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Former NC Gov. Jim Martin’s exhibit sticks to the facts

Former Gov. Jim Martin is the first governor to star in his own exhibit at the N.C. Museum of History.

“The Martin Years, 1985-1993” opened this month after the former governor donated personal items to the museum collection. While the museum offers an exhibit on North Carolina governors during each gubernatorial inauguration, the Martin display is the first to focus on a single state leader.

“This donation tied in with the 30th anniversary of his election,” curator RaeLana Poteat said. “It’s a retrospective of his time in office as governor, told through the artifacts we’ve received.”

Many of the donated items showcase the personal side of Martin, such as his tuba, musical compositions and a Rubik’s cube he used in his campaigns. “I don’t know of any other governors that we have a tuba for,” Poteat said.

Among the other unusual items: a red campaign kite made by Martin’s son Jim Jr., a green sports coat that got Martin in trouble when he wore it to the Augusta National Golf Club, and a “Happiness is a Republican governor” button.

The explanatory panels seek to sum up Martin’s eight years in office: “He led a revolution of the Republican Party, yet was also considered a moderate conservative who was willing to work across party lines.” And they tout specific accomplishments, including the creation of the Highway Trust Fund, the Roanoke River Refuge and the Uplift Day Care program.

Poteat said the museum was careful about how it presented the former governor’s tenure, given that North Carolinians may have conflicting views about his legacy. “We try to stick to the facts,” she said.

The exhibit features one detail about Martin’s life after leaving office – a summary of his new book, “Revelation Through Science,” which looks at the evolving relationship between science and religion. The exhibit doesn’t mention Martin’s other recent project, a report about the academic fraud scandal at UNC Chapel Hill. That report didn’t detail the full extent of the scandal, which was later uncovered in a more detailed report from investigator Kenneth Wainstein.

Gary Pearce, a Democratic strategist and author of a biography about Gov. Jim Hunt, said he’s not surprised Martin’s legacy is getting a spotlight during a Republican administration.

“We might have to look into asking for equal time” at the museum, Pearce joked. “Maybe one day they’ll do one for a Democratic governor.”

The Martin exhibit is on the first floor of the museum and runs through Jan. 4.