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Remembering the impact of Bobby Martin Sr. and the Big M Stable

Bobby Martin Sr. in competition. Martin died last week at age 86.

The Druid Hills community lost a legend last week with the passing of Bobby Martin Sr. The 86-year-old Martin was not only a longtime award-winning champion in rodeo and English competition styles in the day, but he owns Big M Stables just off Statesville Road near downtown.

Every year, he held a large, free all-day event for the community at Big M, with riding competitions, horse rides, music and food. Throughout his life, Martin freely shared his expertise with others, especially African Americans and young people around Charlotte. Many who would not have had access to horses had it not been for "Mr. Bobby or Pops," as he was affectionately called.

Druid Hills Teenager: Mr. Bobby was a good horse trainer for me. He started me off with horses and I want to say I love him and I'm going to miss him and he keep me out trouble.

Gwendolyn Glenn: That was a Druid Hills teenager speaking at the memorial held last Sunday for Martin at Big M. About a couple of hundred people sat and stood on the grounds and sloping banks surrounding the property. William "Bam" Walker was one of them. Martin helped him own and learn to ride horses, and he remembered Martin and the respect he fought to gain in an almost exclusively white field.

William "Bam" Walker: They thought he was cleaning the horses. But he owned the horses. You know, I could imagine him being called names, spit on. Y'all know how the story go.

Glenn: Martin owned about 20 horses at one time and was successful in gaining the right to compete in all-white competitions for himself and several of his six children when the events were segregated. Black stable owners in attendance credited Martin with being the reason they owned stables today, such as Larry Baker, known as Bingo. He owns a stable in Charlotte and Monroe and is opening a third one in Concord. He says he met Martin in 2008.

Larry "Bingo" Baker: I went to pick a friend up to go play golf, and he was down at Mr. Bobby's stables. And I asked him, "What was he doing there?" He said he had a horse there. And he showed it to me, and I said, "Man, that's ... wow, I want a horse." He said, "Well, you got to find out what you want and then, you know, go talk to Mr. Bobby and see if Mr. Bobby will let you bring your horse here."

So I went and talked to Mr. Bobby, and he said, "Yeah, you can bring a horse here, young man, if you want to." And we never made it to play golf. I ended up in Tennessee purchasing a horse.

Glenn: How did your relationship with Mr. Bobby go from there?

Baker: It went from him being a really good friend, a mentor, to actually feeling like family.

Courtesy Big M Stable
One of many young men to learn how to ride a horse at Big M Stable

Glenn: So what kinds of things did he teach you that you didn't know?

Baker: I didn't know anything about riding horses. He did teach me how to saddle a horse, how to ride a horse. But yeah, there was times where people would hang out at the barn, and I didn't really want to be around all the people, you know, everybody telling me this and telling me that. So I would go down there at times that day. That way, Mr. Bobby could show many things that I wanted to know or needed to know,

Glenn: And sounds like there were a lot of people all the time at the same ...

Baker: Oh yeah. All ages, all colors.

Glenn: And I went to the memorial Sunday, and a lot of young people, teenagers said he introduced them to horse riding. How he helped them stay out of trouble. Did you see that part of him?

Baker: You could see Mr. Bobby at any time. He would go out and sit under that tree. And when those kids come running down that hill, you could see Mr. Bobby light up like a Christmas tree. He would always say that if they're here, I know where they are and they ain't getting in trouble.

Big M Stable
Bobby's son, Ronnie, who will take over for his father at the Big M Stable

Glenn: And that's what he did. Did you ever attend the annual rodeos that he would do for the community every year? And what did you feel when you were there?

Baker: Yeah, of course I attended it; sometimes I would be his judge. They would just drag me in the ring and whatever you want big guy.

Big M Stables
Bobby Martin Sr. at one of his community shows.

Glenn: And what did that mean for that community?

Baker: It means everything to that community. You know, you're talking about years and years and years. I'm 49. So then you have my generation and then there's a guy named Kurt. Kurt's been going there since he was a little boy and Kurt is 30. Then you have the twins and they're in their teens. I know for a fact that I can talk with somebody in the teens 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s that grew up in that era with Mr. Bobby.

Glenn: And I guess being around him, that kind of gave you the incentive to own your own stables?

Baker: Yes, it did. Absolutely. He's the guy that's going to push you to be better.

Glenn: Hearing people like you and Mr. Bobby, ... and then you hear people who say they don't know of any African Americans who are into the equestrian field or who owned stables. What do you say to them in terms of African Americans and in terms of the equestrian field?

Baker: In order to know that we own horses, you have to come to the places we are. It's so many of us out here now. You know, we do Martin Luther King parades. We just started doing the Juneteenth parade and we just put on first Black History Month Black Parade in Charlotte this past January.

So I mentioned this to Ralph Rate the other day, Ralph grew up down at Mr. Bobby's barn, that Mr. Bobby has 85%of us Black, African American horse owners riding horses today. And Ralph said no. About 95% of us came through Mr. Bobby. Like his son said, Ronnie said, he made it affordable for Black people to own a horse. And you know, I'm living the same life today.

Benjamin Byers (singing): Right on little Bobby. No man can hinder you.

Gwendolyn Glenn
Balloons float in honor of Bobby Martin at his memorial service on Sunday, Oct. 3

Glenn: Guitarist Benjamin Byers performed that song at the memorial before hundreds of balloons were released in the air at the end of the event. Martin's sons will continue to run Big M. His family says a horse-driven carriage will take Martin from the church homegoing service on Saturday to his burial site in Huntersville.

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