On July 19, 1945, future Little Rock City Manager Mahlon A. Martin was born in Little Rock.
After graduating in 1963 from Horace Mann High School, he attended Philander Smith College. (He had received a baseball scholarship to Grambling, but chose to remain in Little Rock to be near his ailing grandmother.) Martin graduated from Philander Smith in 1967 with a degree in business administration.
After working in the private sector for two years, Martin was hired by City Manager Jack T. Meriwether to work for the City of Little Rock in 1969 after the City had received a Model Cities grant. Martin started working with community organizations and then became promoted to the City’s recruiting officer.
In 1972, he was named to leadership posts at the four-county Central Arkansas Manpower Program. Three years later, he returned to the City of Little Rock to work on the staff of City Manager Carleton McMullin. In 1976, Martin was named Assistant City Manager for Little Rock.
Martin left City Hall in 1979 to become a top executive at Systematics, Inc. However, his stint in the private sector was short-lived. In 1980, the City Board of Directors asked him to come back and be Little Rock’s sixth City Manager. At thirty-four, he was one of the youngest chief administrators of a major city in the country and the first African American City Manager for Little Rock.
In 1983, Governor Bill Clinton asked him to join the state of Arkansas as the Director of the Department of Finance and Administration. He was the first African American to lead that or any major Arkansas state department. Throughout his tenure with the State, he oversaw numerous initiatives to restore the state to sound financial footing.
Martin joined the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation as president in 1989. He held that position until his death in 1995.
The name Mahlon Martin lives on in a son and grandson named after him, in an apartment complex on south Main Street, in a street in Clinton Presidential Park, and in the City of Little Rock’s Employee of the Year award. The latter was created by City Manager Bruce T. Moore in 2004. At the time Moore noted that Martin had been so popular while City Manager, “It was said you could criticize the Razorbacks to a City of Little Rock employee, but you better not say anything bad about Mahlon Martin to them.”
In 2001, Mahlon Martin was posthumously inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame. A decade later, the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies created a fellowship in his memory. It supports research and programming in the field of public policy in Arkansas. In 2015, he was included in the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail.