Saturday, November 17, 2012

Unearthing Hidden Jewels

Photo by Dennis Cox

Let me be frank. I cannot imagine going through life without having vast knowledge about the accomplishments of my own ancestors, the people whose blood flows through my veins.  In addition to having knowledge about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and many other noted African Americans who are often commemorated during Black History Month, I want to know as much as I can about my past family members who made a difference in their communities in their own ways. I’ve been researching since 1993, and I realize that (1) I still have a lot to learn about their accomplishments, and (2) researching to unearth those hidden and untold “jewels” will be a life-long journey.  Recently, Angela Walton-Raji made these facts very evident!

While attending the AAHGS conference in Little Rock, Arkansas in October 2011, Angela, a renowned genealogist, historian, and my “genealogy buddy” for nearly 20 years, became fascinated by the buried accomplishments and life of Madam Martha “Mattie” E. Danner Hockenhull. Angela also happens to be the great-great-granddaughter of my great-great-grandfather Pleasant Barr’s second wife Amanda Young.  She had no idea that Mattie Hockenhull was my maternal grandmother’s aunt, my great-grandmother’s sister.  Instead of me sharing how researching Mattie Hockenhull led Cousin Angela back to me, check out her blog post, The Search For and Discovery of Madam Martha Danner Hockenhull.”

I first learned about Aunt Mattie from my late and dear cousin, Vivian Ivory Jones, when I moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 1996. Cousin Vivian shared how Aunt Mattie had owned a beauty shop in Pine Bluff, Arkansas during the 1910’s and 1920’s. Aunt Mattie’s only child, Isaac Hockenhull, married the late great gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, in Chicago, IL.  That was all that was basically shared with me about her. Then, Cousin Vivian, whose grandmother Frances Danner Howard was also my great-grandmother’s sister, pulled out the following picture of her.  Aunt Mattie was obviously a lady of style and elegance.

Madam Martha “Mattie” Ella Danner Hockenhull
(1873 – 1937)

Yesterday, I got a Facebook message from Cousin Angela. In addition to her findings that she revealed in her blog post, she recently found more about Aunt Mattie!  Not only did Aunt Mattie run her own beauty shop in Pine Bluff, Arkansas during the early 1900’s, not only did she publish a series of publications about beauty techniques in 1917 (see Angela’s blog post for pictures), not only was she the former mother-in-law of Mahalia Jackson, but this elegant lady, who was born just eight years after slavery near Como, Mississippi, also ran a correspondence school!  This additional fact was discovered in a 1917 edition of the Muskogee Cimeter, a black newspaper published in Oklahoma.  Excitingly, Angela also expressed the following, “Note that in 1917, she had a telephone! Most families did not get phones till the 1950’s! She was ahead of her time!” I am so proud to claim this lady as my great-grand-aunt!  One can only imagine what else will be unearthed, not only about Aunt Mattie, but about others with whom I share DNA. The same goes for you, too!

 1917 article from the Muskogee Cimeter newspaper; shared by Angela Walton-Raji
Many Thanks to Angela!


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  2. Cousin Melvin, Your dear Aunt Mattie, (and Madame Hockenhull as she was known in Arkansas) was a real treasure---she is one of those unexpected gems that one finds by just keeping one's eyes open. I was so amazed when I found that item a few days ago in an Oklahoma newspaper from 1917! We never know when stories will emerge for us--but we must all know that sometimes we have to follow those trails when they appear. When I saw the books that she published in Arkansas, I asked who she was and well--the rest is history. Madame Hockenhull has taken me on a fascinating journey!

    1. My mom posted the following in the Danner Family Facebook page: "Wonderful! Angela has also done some very interesting research, especially connecting the data surrounding Aunt Martha Hockenhull. So amazing.. I can recall my mother talking about her and her son Isaac. It is great to see a picture of her. I can see a little feature of my mother. This is really awesome!"

  3. It is always amazing to find those little things abt our Ancestors that make them unique. Loved it. STrong Woman!

  4. Melvin, Congratulations on such a great find. I am originally from Pine Bluff and I have recently published a book entitled, African Americans of Pine Bluff and Jefferson County. I had read scant references to the Hockenhulls as members of the Negro Business League but I didn't have enough information or images to put them in the book. However, when I do the follow-up book I am DEFINITELY including information about your aunt. In fact, if you have more information about her I would love if you could forward it. If I find out any nice morsels of info in my other research, I will surely be in contact with you.

  5. By the way, is it possible that a J.T. Hockenhull is related to Mattie? According to this weblink,, J.T is listed as an African American barber in Pine Bluff in 1938. Since the name is not common, I assume that there could be a relationship.


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