Martha Hawkins

Martha Hawkins Biography

African-American chef and author Martha Hawkins rebounded from personal troubles to found the popular Martha's Place restaurant in Montgomery, Alabama.


Born on June 30, 1947, in Montgomery, Alabama, Martha Hawkins dropped out of school at 16 and endured serious financial and emotional setbacks as a single mother. After being released from psychiatric care, she pulled her life together and opened the popular Martha's Place restaurant in 1988. Since recognized for her work with other single mothers, Hawkins released her memoir/cookbook in 2010.

Early Life

Martha Hawkins was born at home to parents Willie and Sallie in segregated Montgomery, Alabama, on June 30, 1947. Although her twin sister did not survive childbirth, she became part of a bustling household as the 10th of 12 children.

Hawkins was as a tomboy in her early years, but her mother's cooking for their large family began to fascinate her. Though too poor to buy much food, Sallie could transform a basket of vegetables from the back garden into a feast for family and friends.

Following her mother's lead, Hawkins learned to cook when she was 12. She attended Booker T. Washington High School, but dropped out at 16 to get married because she was pregnant.

Trials and Tribulations

Hawkins was bereft of many basic living skills as a teenager, becoming pregnant twice before gaining an understanding of how it happened. She divorced her first husband after catching him cheating on her, but became involved in a string of bad relationships and had three more sons.

Hawkins lost her job at a glass company, and eventually her family was evicted from their home for non-payment of bills. Along with having to go on welfare, Hawkins endured a series of health issues, including a kidney removal and ruptured appendix, that kept her in and out of hospitals for most of the 1970s. She eventually attempted to commit suicide by overdosing on prescription drugs, but was spared death when her youngest son found her and rushed her to the hospital.

After being admitted to a psychiatric facility, Hawkins became empowered by her Christian faith. She realized she had been swept along by various relationships in her life, including those with her doctors, because she had not been entirely honest with them. After leaving the facility, she obtained her GED and took counseling courses.

Restaurateur and Author

In addition to her mother, Hawkins drew inspiration from Georgia Gilmore, another Montgomery resident who had been active in the Civil Rights Movement and served such notable figures as Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy from the restaurant she ran out of her home.

Hawkins secured a loan and the opportunity to fix up an old house in Montgomery for use as her dream restaurant. With assistance from the community, Martha's Place was open for business by 1988. According to Hawkins, when a local paper printed an article on the succulent Deep South fare offered there, "the lines went down the block and have stayed that way pretty much ever since."

In 2004, she was awarded the Ruth Fertel Keeper of the Flame Award to spotlight her achievements and her work with Martha Hawkins Ministries, an organization that helps single parents and low-income children. Her 2010 cookbook-cum-memoir, Finding Martha's Place: My Journey Through Sin, Salvation, and Lots of Soul Food, served up the story of her journey in her homespun vernacular, along with some mouthwatering recipes.

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