Lonnie R. Bunkley was born in Bonham in 1903 and his family came to Denison from Indian territory in 1906 where his father accepted a job with the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad the next year. Bunkley is the subject of our first Black History Month articles saluting present and past lives of African-Americans in Denison.

Lonnie R. Bunkley was born in Bonham in 1903 and his family came to Denison from Indian territory in 1906 where his father accepted a job with the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad the next year. Bunkley is the subject of our first Black History Month articles saluting present and past lives of African-Americans in Denison.


Denison was growing by leaps and bounds and the population had grown to approximately 25,000 by the time the 1970 census was taken. By then, about 3,000 African-Americans lived here, according to a book written by Bunkley, "Journey to Freedom." The book is a genealogical study of an African-American family and the political and social issues that impacted their lives from 1778-2013.


Bunkley’s is an active genealogical researcher who searches for answers about the future of African-Americans through the careful study of the history of his own family. He grew up in Denison, attending the two-room Langston Elementary School and graduating from Terrell High School in 1948. He now lives in Los Angeles and is the only members of his immediate family who never lived in Texas as an adult.


He remembers growing up in the 1940s in Denison where the small black neighborhood businesses included barber shops, beauty salons, the local office of the Atlanta Life Insurance Co., auto repair shops, taxi cabs, two clinics-hospitals, corner grocery stores, carpenters and restaurants with barbecue, chili and hamburger as their specialty. Bunkley’s own family owned a barbecue restaurant on Morton Street.


Black professionals in Denison during his growing-up days included two physicians, a dentist, school principals, 41 teachers over time, and two morticians. Three of Bunkley’s uncles, Lonnie, Sam and Jack, worked for the Katy (MK&T) Railroad.


"Journey to Freedom" traces eight generations, from 1778 to 2013, of the Bunkley family from Hertford County, N.C., through the Deep South and Denison, and to Los Angeles. The family moves through slavery, emancipation, poverty and discrimination as they struggled to find their dream of freedom.


His well-researched genealogical study also discusses the more general African-American experiences of each historical period, linking Bunkley’s family with the contemporary political events of their times. He makes sensitive observations about the events of today that continue to impact the lives of African Americans.


The family’s struggles and victories: from Bunkley’s father, Ike’s run into the night "between the suns" to escape the terror of 1892 to celebrations and other successful ventures that brought strength and inspiration to the family.


Bunkley studied his ancestors, reaching back eight generations and chronicled the events of their lives that were exciting and challenging. He uses the words Negro, black and African-American interchangeably, depending upon the time in history or the word he preferred at the time.


As slaves, through at least four recorded generations, his ancestors had no personal records or property and documentation of their lives through the early years is limited to public records, activities of slave owners and documents that he could research.


This is the first historical documentation of the Bunkley family and the author said follow-up studies will be done. He said it would be challenging to learn more about earlier generations of the family near Jamestown, Va., the first permanent English settlement, and where the first blacks arrived in the colonies from Africa about 150 years ago before his earliest known ancestors lived nearby.


"Members of my family did not always have easy or comfortable lives. During slavery, they were workers on farms and plantations. Their lives, and sometimes murderous deaths, were matters for civil, not criminal, courts," Bunkley writes.


During their first years as free persons, Bunkley said his family members became part of the working poor, but they were hard workers, and persevered.


His research provides an interesting study illustrating the historical development of one African-American family’s journey toward freedom. Bunkley hopes that it will serve as a source for future research and that his family and other families can benefit from knowing about their heritage and will pass it along to future generations.


Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at d.hunt_903@yahoo.com.