Mattie Bell Powell was born in Rochester, NY on May 7th, 1921 to Harvey and Corrie Nobles. Mattie was the oldest of four children. Her siblings are Harvey, Jr (Bubba), Mildred, and “JW” (Jackson Washington). When she was young, they traveled with her parents to a funeral in South Carolina, and after a few weeks with family, they decided to move back there for good. They settled in the city of Aiken on Kershaw Street, where Mattie’s father built their house for them as he was a skilled carpenter. Mattie attended elementary, middle and high schools in Aiken.
She was baptized at Friendship African Baptist Church. As a teenager, she was able to work at several hotels in Aiken since it was a popular winter vacation destination for wealthy families throughout the US. She also stayed with her Aunt Thelma in New York over the summer and would work for families as a Nanny. She would save up her money to make sure she had the latest fashions and clothing at that time. Mattie wanted to pursue a college degree and become a teacher, so her grandmother who was a registered nurse, paid for her tuition in full.
Several years later, her sister Mildred moved to Boston, and at the firm request of her mother, Mattie accompanied her. This is where she met Joshua Powell, Jr from Columbia, SC. The first time they met was at a party, and Josh was on the dance floor showing off his moves. As a great dancer herself, Mattie quickly noticed, and the rest is history. They were soon married and had three children, Joshua III, Tyrone and Madeline. Joshua was a barber, so together they opened the Powell Barbershop and Hollywood Barbershop. They eventually opened up three shops in Roxbury and Mattapan. Mattie became the first black female Master Barber in MA. Hollywood Barber Shop became a fixture in African American neighborhoods of Boston for decades. and as the first black family to own a home on their street in Dorchester, they proudly opened their doors to many family and friends.
After helping to establish the barber shops, Mattie returned to teaching as an elementary school teacher for the Boston Public Schools in the Brighton, Roxbury and Dorchester neighborhoods. She taught kindergarten in the Boston Public Schools for 25 years. During this time, she received her Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education from Boston State College. Her longest and final teaching job was as Kindergarten teacher at the William Monroe Trotter School in Roxbury. She had the pleasure of even seeing some of her grandchildren graduate from that school while she was there.
Teaching was really where Mattie was able to demonstrate her love of children and devotion for reading. Mattie developed a passion for reciting poems at an early age and wanted her students to be exposed to the importance of reading and writing. Anyone that knows her has had the pleasure of hearing her recite a poem at least once. Her memory of countless essays and verses from the early days of childhood to her time in college on the Speech team, was nothing short of remarkable. Up until the very last weeks of her life Mattie was still able to recall countless poems that she would proudly recite at the drop of a hat.
Her love of poetry and writing lent itself well to the world of music. She loved to write and sing songs. She performed at community centers, nursing homes and other special events as her son Tyrone accompanied her on the piano. They would frequently start impromptu concerts in her own living room for family and friends and have created several CD’s together with a compilation of their music. She was a performer. And if that wasn’t enough, she loved to dance. As a member of the “Sensational Seniors” dance group, she performed in numerous recitals at the Reggie Lewis Community Center and the Roxbury YMCA. Even at her 98th birthday party she joined her great grand-children on the dance floor for the “Cupid Shuffle”. Her other loves included her frequent trips to New York to spend time with her children and her family. She cherished spending time on the beach and walking in the park anytime that she could.
Mattie and Joshua were devoted Christian Scientists. They regularly attended the Second Church in Roxbury and the Mother Church in the Back Bay of Boston. She taught Sunday School classes for a number of years, and led the weekly service as a Christian Science Reader. Her grandchildren fondly remember "Nana" bringing them to Sunday School at both churches. She regularly read her daily lessons and remained an active member of the community.
Mattie was one of the most eloquent poets, singers, orators, mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers of our time. Her wisdom, calm spirit and love carry on through everyone that has had the blessing of knowing her. Her children, Joshua III, Tyrone and Madeline and grandchildren Michelle and Tanya are all welcoming her in heaven, but her light of peace carries on with her Grandchildren: Lesa Powell, Joshua Powell IV, Keisha Powell-Burgess (Shawn), Armando Powell, Kira Powell (Zachary), Jarrod Powell, Rhonda Hamilton-Ross; Great – grandchildren: Rashawna, Shawn, Madeline, Kayla, Tyleek, Tiniah, Dionne, Giovanni, Joshaya, Brianna, Damonni, Brittani, Myles, Carter and a host of great-great grandchildren, nephews, nieces, cousins and friends.
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