The Red Wagon – 1950 & 1954

Pearl and Barbara in the wagon. Kris (me) and Dee Dee standing.

Pearl and Barbara in the wagon. Kris (me) and Dee Dee standing.

This photograph was taken in 1950, the year before this other wagon photograph 3 in a wagon.  This time Dee Dee the photographer appears with us. My sister Pearl and I had just moved to Detroit from Springfield, MA.  We spent most Saturdays at our maternal grandparent’s house with our cousins Dee Dee and Barbara.

Fast forward to 1954 and there we are in the wagon again.

Fast forward to 1954 and there we are in the wagon again.


Posted in Detroit, Grahams, sepia saturday | 18 Comments

Mary V’s Shoes

mv with shoes

Mary V. wearing little black shoes. This picture was taken in 1921. She would have been about 1 year old.

My mother said that after a difficult birth, her sister Mary V.’s foot was turned inward.She did not  know if this was the fault of the doctor or not, but Mary V. wore a brace for years.

Mary V’s grandson, Ahmad Elkins, posted the pictres below on fb recently.  They are his grandmother’s well worn baby shoes, saved through the years.  Amhad shared his photographs with me and gave me permission to post them here.

shoes side by side shoes - side view

Two other posts about Mary Virginia Graham Elkins are:

Mary Virginia Graham Colorized

Old County Building and Mary V. Elkins

Posted in Grahams, sepia saturday | Tagged | 21 Comments

The Freedom Now Party – William Worthy Speech 1963

Inspired by a Facebook post by my cousin Nikki, I went through my collection of The Illustrated News and found the first mention of the Freedom Now Party (FNP).  In the days to come, I will be posting a series of The Illustrated News issues that mention the FNP.  There is a lot of reading there but I hope some will wade through it.  This is the September 2, 1963 issue.  The story about the FNP is on page 2.  Other posts about the FNP are The Freedom Now Party Convention 1964 and Interview with Henry Cleage.  Click any image to enlarge.

 The Illustrated News was published during the early 1960s by my father’s family and family friends.  Two of his brothers, Henry and Hugh, started a printing business because the family was always looking for ways to be economically independent.  The main business was printing handbills for small grocery stores.   They started several newspapers.  First they did The Metro but the one I remember best is The Illustrated News. It was printed on pink paper (that was what was left over after printing the handbills) and distributed to churches and barber shops around the inner city. Some people had subscriptions. My father wrote many of the lead articles. My Uncle Louis wrote Smoke Rings, which was always on the back page. Billy Smith took most of the photographs.

illustrated news sept 2 1963 pg1 illustrated news sept 2 1963 pg2 illustrated news sept 2 1963 pg3 illustrated news sept 2 1963 pg4 illustrated news sept 2 1963 pg5illustrated news sept 2 1963 pg6illustrated news sept 2 1963 pg7illustrated news sept 2 1963 pg8

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John Wesley Cobb 1883 – 1958

I have been writing this post for way too long, getting lost in research and real life. A Sepia Saturday prompt a week ago featured a posh hotel and made me start to work again.  This post does not feature a hotel, rather the lack of one because black motorists back in the 1930s were not welcome in white hotels as they traveled.   In 1936 The Negro Motorist Green Book began publishing and shared information about lodging places that Negro motorists could be sure of a welcome.  Before that people stayed with friends or friends of friends or kept driving. Click on all images to enlarge.

celia's death 6-8-1930

map of trip

From Detroit, MI to Athens Tennessee, passes through Richmond, Kentucky.

I had been unable to find my great grandmother, Anna Celia Rice Cleage Sherman’s death date or death certificate before finding  the above item. After jumping up and down shouting my joy at finding the date, I began to wonder who the Cobbs where that my grandfather and his brothers stayed with.  I came across several other items from different years, with various family members stopping with the Cobbs in Richmond, KY on their way to or from Athens, TN.  How did my family know the Cobbs and who were they?new barber shop 1_30_1889a

John Wesley Cobb was born in 1882 in Richmond, Kentucky to Squire and Malinda (McCallahan) Cobb.  His parents were born in slavery in the 1846 and 1859. By 1889 Squire Cobb was an important member of Richmond’s black community.  He was a barber with his own shop, a member of the Knights of Pythias, and St. Paul’s African Methodist Episcopal church. Malinda Cobb birthed 9 children.  Six lived to adulthood.  Both parents were literate and the children attended school.  John and one of his brothers were tailors.  His sister Susie was a teacher before her marriage. His oldest sister, Lena, married a barber.  Malinda Cobb died in 1916.  Squire Cobb died at about 89 years of age in 1935.

John Wesley Cobb. Photo curtsey of

John Wesley Cobb. Photo curtsey of Joan Cobb Webb, Granddaughter of John Wesley Cobb.

John Wesley Cobb married Bessie Pollard about 1803.  They had one daughter , Leona Cobb, in 1904.  They later divorced and both remarried. John second wife was Lillian Titus, who taught school when they were first married.  They had no children.

JW Cobb started as a tailor for the R.C.H. Covington Company, a department store in downtown Richmond.  He sewed on clothes like the one pictured in the advertisement below.  Later Cobb, was able to open his own tailor shop and he continued to work on his own account through out the following years.

The_Richmond_Climax_Wed__Oct_31__1917_overcoatJohn W and his wife Lillian  owned their own home at 311 First Street. John Wesley was an active member of St. Paul A.M.E. Church. In several news items, he is listed as Rev. JW Cobb, assisting the Pastor at funerals.  I suspected that the paper had the wrong name but I just found him in the death index on FamilySearch and his title is given as Rev. In 1935, the Cobbs presented gold footballs to the football team at an awards banquet. I wish there had been a picture or a description as I don’t know if they were little pins or full size footballs!

He and his wife appeared regularly in the news/society items in the Richmond Colored Notes.  He served as secretary for the group that sponsored the Madison County Colored Chautauqua.

big chautauquaOn December 16, 1946 Lillian Cobb died from breast cancer that had spread to her spine.  Her husband was the informant.  On the 28th of February 1958, John Wesley Cobb died. I have not yet found his death certificate, and I do not now what he died from.

I still don’t know how my family knew the Cobbs.  Some possibilities are that my grandfather’s brother Henry’s wife, Ola Adams Cleage, knew them.  She was raised and went to school in Danville, Kentucky which is in the same general area.  Or perhaps they knew some of the same people who put them in touch.  Another possibility is that some of JW Cobbs siblings that moved to Michigan met the Cleages.  Some of them lived in Detroit and in Yipsilanti, Mi outside of Detroit at different times.

Links that might interest you.

The Kentucky Colored Chautauqua 1916

Madison County Colored Chautauqua 1915

On the way to bury their mother

Celia’s Death Certificate

Posted in African-American Genealogy & Slave Ancestry Research, Cleages, sepia saturday | 2 Comments

Television watching, drawing and not watching

Pearl and Kristin watching TV.

My sister Pearl and me, watching TV.

Both of these are from the house at 5397 Oregon, Detroit. I have no idea what Pearl and I are watching but it seems to have our interest.  I did the drawing below in my sketch book for one of my drawing classes a few years later.  You can see several other photographs of my mother and sister and me watching (or not watching) tv in the header above.

The corner of the living room on Oregon.

The corner of the living room on Oregon.

When I left home, I didn’t have a television until 1973 when my sister gave us a small TV so we could watch a program that she produced. We continued using that television until it was stolen in 1978 when I was at a prenatal visit. It was so wonderful not having a TV that it wasn’t until the 1990s that we got another one. That one was built so that we could watch videos, which is what we did for a long while.  I think it was several more years before we actually started using the television part of it.

Right now we do not have a working television. We do have a large computer screen that is hooked up to Roku and my computer and we can watch movies and videos that way now. We even catch a few television shows sometimes.

Posted in Detroit, sepia saturday | 24 Comments

The Freedom Fight – The Illustrated News July 8, 1963

A copy of the Illustrated News, published by Henry Cleage, other family members and friends from 1961 to 1964.  It came out several weeks after the massive Detroit Walk to Freedom down Woodward Avenue on June 23, 1963.  Click the link above to read an Illustrated News issue covering the march.

The inside pages are reprinted from The National Observer and Business Week June 29, 1963.  The cover photo was taken by William “Billy” Smith.  The “Smoke Rings” on page 8 were written by my uncle, Dr. Louis J. Cleage.  Click on any image to enlarge.


My father, Rev. Albert B. Cleage jr (later known as Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman) with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr, after they both spoke at the rally after the march. between them, in the back in Rosa Parks, unfortunately she turned her head before this photo was shot.

pg 2pg 3pg 4pg 5pg 6pg 8

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Isle of Palms Beach – 1975

Jim and Kris at the beach.

At the beach on the Isle of Palms, 1975.

This photograph was taken of me and my husband shortly before we moved from Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina to rural Simpson County, Mississippi, far from the Ocean and the beach.  You can read more about our life in Mt. Pleasant at this link,  S is for Sixth Avenue, Mt. Pleasant, SC.  To learn more about the Isle of Palms, click this link,  Isle of palms, South Carolina (Wipkipedia)


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Eighth Grade Graduating Class – Wingert Elementary School Detroit, 1922

eighthgradewingertclassMy father, Albert B. Cleage, Jr (front row, second from left), with his 8th grade class at Wingert Elementary School in Detroit, Michigan. He was 12 years old.  It was 1923.  In Detroit, it depended on what community you lived in whether the school you attended was integrated or not. My uncles said that the abundance of white children in this class was due to the white orphanage across West Grand Blvd from Wingert.

When my father and his siblings graduated to Northwestern High School, there was a much smaller percentage of black students and, depending on the teacher, more or less discrimination. There are many tales of my grandmother going up to the school to demand that her children not be seated in the back of the classroom and other outward signs. I wish I had interviewed her.

I am going to quote now from a biography of my father, Prophet of the Black Nation, written in 1969 by Hiley Ward, . The following is taken from pages 74 – 78.

Cleage, who attended Detroit public schools draws some of his militantism on schools from his own experiences with discrimination back in the 20’s, particularly his high school, Northwestern, which was nearly all white at that time but is nearly solid black now.  He remembers, “I didn’t like anything about it.  There were all kinds of discrimination.” the school clubs were closed to blacks, he says, “It was a horrible atmosphere, and I took part in as little as possible.”  He recalls that the teachers would always put the black youths at the back of the classroom.  “It was dismal. My parents would go up and raise enough donnybrook and hell to take care of the situation (classroom seating, etc.)”; but,he says, they were powerless to penetrate the fabric of discrimination by the white teachers and administration.  “It wasn’t the students, so much as the administration.”  Cleage took a try at the 440 in track, which by his own admission was “nothing great,” and he says several black students were able with much effort to break into the predominately white school’s team sports.  His brother Henry, now an attorney for the Neighborhood Legal Services, was “first cellist in the school orchestra; but every time they had a concert they tried to place him so it would appear that he was not the first cellist.  This was trivial, but…”

Cleage’s sister Gladys remembers how her father helped form the Wingert school PTA and was instrumental in getting the first black teacher by means of a petition.”He would argue with the school board and everybody else.”

Pearl Cleage in 1963

My grandmother Pearl Cleage in 1963

Cleage’s mother said of the schools her boys attended (Wingert Elementary and Northwestern), I had to fight for them all the way through,  for I knew a mistreated child could have a blight for years…if a child said he was having trouble naturally, I’d go up to see about it.”

Albert “is a great talker now,” she said, “but in high school he was not much of a talker unless he had something specific to say,”  She remembers going in to see on English teacher who told her, “Albert doesn’t smile or talk much.” “And I said, ‘Is there anything to smile or talk about?’ She had sent him down to the principal to see if the principal could make him talk, and the principal said, ‘Well, Albert, you are not much of a talker,’ and sent him back.  The English teacher talked about grades. I said, ‘He came to you with an A.  Send down to the office and see the record for yourself, and you keep him to a C – ridiculous!  I say he’s an A student!  If he doesn’t work, you can still hold him to a C. But I thought you graded on work.’ She was foolish.  Another teacher said his papers were too lengthy.  But God does not make us all alike.  God made some minds to be emphatic… Louis – now the M.D. – could write short papers.  Louis just put it down, but you can’t grade this son by his younger brother’s method.”

Mrs. Cleage, the 81-year-old matriarch, watched me closely as I wrote down her words. “I feel sorry for parents raising colored children.” she said, “for so many don’t have the fight like I do.” Perhaps I grinned a little at this point, in admiration of the energy of  this tremendous lady still full of the old vinegar for her sons.  “You smile, but you don’t know,” she said “You have to do something in a country like the United States.”

She did the same with all her youngsters.  “Louis was brokenhearted when he got a C in chemistry.  So I went to his counselor. ‘You come with me,’ I told him. ‘I’m taking him out of that class.  I can’t have a child ruined by a man who hates colored people.’ I took him to another class, and the new teacher was amazed – he was an A student all along.”  Daughter Barbara recalled that “there was a teacher who opened the door by the top where no ‘colored’ child touches the door.” She recalls her mother telling the principal, “I can’t stand this.  This girl and other children are too fine.  Take that polluted woman out.”

You can see a photo of Wigert school at this link.  Below is a photo I took about 2005 of the main doorway, where I think the photo was taken.

Doorway,  Wingert Elementary School. About 2005.

Doorway, Wingert Elementary School. About 2005.

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Fish and Fillets – Idlewild Michigan 1977 & 1979

My mother, Doris Graham Cleage, holding a string of fish on Water Mill Lake.

My mother, Doris Graham Cleage, holding a string of blue gills she and Henry caught in Lake Idlewild in 1977.

On the left my Uncle Henry is holding a ten inch blue gill that he and my mother caught in September of 1977 in a boat off of my Uncle Louis’ dock on Lake Idlewild.  They would fillet them and freeze them in empty milk cartons.

On the right is a boat in front of Louis’ cottage on Idlewild Lake. I can’t quite make it out, but could be them catching the above string of fish.

In June, 1979 my mother sent to the Emergency Land Fund’s newspaper “Forty Acres and A Mule” her recipe for cooking blue gills.  I wish I had a plate of those blue gills right now.

idlewild lake with boat 1977:sept 10" blue gill from L. Idlewild

bluegill recipe - doris cleage******************************

I just remembered this letter with a drawing of a fish that my mother wrote to Henry from Idlewild in 1956.

Letter my mother wrote in 1956 from Louis's cottage in Idlewild.

From a letter my mother wrote in 1956 from Louis’s cottage in Idlewild.

“In between showers, the children & I go outside to see what’s up.  The lake is full of minnows & baby bass & even some half-size bass who stay around our beach.  But the rowboat isn’t even down the hill – and the other boats are too fast – everything is gone before you even get to it – including the lake.

I’ve spent two evenings with Louis & his guests – and they took me out to “night club” – but they’ve given me up, I think, as a confirmed “prude” – but a pleasant innocuous one.  I’ve been reading the book about Bronson alcott (no, I won’t tell you who he is) and also…”

kris,ma,pearlon dock

Me, my mother and Pearl on Louis’ dock that summer of 1956.


I was going to write about the time when we hand printed fish one spring in Idlewild. Unfortunately, we don’t seem to have saved any of our prints. I did not know printing fish was a Japanese art form called Gyotaku.  Ours were not as lovely as those at the link, but they were interesting.

Note:  My sister tells me she has some of those prints. Whenever she finds them, I will add them to this post.

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Glow Around His Head – Two Memories

Mackienzie Hall in the 1960s.

You can see all three buildings here. Mackienzie Hall is straight ahead. State Hall is to the left. The Maccabee’s Building, which housed the Board of Education back then, is down the block, a light colored building behind Mackenzie Hall.  We can’t see the library in this photo but it was directly across from State Hall on Cass and across the side street from Mackenzie Hall.    ( Photo from the Wayne State University archives)

My sister Pearl’s version:

okay. i know you always deny saying this, but here’s how i remember it.

you said somebody who worked with you in the wayne cafeteria said you have to meet this guy. I think you two would really hit it off and you said cool and then on a subsequent day, the person said there he is and he was at the top of one of those school building stairways and you said — i swear you said this to me because at the time i thought “woah! she’s got it bad!!!” — you said the first time you saw him “it was like he had a glow around his head or something.” i stole that for the “in the time before the men came piece” when the lil’ amazon says almost those exact words…

amazing that i remember this so clearly, have even told it to people, and it doesn’t ring a bell at all. I don’t know why. maybe the glow had to do with memory erasure and he erased it from your mind so you wouldn’t know he was from another planet or something… who knows? all i know is, if i dreamed it, it was an amazing dream. ….

My Version.

What really happened…includes the cafeteria, the actual meeting and a stairway.  No glow.
The first time I saw Jim, I was working in the Wayne State University cafeteria, behind the food counter. A woman who worked with me, who wasn’t a student but a regular employee, said her boyfriend was coming through the line and she always gave him free food. It was Jim who came through and got his free food and didn’t make any impression on me to speak of. I didn’t think about him again until I met him later. This must have been the winter of 1966 or the fall.

The Northern high students walked out in the spring of 1966. Northwestern high organized a supporting boycott and my sister Pearl was the head of it. I used to study in the main library’s sociology room. As I was leaving to go to my next class, a guy came up and asked if I was Rev. Cleage’s daughter. I said I was. He asked if I was leading the Northwestern boycott and I said no, that was my sister. We made arrangements to meet after my class on the picket line in front of the Board of Education Building. We did and later sat around for several hours talking in the ‘corner’ at the cafeteria in Mackenzie Hall. I felt very comfortable with him, which I usually didn’t do with people I just met. He tried to convince me to join a sorority and convert the girls to revolution. There wasn’t a chance I was going to do that. He also told me that he was “nice”. I asked if he meant as in some people were revolutionaries and he was “nice”. He said yes, that’s what he meant.  We saw each other almost everyday after that.

One day during the fall of 1967, I was going to a creative writing workshop that was on the third floor of State Hall. The stairway had ceiling to floor windows and I saw him, Jim, walking down the sidewalk across Cass Ave., in front of the library. Before I knew what I was doing, I was down the stairs and on my way out the door when I realized I needed to go to class and went back up the stairs.

That’s what really happened.

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