agree. But you know, we can agree to disagree.
Franklin: Certainly. In what ways were opportunities limited because of segregation or racism?
Martin: Here, in the Tri-Cities?
Martin: During my time here?
Martin: Because that’s the only thing I can—
Franklin: That’s fine. Or were they? Did you see anything?
Martin: I would say that there has been some, because I would always question why haven’t we seen more—and this was within the lab—why haven’t we seen more black individuals in interviews? It came from—to be honest, where I first got my eyes opened up was in the late—the mid-‘80s. Dr. Wiley, I’m sure some people have brought up that gentleman’s name. He is the one who—he became my mentor. He exposed me to a lot of what was possibly going on within the laboratory that he wanted to bring about change. So I can only speak to what I experienced in the lab. Outside the lab, it’s what people would say that happened that you would hear. I already kind of covered that; you’d hear different things. But in the lab, there were situations where you could see that there was something not quite right. As I said, I told you the numbers. Why is that? So, he helped me ask questions and improve my understanding of what he saw during his time.
Now, I remember he came from the South. He went to Tougaloo. It’s a historically black college. As a matter of fact, that was one of the very first things he hooked me up into, is doing a lot of things with the National Urban League and going around the country interacting with historically black colleges. Because I will say that, you know, I go to a lot of these conferences and give papers and whatever. I rarely see a black individual. Rarely. He went through and explained to me why we were not seeing a lot in some of the things around. So therefore that translates into not seeing a lot of them coming through our interview process. Because they aren’t at those, right? It took a long time for me to see and understand, and interfacing with a lot of historically black colleges. And that particular case was to let them know that science was an option.
But in the lab, there has been certain situations that occur. You know, like I said, a lot of things are not blatant or just obvious. You kind of have to dig a little to understand why you’re seeing what you’re seeing. Bill helped me to understand a lot of that. And I became a lot more proactive within the lab to bring about some of the changes and give some individuals interview—in the interview process.
So, again, I mean, nothing’s—with time, as time changes, you have to understand that things are slow. Sometimes you aren’t—I had a job. So I wasn’t spending a whole lot of time investigating that kind of thing. I’m mostly trying to keep my credentials up and doing what’s necessary, both in the lab and outside the lab. But it took me a little bit, but I got a lot more active in understanding what’s going on within the lab and encouraging and getting more diversity within the lab and did a lot more things, helping managers, helping our internal human resources department engage.
Franklin: How would you describe your relationships with your coworkers and your supervisors and management when you were at the lab?
Martin: Actually, I had a very good technical mentor. His name was Jeff Czerny, white male, who took me under his wing and taught me a lot and gave me a lot of opportunity. Engaging with most folks, I think—and this is my own perception is—I have a general rule of saying, the best thing you can do is perform. Bill Wiley said, you know, you have to have the credentials. Without the credentials, they don’t even really let you in the door. And then perform.
So I had two paths I started off on. One, getting credentials, and the other, performing in my workspace. People picked me up on a lot of projects, because I had a performance rep, a very good performance rep. Once you get that and people get comfortable with that, they put you on their project, they’re going to get what they paid for.
The credential route was not something—I’ll tell you, honestly, no fricking way was I going back to college. [LAUGHTER] My first experience in college, five years, long, drawn out. And I figured, that was enough. I should get real, get a good paycheck, and I should be able to launch, right? Well, Dr. Wiley said, you are sadly—it’s sad that you have that perception, because it’s not going to work. Long story short, I went back and did the master’s thing. Did that, took me four years. During that four years, I had gotten married, had a couple kids—
Franklin: What was your master’s degree in?
Martin: Radiological sciences, the study of radiation.
Franklin: When did Dr. Wiley come to the lab?
Franklin: Was he there when you started?
Martin: Oh, yeah. He was—he was in the ranks. I want to say he came there in the late ‘60s.
Franklin: Okay, okay. How long—was he manager of the lab when you started?
Martin: When I first interacted with him on a one-to-one basis, he had become the lab director.
Franklin: Okay. Director, sorry.
Martin: Yes, became the lab director. And I knew of him, in the lab. But I didn’t have a lot of—his area was biochemistry, microbiology. The lab is set up around projects. And if the project subjects don’t overlap, you don’t interface with folks. So I knew of him. But, like I said, my relationship with him started in the mid-‘80s. Yeah. So.
Franklin: How were you treated on the job by your coworkers and supervisors?
Martin: Well. I didn’t really—again, didn’t really experience a lot of negative. If they held some kind of negative feelings, they didn’t make it obviously known. And so I got along well with folks.
Franklin: What kinds of interactions did you have with coworkers and supervisors outside of work?
Martin: Not a lot. Pretty much focused on work with them. I had a couple of people who I met on the job that became really good friends. Doug Sherwood and Brian Opitz. We became good friends, two white males. That part, I did get a couple of folks that I knew and interacted a lot with. Then later on, there was a few—as time went on, I picked up a few more that I did a few things outside. But for both the professional folks, not a lot.
Franklin: Could you describe the working conditions?
Martin: In what way?
Franklin: When you were at the lab, like, kind of what environments did you work in?
Martin: I was primarily—I’m an experimentalist. So, when you say environments—environment is a big term. So I don’t know if you meant the environment—working environment, physically in a lab, doing your things, or the relational environment. Which one do you want?
Martin: Relational, I only really focused on a few people who I felt comfortable with that I felt were actually giving me good scientific tutelage. And Jeff Czerny was one, that’s for dang sure. A couple other scientists, Ken Krupke, he was kind of a hardnose. I’m trying to think. Oh, I can’t remember the one guy’s name now. There were a couple other scientists who—Don Rai, he was another—he was an east Indian background. They were helpful. They were—and I think a lot of it came from is that—I don’t give up very well. And they could see it. And no matter what, I kept pushing them, pushing them. And I said, I don’t understand this. I need to understand this. What book do you got? Because I’m used to books; give me a book. And I’d come back with a lot of questions.
I think if you really showed initiative and really wanted to, you got a very good reception from the science community. Again, once given a task, and you perform for them, they got what they wanted, they came back, they kept coming back. And that was how things migrated into me being involved a lot more.
So the tutelage part, the working with folks, the experimental side, I learned a lot about safety. Working with rad—radioactive materials—you had to be very diligent about what you touched, how you dressed, you know, how you handled—it’s different than working in a non-rad. So operationally and safety-wise, that built up a strong working skillset that not many people had. I never had contamination issues. I always got what they wanted in a reasonable time. And then I was building up the academic part, so I made a very good connection between the two. So when they got stuff from me, it had already been thought-through. I think those two environments—I learned a lot. I got a lot of—so, me, as one person in there, I was okay. Others didn’t experience—of course, again, there wasn’t a lot of black individuals. Very few. A few Hispanics, but mostly white individuals, to be honest. And I think part of my—again, if you go back to my background, I was around white people a lot. So, I wasn’t uncomfortable; it wasn’t an issue for me to walk in a room and start talking to them. Which I think some of them, initially are not too friendly.
Franklin: Some of the white individuals?
Martin: Yes. They not quite knew how to react. But if I just focused on work, then there wasn’t a whole lot issues; I just didn’t talk about stuff about outside of work. Then they’re okay. You learn.
Franklin: Were there any people that you were able to talk to about stuff outside of work? Have kind of more—
Martin: Yeah, Doug and Brian. We talked a little bit about—well, the racial things I experienced, they didn’t see a lot of it. But Doug had a really good friend, Mark Francis, a black individual. Actually, ironically, he was his first roommate and he actually went to Whitworth and I played soccer against him, against Mark. Then we all became roommates. So Mark was from, original background, from Trinidad but grew up in New York and was out here.
Martin: Believe me, he—yeah, man. Wasn’t good, I mean, it wasn’t the greatest thing going to Whitworth. And Doug went to Whitman in Walla Walla. Where there’s hardly any blacks in school there.
Franklin: Yeah, I’d imagine.
Martin: But Doug has the right kind of personality. And Mark and I, we would talk and he would tell me the things he experienced. So, as roommates, we would hear and see—and then you just learn where to go, where not to go, who to talk to, who not to talk to. But as far as inside work, I had a few relationships that came out of it. But, again, there’s other people—hopefully you’ll get some other individuals that may have been at PNNL that can tell you what they experienced. I’m sure CJ must’ve said something.
Franklin: Yeah, yeah. You mentioned where to go and where not to go. That’s something that comes out in a lot of interviews. That’s kind of, it passes through the vine and it’s informal. Do you have any examples of where were places to go and where were places that you avoided?
Martin: There were some clubs. You didn’t want to go out to the smaller towns: Finley, Burbank, Benton City. Do your shopping in town. You never know what you’re going to get if you go out there. They didn’t speak a lot about Walla Walla. They said, well, Walla Walla’s—you know, there’s not much for you out there. So I wouldn’t go. Now, that may give Walla Walla a bad rap, but I’m going to go by what people who’ve been living here tell me. If I don’t really need to go, I didn’t go. There were certain restaurants they would say, well, you might not get as good service there as if you went to this one over here. So I’m going to try to stay away from the names so much, but that’s how—
Franklin: No, that’s fine. I was just kind of trying to—
Martin: Yeah, that is how you end up picking. It’s based on what people—you’ve got to put some trust in the people you’re meeting, that they’re telling you the truth. And why go test it? [LAUGHTER] Not when there’s other choices.
Franklin: Sure. Right, right. Excellent. Back to working, what were the most difficult aspects of your job?
Martin: My career at PNNL was like 36 years, so you could split it into 17 and 17 years. The first part of my upbringing was actually being a researcher. The second was becoming a manager. I’ve told you a bit about the research side. I wasn’t—I went into management kicking and screaming.
Franklin: As many do.
Martin: [LAUGHTER] How they wanted and tried to encourage me to go into management, they said, look, you’ve got a good reputation, you have people skills, you have good enough technical foundation that you could lead technical people. I said, is that what it takes? I mean, the reason I say that is because it’s the management side of my work experience that was more difficult, because you are interacting with people—you’re now managing folks who, predominantly white individuals, a few females, and you’re dealing with big kids.
Franklin: Sorry. [LAUGHTER] No, it’s funny because it’s true.
Martin: Well, yeah. So, you transition out of this environment where you controlled a lot of stuff—your experiments, your writing. And then over here, you’re trying to get these folks to understand what they need to do in order to succeed at the lab. Being in management was difficult.
Franklin: Why’d you do it for so long?
Martin: [SIGH] As you leave the technical world, you—in order to be good, technically, you have to be actively and building all the time. Once you leave it and you go out of that realm, you’ve now left it behind, and to go back is not easy. So that’s first and foremost. I like challenges. And there’s challenges in the management side.
Back to Dr. Wiley again, before I really kind of left the technical world—he encouraged me to get my master’s. He strongly encouraged me to get my PhD. And in doing that, it helped me technically as I did it. But then he said, now you have the credentials, because in order to really move forward in this, he said—he told me, I knew I wasn’t going to become a Nobel laureate. I wanted to accomplish something. He was a very visionary kind of guy. He says, I was going to do that on the management side. His experience in the management area, he said, you know, you could do this, follow that track. So he encouraged me to go that route.
And, doing that, once you get into it—if you want challenges, you take the challenge and you move forward and you overcome certain things. So by doing that, I got exposed to a lot different world in the area of technology and research and development. And one thing led to the next. And you then start to somewhat enjoy it. In management, what you primarily deal with are the bad actors and bad incidences, we’ll call them. You don’t get to focus a lot on the good. You allow that to happen, you make sure that the environment that that is happening in stays safe, encouraging positive. And then you deal with, when there’s a safety issue or there’s a behavioral issue, you learn to deal with it.
An interesting conversation I had when I first became a manager, there was a lab director—this is after Bill Wiley had passed, and I’d done a few management deals—but Bill Madia came in as the lab director, and there was going to be some opportunities. He brought me in and we talked, and I’ll never forget this conversation. He goes, yeah, you’ve taken statistics, haven’t you? And I go, yeah. Yeah, I’ve done quite a bit of statistical stuff. He says, well, this laboratory’s made up of, it’s a subpopulation of a population. Oh, yeah, well, that makes sense, yeah. He goes, so, all the stuff that happens out in the population, it’s the same things that happen inside this lab with the same people. So the things you might find and what you might need to do is, your number one job is to protect the laboratory. You’re a manager now. You must protect the lab. And you will find there are people that steal, there are people who are sexist, there are people who—I mean, he went down through the list of the bad stuff that happens out in the population. Some of those same people working here. I go, like, uh, yeah? Your job is to make sure you understand those individuals. And if they exist, and if they’re bringing about negative things that happen in the laboratory, you need to find those out. People that drink on the job. Now, you know, let’s say I was relatively young, okay, and you hear this, and you’re like, whoa, what did I get into?!
That opened my eyes up to what my job was. And people who will try to cut corners, people who are not going to do the right things from a safety point of view. That made me think so much differently about how I managed, and it really helped me. Because I did find certain situations that were happening. You can see certain behaviors. I didn’t take psychology or sociology. I never took management classes, okay? You learn by doing. I got to go to some Sloan management deals and they had some management training deals. But you learn—as I said, I learned a lot on the technical side, I just took those same skills and learned more about how to be a manager. And as time went on, I learned how to enjoy.
So that’s it in a nutshell, really. I stayed into it because I kept getting other opportunities. Could’ve left and gone to other sites and had job offers at other places. But I tended to stay within PNNL, because I felt comfortable in the area and as well as my family too.
Franklin: How did your racial background figure into your work experiences?
Martin: My racial background?
Martin: Being black and being in there?
Martin: I had several assistants. Here’s a thing, a game I used to play with my assistant. I was a hiring manager. My tonation and my ability to speak and whatever, I would have conversations with some individuals on the phone, and I don’t think they knew I was black, okay? Unless they—maybe back in certain times, they didn’t have Google. Google—[inaudible] some of them didn’t. So I told my secretary, okay, when this guy comes in, I want you to watch his expression when he walks in and I’m in the office and he walks to the door and sees me. And my secretary, white, she’s like, oh, okay. So she would walk him in and then she would look at him. And their first is they stop. And you know right then, they weren’t expecting me.
Now, I don’t want to make it sound like that’s a bad thing. But that shows you—the person comes in, and then we sit down and we talk, and we talk through the job. What do they want to—what is it they’re—I’m going to talk to them just like I talk to anybody else; it doesn’t matter what color you are. And I think they tend to get somewhat of a comfort.
But, you know? Being black in a predominantly white institution, I mean not just PNNL—the institution of science. It’s different. I learned early on that you must be aware as best you can when someone’s for you and when they’re not. You can make that measure, and I had to do that on a number of occasions. But being a hiring manager and being involved in that kind of stuff, you want to be fair. Some individuals would come to me—black individuals, who were experiencing—totally not even in my department, but wanting to know if there was anything I could do for them. In some cases, you have to be careful about where you go out and what questions you ask, about other managers. But I had to do that for some individuals, and I was willing to. But it was a challenge. I enjoyed it, for the most part.
Franklin: Yeah. In what ways did the security and/or secrecy at Hanford impact your work or daily life?
Martin: Oh, well, I had the highest clearance you could have. It’s called Sensitive Compartmented Information. It’s like Top Secret in the Army. So I did a lot of classified work. In limited areas, in what they call a SCIF, which is Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, which is the next level. Quite impactful. I’ll tell you in the trainings, there’s a phrase I heard: for life. You had to keep this information that’s going to be provided to you confidential and secret for life. [LAUGHTER] I was like, whoa. So when you are in that kind of environment and being shared that kind of information, you learn to be careful about your speech, what you talk about, what you don’t talk about. Very enlightening. You only—it’s a thing called need-to-know. So you’re only privy to what you needed.
Martin: Okay, so you weren’t exposed to everything. But for what you were exposed to, you understood why it was sensitive. It has a fundamental impact on how you viewed the sharing of information. Absolutely. And you know what, as Americans, tell Americans, there’s some stuff you just don’t need to know. Everybody thinks, everything should be free and out there and everybody should know everything. No. And that’s as much as I say! [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Okay. All right then. What did you know or learn about the prior history of African American workers at Hanford?
Martin: Only through what people told me. I mean, I learned a lot in the article you sent that I didn’t know. I didn’t know the living conditions. I knew they were relegated to east Pasco. But that one picture in there reminded me of Louisiana.
Franklin: The one of—
Martin: The shacks.
Franklin: The shacks, yeah.
Martin: The shacks. That’s the way it was in Louisiana. And I didn’t realize that it existed that way here in Pasco.
Franklin: From your perspective, what were their most important contributions in the areas of work, community life and civil rights?
Martin: I would say that the individuals who came here were courageous, were the ones who took a lot of the brunt of racism. As the article put it, Jim Crowism. The movement from the South to the North was no different than the move from the South to Chicago and the movement to here. They experienced some of the same things. Those individuals set—as I said, for me—set a path where I could actually thrive here. Without what they experienced in going through and hurdles they had to go through, like opening up the ability for me to live anywhere in the Tri-Cities. They did that. I didn’t. A lot of what they experienced and what they went through. And you know what? That’s the same as it is in America. There’s a lot of patterns of the same.
Again, I was shocked to hear that Kennewick was the Birmingham of the Northwest. I guess Portland was pretty bad, my understanding is. The Northwest was probably that new horizon. I think people that lived here didn’t know, or didn’t expect that migration to this—you know, the dam and the Hanford Project brought a lot of minorities this way, was the idea that there was work. And they actually could get work, is what brought them here.
I don’t believe in why you don’t see the numbers. The number of blacks that came to the Northwest was nothing like what went to Chicago and in there. I mean, a lot migrated to the main cities. Not as many here. I don’t really know much about Seattle. The Northwest doesn’t have a really high African American population. Again, I’ve seen the number sometimes but it’s pretty low. So, point being is, not as many came. I think they got the brunt of that racial—because a lot of the Southern whites also came for the same reason.
Martin: But they came in much larger numbers. So, I think it provided a platform for me to do reasonably well here.
Franklin: Great. What were the major civil rights issues for African Americans at Hanford and in the Tri-Cities during your time here?
Martin: Equal access to work. Equal access to promotions. Many were relegated to certain types of jobs. I even hear it, matter of fact, just like yesterday. I was at the barber. [LAUGHTER] Went to the barbershop and a black individual that I hadn’t seen in a while was working at PNNL and he said he had to leave because he wasn’t being given opportunities for a promotion. But then he got called by one of the other contractors out at Hanford and said, hey, we got a supervisor’s job for you. Of course, he shifted and went.
Now, why was there an opportunity there and not at PNNL? I don’t know. But it tells you something, that these things happen, and they happen more often than you might think. I would say, something I learned through some training, actually, it’s called unconscious bias. Have you heard that term?
Franklin: But maybe you could explain it for the sake of the interview.
Martin: People unconsciously make biases. They don’t realize they’re doing it. It’s probably—no, it is—from their upbringing. They have a built-in bias that expresses itself, but it’s unconscious to them. Unless they recognize they have this bias, they don’t see it happening. They just think this is just a normal occurrence for them. I think, within PNNL and other management situations, people have them, and they don’t realize it until something brings it to the forefront for them to: one, accept that it exists. I make that statement because they will say it isn’t, but it’s there. And I’ve got them, you’ve got them, she’s got them. Oops, talking about the camera person. Everybody has them. It may not be about race. It could be about religion. It could be about just about anything. It could be about foods. They have never test—some people may have never tasted Mexican food, but they—no, I wasn’t taught that.
Franklin: Right, they just know they don’t like it.
Martin: Yeah, for some reason they just don’t like it. But anyway, that unconscious bias is a big deal, still today. That is something that I got exposed to and I also shared that with a lot of other managers to get to understand how to expand their consciousness about how they make choices, make decisions.
Franklin: What actions were and are being taken to address those issues of civil rights in the—
Martin: I think they’re talked about a lot more now. I believe, in some cases, some things were brought about in the lab because it was regulated. I may forget this agency’s name; I think it was called—it’s called OFCCP? Office of the Federal something Compliance. They monitored the contract, and there were certain things that—in order to have a federal contract, there were some issues around racial, ethnic, women—requirements that in order for you to hold this federal contract, you must comply to. Some of that drives behavior and management action. It’s sad to say that a lot of things that happened in America is not necessarily done because it’s the right thing to do, but because they got forced to do it. Some through regulation. And I think some of what happens in the lab was driven by being reviewed and being under certain types of consent orders, that they must do a better job.
I saw that happen. There is a lot of individuals within the lab who have—who truly do have a desire to see change. Some of them may be hampered by the environment they’re in. They have good intentions, but unless it’s driven all the way down, it just doesn’t happen. So I’ve seen a cultural change within the lab, over probably a 15- or 20-year period. Slowly but surely, people will put their arms around the fact that, you know—
And once—I brought in a lot of black students from historically black colleges through a lot of programs. Once they see that these individuals could perform and they could do just as well, they had credentials, you know. It’s just that they didn’t go out to certain venues that exposed them to where that population was there. And I think once they started seeing those and they said, oh, okay. There’s a little more comfort in that. I think more has happened over time. And you’ll find champions. You’ll find people willing to open up and willing to take—in some cases I think they’re taking a risk. And they do. Which is very—it was and is very encouraging.
Franklin: Who were the important leaders of civil rights efforts in this area?
Martin: Whoa. Well, you had Webster in here, didn’t you?
Martin: Yeah, he’s one. I think that CJ Mitchell, because he had a platform that he could. When you look at AACCES, that organization, it has done a lot. Because it approached it from an exposure point, a cultural thing, and a gathering of information, and then presenting it to the people. What’s Eleanor’s last name? Eleanor, she’s the one that runs the Juneteenth pageant. Dang. I think her last name’s Sparks, because she married a Sparks, Wayne Sparks. Is she on your list to interview?
Franklin: I don’t know. We interviewed Ellenor Moore. Not the same Eleanor?
Martin: Ellenor Moore is Vanessa—is Leonard’s mother.
Franklin: Mother, yeah. Eleanor Sparks.
Martin: But look up Juneteenth in the—I think it’s—her short name is El, but Sparks. She’s the director of Juneteenth. If you can get an audience with her, I think you would get a very—and you know, she’s heavily in the black churches, she leads the gospel singing.
Franklin: Do you know her well?
Martin: Yeah, I know El.
Franklin: Oh, okay.
Martin: If you want, I can call her and say—pass on your name or something.
Franklin: I find that’s some of the most helpful when doing these, especially across cultural barriers—
Franklin: You know, just trying to peer into a different community, that introduction helps a lot.
Martin: I’ll do that.
Franklin: Thank you. I would really appreciate that. You know, it just makes it so much more smooth.
Martin: She has had some situation within the lab, with the racial issues.
Martin: And I remember having—she would come to me, was one of those people that came to me and asked me, this is what happened. And I’d bring it up with other managers, saying, this shouldn’t be happening to her. And the guy—I’m not going to say his name—he had a pretty abrasive personality in the first dang place. He just—more of it got exposed. And she wasn’t going to put up with it. And some people just put up with things, right? But I’ll make sure that I give her your phone number and she calls you.
Franklin: Thank you. What were some of the notable successes in addressing civil rights issues in the area that you noticed or were a part of?
Martin: Never really part of any. Seeing, whenever they would have a soul food event, how welcoming the people would just flock to it. When they did that—because around food people just—I don’t know what it is about food, but it just brings them out. And then they would get a cultural lesson at the same time. Those kind of events always brought about real positive celebration, and across racial lines.
Juneteenth was another one, get people rallied around it. Those kinds of events are the ones I remember the most that are more positive. I rarely saw any large protests.
I remember, when I was on the board at Columbia Basin College; I was a trustee. And it happened that Katrina occurred. And there was a huge—the issue of poverty just rose its ugly head. So I put on three workshops on poverty that were held on campus. I say that because I don’t believe people realized how many black individuals lived in New Orleans. It’s like, greater than 50%, maybe it was 60%. It was a very large percentage. People didn’t understand why these people didn’t get out. And events were held so that people recognized, when you’re poor and somebody says get in your car and leave—you don’t have a car! How you leaving? No buses are coming down to take anybody anywhere. These people were trapped.
Franklin: Right, yeah.
Martin: The poverty level in New Orleans was, like, I think it was like 50-some-percent in poverty. Mostly black but also white. Well, I bring that story up just because people here, once we started having these workshops, they were like, wow, they didn’t realize—you don’t get it in the news. The news wasn’t sharing it. They just showed the aftermath.
So I had a young man who was working for me, black individual—I had a lot of relatives that lived—I think I counted 40, 42. Many of them were recently well-off, I mean, middle class. But they were devastated, right? So this one young man who was a black scientist, I brought—I helped him get his PhD. His mom lived down there, near one of my relatives and gave him time off so he could go down and help his mom. I bring these little ones up because people in the lab—there was a connection and I could tell them, I have relatives down there. I’m sending them money, whatever. I didn’t physically go down. These people are out. And that’s a huge black community.
That brought an enlightenment about poverty and racial perceptions. By having those workshops—and we had a lot of agencies come in and there was a lot of talk, primarily about poverty. And they didn’t realize how much poverty was in the Tri-Cities. How many people were in poverty. Numbers were shared. And people were surprised. I think the folks that work at the laboratory are a little bit more affluent. Tend to stay where you’re most comfortable, right? There’s also a financial culture. People will stay amongst people who have money.
Franklin: Right, well, we segregate ourselves based on class, which often breaks down on race.
Martin: Yes, it does.
Franklin: And people but houses in new subdivisions and they move farther away and they just don’t interact anymore. The people without money get left behind. And those neighborhoods decay. And it just compounds the problem.
Martin: So the whole issue of poverty brought in both the perspective of race and class to this community. And there was a lot of conversation around it. Just the fact that—just because a person is homeless doesn’t mean they’re a drug addict or they’re this—no. An unfortunate thing happened to them where they were out of home, because they didn’t have the money. And it’s not like they’re bad people. If you look at it, that happened, and so Katrina brought a different type of conversation in this community. I think it did across the country. But it happened here. People, I think, were a little bit more aware. But as with everything, it fades.
Franklin: Yeah, yeah. We talked about some of the kind of successes in addressing civil rights in the area. What were some of the biggest challenges?
Martin: In order to get people to come and live here, as far as black individuals, there’s not a lot for them. I think that’s a major impediment. I think just the area itself, just its physical location, the actual population of African Americans here, I think, it’s probably around 2%. It’s low.
Martin: The Hispanic population is probably more around 30-ish, Tri-City-wide. Check my numbers on that one. But in Pasco it’s probably more like 70?
Franklin: Yeah, I think it’s, overall, we’re almost around 50, I think.
Martin: Overall in the whole Tri-Cities?
Franklin: I think—last time I checked—at least in schools. Because I taught at—
Martin: Oh, in schools, yes.
Franklin: I taught a class in American history, and Pasco was about 70% Latino, Kennewick’s about 50, Richland’s about 20-25. So I think if you average that out, you’d get somewhere probably around 40-50.
Martin: Between 40-50, okay.
Franklin: But it could be 30-40.
Martin: No, you’re a lot closer numbers.
Franklin: It’s still pretty significant.
Martin: Yes. I mean, real significant. So, the fact that we have—it’s changing. That’s what’s changed here. I think it’s no different than the rest of the country. There’s this fear factor. I mean, I think you see all this immigration topics and fear. It has a lot to do with that changing face of America. I think you’re seeing some of that here. I don’t think. I know you’re seeing some of that here, okay?
Martin: I’m not sure how people want to react to it. I sit on the board for Kadlec Hospital. Matter of fact, at present time, I’m the chair of the board. And looking at your service areas and looking at the makeup of who comes in for services and having to deal with the poor and the vulnerable. We have three hospitals: Lourdes, Trios, and Kadlec; Kadlec being the biggest, and we have probably 55-60% of the market. Trios has about 20-25. And Lourdes is a critical care hospital, so it’s going to be low. It’s restricted to 25 beds. And it has probably 10-ish percent. I tell you that because in working that scheme of things, you can see how people’s attitudes will get to who is the primary customers there. More and more people are of the Medicaid, which is healthcare for the poor. And of course with the changing baby boomer retirement deals, a lot of them go on Medicare, and those are hard to balance, because you get paid less for those for services than you do in the commercial market. And in that comes a conversation around who is the makeup of your customers.
So I hear conversations. I say, well, that is who we are. That’s who we have to serve. We have to figure out how we’re going to serve those better. So people will tend to, eventually, coalesce around certain aspects of race, of what you’re seeing. And understand that that’s who our customer is.
It’s actually a very positive—I’ve seen a very positive change. You want to make sure people understand and represent—and I represent myself as well as I can in those scenarios. So, the Tri-Cities is going through a change. Like you said, the Hispanic population being as large as it is, they’re more impactful, both from the dollar, as well as what they want to see for services. You know, you have some people say, why does everything have to be in Spanish and in English? Have you looked at who we’re serving?! I mean! It has to be. We must do that, in order to be fair, right? So I’ve seen those, I see them happening. It’s a good thing. So the Tri-Cities—you notice, I just say Tri-Cities. I’m not a native. Well, I guess I am now, but.
Franklin: I was going to say, you’ve been here a lot longer than I have.
Martin: I didn’t grow up here, right?
Martin: So I just look at it as three cities. I call it Tri-Cities. It’d be nice if they were consolidated, but—
Franklin: Me, too. It could just be one city called Tri-Cities. I know, I’ve always—
Martin: That’s the way I put it, anyway. So, I hope for the better. I stay active. Even though I retired, I stay active and involved in things in the community. Less than I was, but enough to see change.
Franklin: Yeah. I wanted to add, just real quick, fill in some previous information. Where did you get your master’s and PhD?
Martin: My master’s I got though what they used to call the Joint Center for Graduate Studies.
Franklin: Right, right here.
Martin: Which is WSU, right here. And I got it through the University of Washington, because that’s who offered that particular degree. When I went to get my PhD, it had become WSU, and I was the first person who was able to stitch together a PhD program that was a joint between main campus and here. They had this thing called the residency rule. Pfft. Basically, what it said was, you must spend at least two years of your PhD on campus, on the main campus.
Franklin: Right, probably because they want your residence money.
Martin: That’s not the way they present it to you.
Franklin: Well, of course not.
Martin: They say, what we believe is necessary is for you to be able to be embroiled in the academic environment for which you are—
Franklin: Paying handsomely?
Martin: No, no, not paying handsomely. That will make the foundation for your PhD.
Franklin: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Martin: What a crock.
Franklin: Yeah. [LAUGHTER]
Martin: But I had to spend—I ended up, I had Karen [UNKNOWN] was the provost. We worked it out; she got approval through the main campus. I did three—two-and-a-half semesters on the campus. So I had to travel back and forth, left my family here and yadda, yadda, yadda. And then I finished it out here. Matter of fact, I had my office down here in the basement. I finished out here. So I got my PhD through Washington State University. I was the first person to get a PhD in environmental and natural resource sciences.
Franklin: Oh, wow. Congratulations.
Martin: I was the very first person. That’s not always good. Because you’re the guinea pig. I really questioned whether I was going to go and get it, but Dr. Wiley, he was retiring. He said—you know, that’s the credential thing. If you look at me, I was close to 40, I guess. It was in the early ‘90s when I jumped off the cliff and did it. I was leaving an environment, scientific environment where I knew who my mentors were, I knew who my colleagues were. They were supportive. And I was going to go into a whole different thing on campus with professors I didn’t have any clue who they were, they didn’t have, necessarily, my best interests in mind.
So, I did that. They had my life in their hands. That’s a scary thing. At least it was for me, going and doing that. But I did it, and I worked my way through it. As I say to people, they go, what does it take to get a PhD? I say, well—I’m very simple in my approaches of things—I say, well, you only have to do two things: satisfy your graduate school; satisfy your committee. Get them to sign off on the documents. Once you’re done that, you’re done. You know? But! It’s not easy to do either one of those things, either one of those.
And long story short, I ended up getting it. I think I was the first person—because at the time when I finally got it, I got it as a WSU Tri-Cities student. I was the first person. So not a lot of the people now don’t have to do the residency program. There’s PhD programs here. But that’s where I got my education. So, my bachelor’s was WSU, master’s is University of Washington, PhD, WSU.
Franklin: Wow. When you came here in 1975 and then came back, how did you feel at the time about working, if not directly on the development of nuclear weapons, at a site that played a large essential role in the development of nuclear weapons?
Martin: Well, let me correct you.
Martin: The national laboratory is in Richland. It has some facilities that happen to be on the Hanford Site.
Martin: So I never really worked for Hanford, how’s that? I worked at Hanford only because the facilities were on the southern part of the Site.
Franklin: You did work for a Hanford contractor.
Martin: Well! I don’t even count that.
Franklin: Okay. [LAUGHTER]
Martin: That was something I did to make some money.
Franklin: Certainly, though—
Martin: But we had an association now with the Hanford Site. I did projects that were related to problems at the Hanford Site. Some of the waste issues, some of the burial issues, yes. But I always want to correct people: I never worked, in my, let’s say, my real career.
Martin: So, how did I feel about working at the Hanford Site, the thing that was associated with the bomb?
Martin: You got to remember, I’m a scientist. That was one of the greatest scientific discoveries ever. Although, what it did to Japan was horrific. But yet, it’s the same science that creates nuclear power. So, it’s scientific discovery. I’m good with it.
I never had any—as far as waste disposal and its impact on the environment and all that, I understand a lot of that. I think a lot of it is overblown. There are contaminants; yes, yes. Some of them got in the river; yes, yes. But there’s actually more negative impact from fertilizers going into the Columbia than there was with radioactive material. Most of the problems out at Hanford, the waste problems, are pretty contained. There are certain amounts that are in the subsurface, granted, they’re there. But they’re there. Don’t be going out and drilling a well down there and pulling up water to drink. Wouldn’t be a good thing.
So, I have probably a slightly different perspective. But I’m very comfortable. Once again, because my background in science and I got to study a lot of those waste contaminants. As a matter of fact, my PhD was related to one of the components, carbon-14, and its transport mechanisms through the subsurface, explaining exactly how it happens, what happens. And I was able to prove that the general understanding was incorrect in how it is retained. So I have an association.
Franklin: What do you think is the most important legacy of the Hanford Site?
Martin: Wow, legacy. Most important legacy. Well, it helped end the war. Some people may not be—there’s a debate on whether we should’ve dropped the bomb or not. I’m not probably telling you anything haven’t already heard. But that is its legacy. It’s connected to the bomb.
Now, there are some scientific advances that are being made associated with the cleanup that have now been able to use in other cleanup activities that are related to Hanford and what was done there. Transport of materials above ground. This whole vitrification plant that’s going in. There was a vitrification plant, I think, in the UK, but this is going to be way bigger, much more complex. There is going to be science—there has been science that’s come out of it, from understanding what they had to do, and I think there’ll be further. So the first legacy is the bomb. The second is, what are the spinoff technologies that we’re going to see from what we study in the creation of the vitrification plant.
Franklin: What would you like future generations to know about working near Hanford and living in Richland during the Cold War?
Martin: Say that again?
Franklin: What would you like future generations to know about working near Hanford, or related to Hanford, and living in Richland during the Cold War?
Martin: Present and future generations, if you want to be involved from a scientific point of view in problems that are challenging, you come here. You come to the lab or you come to work at the Site, you are going to experience science challenges that you’re not going to find anywhere else. National labs, there’s more than just this one. Okay? So always, in part of my recruiting of individuals, was if you want to be involved in scientific discovery that is new, challenging, and transferrable, you come work at the lab. You want to take on a challenge that’s like nowhere else as far as waste disposal, you come to Hanford. Hanford has a lot of different aspects to that cleanup, from the mundane, people just driving trucks, moving dirt from here to there, burying it, to the people who have put together the vitrification plant and taken on the challenges of putting together a system never been done before. So that’s—if I put it in a nutshell, that’s what I’d put in it.
Franklin: Is there anything else you’d like to mention related to migration, work experiences, segregation and civil rights and how they impacted your life at Hanford and in the Tri-Cities?
Martin: The way I look at a lot of those issues, you just put them all together, I always say to folks, me as a black individual in America, I wouldn’t be here, I wouldn’t’ve had the opportunities I had, if it wasn’t for civil rights, if it wasn’t for affirmative action. For all those people who piss and moan about affirmative action, I would not have had—and I know it to this day—I would not have gotten the opportunity to go to school, gotten a job at PNNL. You might call me an affirmative action hire. I’ll be proud of that. Okay? So, I believe, as an individual, I ride on the shoulders of many.
I will tell you, this is kind of a story. I have an aunt, she’s passed away now. Auntie Anna. Auntie Anna was my mother’s favorite aunt. When I was struggling to decide whether I was going to go and get my PhD, because, seriously, I was like, why do I really want to go do this? I went down and sat with my aunt—she lived down in what they called the Jungle in LA, not a good part of town. We sat in her room, she smoked, and we’re sitting there talking, and I said, you know, Auntie Anna, I’m trying to decide if I’m going to do this. And she was pissed. [LAUGHTER] She goes, Wayne, I have known you for forever, and you know, me, your aunts and your uncles, we went through a lot of struggles. And they’re offering you this opportunity to go back and you’d be the only one in our family to get a PhD and you’re sitting here trying to decide whether you’re going to do it or not?! What is wrong with you? When you leave here, you go sign up right now. She made it apparent that I have opportunities because of her and others. I won’t forget that conversation. It is kind of part of why I went through and did it. She was one of them, besides Wiley.
So a lot of what is happening in America, for those that might hear me speaking or wherever, and for those that might even know me, I might not have shared some of these things with them. But without those things happening, I could’ve been born in New Roads, Louisiana and still be there under oppression. Because when I go back there, there is a lot of people who are not doing a whole lot, didn’t get a whole lot of opportunity. But for many of those, like my father, who left and went out and became in the service and we moved and I got to be exposed to different things. That’s who I’m made up of now. And without those, yeah, I have skills. But you know, there’s a lot of people have skills. They just may not have the opportunity to express them. A lot of the civil rights stuff is why I have the opportunity that I’ve had.
Franklin: That’s very well said, Wayne. Thank you for coming to the interview with.
Martin: Hey, that was great!
Franklin: It’s been a wonderful interview.
Martin: Hopefully I said the right things or did the right things. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Yeah, no, you--
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Pacific Northwest National Laboratory