Sunday, September 15, 2013

Oral History Interview

I FOUND THE CASSETTE TAPE! On April 8, 2005, I drove to Memphis, TN to capture my late Cousin Robert Danner’s family recollections on tape. This was for an assignment for one of my graduate classes while pursuing my Master of Arts degree in African-American Studies from Clark Atlanta Univ.  The day of this interview was Cousin Robert’s 99th birthday.  Shortly after moving to Memphis in Nov. 1996, I developed a close relationship with him. Born on April 8, 1906 near Como, Mississippi, he was my maternal grandmother’s first cousin and my great-grandmother Mary Danner Davis’ nephew.  He became like a grandfather to me; he shared so much with me about our family history.  In fact, Mississippi to Africa: A Journey of Discovery would not have been possible if it wasn’t for his clear mind and vivid recollections.  I often brag that Cousin Robert was a “Walking History Book,” and now you can hear why.

This interview is presented here in 5 short clips with a synopsis of what he had shared with me many times during the 11 years I was blessed to have him in my life.  Really, this is just a small portion of all the knowledge he poured onto me.  Cousin Robert Danner joined the ancestors three years after this interview on April 9, 2008, at the age of 102. I am thrilled to be able to share his voice, his kind spirit, and his wonderful recollections with family members and the world. Two thumbs up for technology!

Cousin Robert Danner with his longtime companion/”girlfriend,” Ruthie Mae Byers (left), and our cousin, Orien Reid Nix (right), taken in 1998, Memphis, TN

AUDIO CLIP 1 (7:40): Cousin Robert shares his memory of his grandmother, Louisa “Lue” Bobo Danner (1842-1921) of Panola County (Como), MS (my great-great-grandmother), and why he and his baby sister were afraid of her when they were small children.  He also shares how Grandma Lue got her land (100 acres).

Louisa “Lue” Bobo Danner (1842-1921)

AUDIO CLIP 2 (8:00): Cousin Robert talks about how his father, Uncle Alfred Danner, quit school to work after his father Edward “Ed” Danner had passed away on Sept. 15, 1876.  Ed Danner was only 42 years old. He shared more recollections of his grandmother, Lue.  He recalls her white half-brother, Sandy Wilbourn. In this interview, he said Sandy was her “Daddy” in error but in previous conversations, he confirmed that Sandy was her brother.  He also recalls what his grandmother Lue had told him about how they had church during slavery. He shares about how he and his family lived on Dr. Archie Yarbrough’s farm near Como. Lastly, he talked about how his church, Mt. Moriah C.M.E.Church (Como), began shortly after slavery.

Cousin Robert’s father, Alfred Danner (1863-1961), sitting with his sister, Laura Danner Reid (1871-1955)

AUDIO CLIP 3 (8:00): Cousin Robert continues talking about the history of Mt. Moriah Church and how it was built shortly after slavery by his grandfather Ed, the Pratchers, etc. He discusses the injustice of sharecropping. He recalls the elders he remembered during his childhood, and how his grandmother’s sisters would visit her and they had “church” out in the road. He shares how his grandmother Lue would be shouting as she walked to church (Mt. Moriah).

Mt. Moriah C.M.E. Church near Como, MS. The red arrow points to the spot where Cousin Robert showed me where Grandma Lue Danner was buried on July 6, 1921.

AUDIO CLIP 4 (4:14):  Cousin Robert confirms that his father, Alfred Danner, was born into slavery. He describes his grandmother Lue’s house. He talks about his Aunt Martha’s son, Isaac Gray (who changed his last name to Hockenhull after his stepfather, his mother’s 2nd husband.). Cousin Isaac Hockenhull married the great gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson. Remarkably, he shares accounts of what his father told him about how he raised money to pay the lawyer so that Grandma Lue could get a widow’s pension from the federal government.  Her husband Edward Danner (my great-great-grandfather) fought with the 59th Regiment of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) during the Civil War.  Cousin Robert shares how he heard that black soldiers fought in the War with sticks.

1880 Panola County, MS Census showing Cousin Robert’s father, Alfred Danner, in his mother’s household. His reported age was 18. My great-grandmother was Mary.

AUDIO CLIP 5:  Cousin Robert discusses how a white store-owner in Como, named Charlie Chambers, surprisingly revealed to him that his wife, Mrs. Maggie “A.T.” Wilbourn Chambers, was a first cousin to his father, Alfred.  He recalls a story of how his father Alfred had to borrow money from a white merchant in Como.  He also discusses how his father had a philosophy of a person being a “Man of his Word”. 

Cousin Robert celebrating his 100th Birthday, Memphis, TN

1910 Panola County, MS Census showing Cousin Robert Danner in his father’s household, 4 years old

Cousin Robert’s grandfather’s name is on the African-American Civil War Memorial in Washington, DC. After the Civil War, Ed changed his name back to Danner.


  1. Was glued to every word, enjoyed following the story with the pictures and audio clips. What a wonderful story to tell and well told. Centenarians in the Family is assuredly an extended blessing of Long life and legacy. Thank you for sharing, always inspirational.

  2. Wow! Such a well written and interesting read! I was thrilled to find this blog post. Ruthie Mae is my grandmother!!!

    1. Wow! How is your grandmother? She was always VERY nice to me!

  3. Excellent post! This was very interesting! My sister, Vixenlibra, told me I should checkout this post.


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