Martin, Mary Belle Littles (1903–1983)


By: Laura Lamb and Katherine Kuehler Walters

Type: Biography

Published: July 30, 2022

Updated: July 30, 2022


Mary Belle Littles Martin, piano teacher, domestic worker, and namesake of the Littles-Martin House in Corpus Christi, was the only child born to Hattie (Moore) Littles and Willis John Littles in Corpus Christi in 1903. Her parents influenced her faith and devotion to service. Her mother was adopted as an infant by Samuel Moore, a drayman, and Malvina (Garrett) Moore, a laundress and a midwife, Mary Belle’s father may have been born into slavery near the end of the Civil War in Victoria, Texas. In approximately 1876 he moved to Corpus Christi and worked as a servant for Uriah Lott, then as a gardener for physician Arthur E. Spohn and his wife Sarah Kenedy Spohn, daughter of Mifflin and Petra Kenedy. After Mary Belle’s parents married in 1900, her mother became the Spohns’ cook. The next year the couple fulfilled those same roles for Mifflin and Petra Kenedy’s son, John Gregory Kenedy, and continued to work for members of the Kenedy family for another forty-two years.

Mary Belle Littles attended Corpus Christi public and private schools for African American children during segregation. After school, she often took piano lessons from nuns at the Incarnate Word Academy in Corpus Christi (see SISTERS OF THE INCARNATE WORD AND BLESSED SACRAMENT; EDUCATION FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS). They kept the lessons secret because the school was for White students. Later, she became the organist at Holy Cross Catholic Church, a Black Catholic parish in Corpus Christi, and taught piano lessons to supplement the family’s income. She married Charles A. Weekley in a service conducted by an African Methodist Episcopal pastor on March 24, 1939, in Brownsville, Texas. The couple lived with her parents. A few months later, her husband, who was a Black police officer, died of a heart attack on September 11, 1939. The next year she married Abraham B. Martin, a janitor at Central Power and Light, on June 23, 1940, in Corpus Christi. The couple had a son, Willis A. Martin, in 1947.

Mary Belle and her mother were early and avid attendees of Holy Cross Catholic Church, which was established as a Black parish in 1917. In 1954 Hattie Littles was awarded the medal of Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, a distinguished community-service award given by Pope Pius XII, for service to the church. Mary Belle cleaned and cooked for priests in the diocese and also served on several Holy Cross parish councils (see CORPUS CHRISTI CATHOLIC DIOCESE). She spoke Spanish and had an appreciation for Mexican arts and culture and travelled to Mexico. The Littles-Martin home was a focal point for the African American community. There she babysat and taught piano. She also was like a mother to many young people in the community. Her husband died in 1956, and her mother died in 1962. Mary Belle Littles Martin lived in her home until her death on August 19, 1983. She was buried near other family members in Rose Hill Cemetery in Corpus Christi, Texas.

After Mary Belle’s death, the Holy Cross Catholic Church purchased the Littles-Martin home in hopes of preserving it as a staple of African American legacy in Corpus Christi. Some people wanted the house to be moved to Heritage Park, a multi-cultural center that had restored many large homes of wealthier local families that had been deemed of cultural importance to the community. Proponents who wanted the house moved to Heritage Park feared that the structure would be vandalized and destroyed where it stood on North Staples Street. In 1985 the church donated the home to the city of Corpus Christi, and in 1986 the Littles-Martin home was moved to Heritage Park. Restoration was funded by the John G. and Maria Stella Kennedy Memorial Foundation, a small loan from the city, and donations raised by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). It was one of the last homes to be moved to this cultural center and became the headquarters for the NAACP Corpus Christi Branch. Mary Belle’s piano remained in the home. See also CATHOLIC EDUCATION.

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times, November 15, 1943; August 28, 1955; June 28, 1957; December 6, 1964; July 20, 1976; February 1, 1977; August 21, 1983; January 31, 1985; February 17, 1985; February 17, 2022. “Heritage Park in Corpus Christi,” Corpus Christi Landmark Commission (https://www.cctexas.com/sites/default/files/PRR-CUL-Heritage-Park-History-by-CC-Landmark-Commission.pdf), accessed October 5, 2019. Mary Jo O'Rear, Cecilia Gutierrez Venable, Gloria Randle Scott, Henry J. Williams, and Bruce Glasrud, eds., Images of America: African Americans in Corpus Christi (Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2012).

Categories:
  • Education
  • Educators
  • Music
  • Religion
  • Catholic
  • Women
  • Preservationists
  • Peoples
  • African Americans
Time Periods:
  • Progressive Era
  • Great Depression
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II
Places:
  • Southeast Texas
  • Gulf Coast Region
  • Corpus Christi

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Laura Lamb and Katherine Kuehler Walters, “Martin, Mary Belle Littles,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 11, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/martin-mary-belle-littles.

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July 30, 2022
July 30, 2022

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