Dr. Cleage Made City Physician – 1930 Detroit, MI

The article below sounds good, Mayor Bowles of Detroit fulfilled an election promise and appointed a black person, my grandfather, as city physician.  I had read about this before in an article that praised Mayor Bowles for making the appointment. There was a veiled reference to the Mayor having been accused of being a member of a “secret group”.

Recently my cousin Jan was scanning photographs and old newspaper articles and she sent me the badly deteriorated copy of the article below. This article also praises Mayor Bowles for his appointment and talks about the negative pressure he has been receiving because of it.  Although the end of the articles has crumbled there was enough left to make me wonder just what was going on? I googled Mayor Charles Bowles and Aaron C. Toodle, the mysterious pharmacist cited in the article below.

As it turns out, Mayor Bowles ran for Mayor several times, twice with the backing of the Ku Klux Klan. He was reputed to have ties with the bootleggers and racketeers in Detroit and this resulted in a petition of recall  just 8 months after his election.  My grandfather held the post of city physician for many years.

Both of the Newspapers quoted below were black newspapers. The first is the “Chicago Defender”. The second is the “Detroit Independent.” The racist statements were made in a white paper, “The Detroit Free Press”.

30_cleage_appointe_city_doc“Detroit, June 20 – The announcement was made from Mayor Charles Bowles’ office that Dr. Albert C. Cleage, West side physician, had been appointed to the position of city physician, the appointment to become effective July 1.

Dr. Cleage, who has been a resident here for the last 15 years, will be the first member of the group to be elevated to the position of city physician.  Mayor Bowles is carrying out pre-election promises to appoint members of the group to better positions.

Dr. Cleage is a graduate of Knoxville college, Knoxville, Tenn. class of 1906.  Dr. Cleage finished the medical course at Indiana university and was appointed interne at the City hospital, Indianapolis.

While at the City hospital Dr. Cleage took a competitive examination and finished second in a class that included graduates from practically every university in the country.  Following his internship at Indianapolis, Dr. Cleage practiced medicine for three years in Kalamazoo, Mich, before coming to Detroit.

Dr. Cleage is married and the father of seven children.  Albert, Jr, is a student at Detroit City College.  Henry is a cello player in the all-city high school orchestra.  The new appointee is an Elk and a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha and Sigma Pi Phi fraternities.”

———————–

Anti-Bowles Forces Resent Placing Negro on City Staff

“Dr. Albert B. Cleage 4225 McGraw Avenue, recent appointee of Mayor Charles Bowles to the staff of City Physicians, began his duties in that capacity last Tuesday morning.  Dr. Cleage is eminently fitted for this position as he has served on the Welfare Department at Indianapolis, and is a graduate of the University of Indiana Medical College.  Dr. Cleage’s salary will be $3,300 a year with a $600 allowance for a private car.

Considerable alarm has been manifested by the Anti-Bowles administration faction over the appointment of a Negro to the City Staff.  Rather than credit Mayor Bowles with giving the group the representation that it should have had some years ago, this faction incriminates the mayor by charging him with making an effort to obtain a large percentage of race votes.

The Detroit Free Press charges that the appointment was engineered by John Gillespie, commissioner of public works, and that the appointment is coincidental with the dismissal of employee from the garbage department.  The paper further asserts that Gillespie discharged these employees in order to replace them…(missing part)”

Free Press Hates Negroes

Negroes Appreciate Courage and Fairness of Mayor Bowles

Baseless Attack on Negroes Drive Former Enemies to Bowles Camp

When a newspaper is as anxious to run Detroit as the Free Press is it ought to have sense enough not to insult 50,000 Negro voters as it did July 1st.

Many City Physicians have been appointed in Detroit without appearing on the front page of the Free press.  Why does the Free Press keep all others off the front page and put the Negro __tor (can’t make out) on the front page?  For only one bad reason, only to harm the Negro and discredit Mr. Bowles by appealing to white prejudice.

The Free Press tried to make whites believe Mr. Bowles has done too much for Negroes.

If 80 percent of the welfare cases are colored, mayors long before Mayor Bowles should have had the courage and fairness to appoint a Negro.

Since no one else did, Negroes give all credit to Mayor Bowles and will stand by him for his fine attitude toward the race.

Cleage and Toddles….(missing)

Mayor Attacked for City Race Appointment

(continued from page one)

Toodle, druggist, have been instrumental in having some of the dismissed employees re-hired.  It is this activity of these men, it is believed, that the daily papers referred to when they erroneously stated:

“Dismissed employees of the garbage department said that Dr. Cleage has held a number of meetings with Aaron C. Toodle, Negro druggist at St. Antoine and Vernor Highway, for the purpose of placing Negro citizens in city jobs.”

In speaking of the consternation caused by a Negro’s being placed on the city’s payroll in a department other than the garbage department, Dr. Cleage said:

“There is absolutely no politics in this appointment.  I have interested myself in getting jobs for unemployed Negroes and have succeeded in getting jobs for ten or twelve men with the city. Most of these were old city employees who had been laid off.”

_________________________

More on Aaron C. Toodle in a future post.

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21 Responses to Dr. Cleage Made City Physician – 1930 Detroit, MI

  1. Kathy Reed says:

    Wow! It was hard to even pick out what was most offensive! Among many, this one really stood out:
    In speaking of the consternation caused by a Negro’s being placed on the city’s payroll in a department other than the garbage department, Dr. Cleage said:

    So I’m assuming that the most you could aspire to was the “garbage department?”

  2. Mamie Burton says:

    I found these articles to be very interesting. When I was in high school and starting reading the newspaper (Detroit News) which was late 60’s, I was always told that the Detroit News reported more stories that had the racially overtones. When I graduated in 1971, I then switched to reading the Detroit Free Press. I am going to read more Mayor Bowles.

    • Kristin says:

      When I was living at home we always had a subscription to the Free Press for just the reason you mentioned. Both of the papers quoted here were black newspapers, The Free Press the second article mentions is the same white Free Press that you remember. There was quite a bit out there on Mayor Bowles. I just put one link but I spent a lot of time reading about him and the murder and the recall and the kkk connections. Hours and hours.

  3. Susan Clark says:

    Thanks for sharing these. We need to keep reading and reading these articles. Actually reading early 20th c. Papers ought to be required in every school.

  4. LindaRe says:

    I hope your grandfather saw this as an opportunity to open doors for other Negroes, not as a pawn in a political game. It is not easy to be the first under these circumstances.

    • Kristin says:

      Linda, I don’t know that he had much opportunity to open doors. As city physician he had a case load of patients who were on welfare. He had the car included in his job description because he went to his patients homes. I think it was probably easier for him being the first black man in the job because it wasn’t in an office but out in the field.I know that he was a “race man”. Long after he was dead people would come up to me and tell me that my grandfather delivered them. He also had an office on Lovett where he had a private practice. I have heard that both he and my uncle, who went into practice later, treated patients regardless of their ability to pay the $5 office visit fee.

      • LindaRe says:

        I remember the African American doctors from my childhood, which was in the 60s. They were highly respected members of our community and didn’t make a fortune from their patients. I was one of their patients and I appreciate the kindness of those doctors.

  5. Alan BURNETT says:

    What a fascinating piece of history. Personal stories always do give us a secret entry into historical events – history as people rather than history as movements, dates and famous names.

  6. Oh, I am so shocked by the the statement “consternation caused by a Negro being placed on the city’s payroll in a department other than the garbage department”!!!… This was only 1930, not 200years ago!!! phewww :-(

    • Kristin says:

      Well, 200 years ago slavery was still legal in the USA. Blatant racism as reported in the paper was alive and well for years. During WW2 the armed services were segregated. It was during the 1950s and 1960s that the Civil Rights Movement happened. None of it was that long ago, unfortunately.

  7. Kathy says:

    Kristin – I wanted to let you know that I nominated your blog for the “Liebster Blog” Award. Here’s the link: http://www.abbieandeveline.com/2013/01/11/a-dearest-honor/

  8. The story of Mayor Bowles is both perplexing and paradoxical. Even in terms of politics he seems to have been astoundingly cynical. Do you know where his true loyalties lay? With the KKK or with introducing more African Americans onto city staff. How wonderful that your grandfather was able to make such a differnce over many years despite the mayor’s political machinations.

    • Kristin says:

      Pauleen, I find the whole story hard to understand. I don’t know where his true loyalties lay. The articles I read online didn’t really mention the appointment only the ties to crime and the KKK. Another mystery.

  9. Sheryl says:

    What a perplexing set of stories! It makes me think about a course I took a number of years ago in a Public Affairs department. The professor insisted that we should always read the same stories in both newspapers that were published in the city. I was always amazed how different the slant was across the two papers.

  10. tori alamaze says:

    “Dr. Albert B. Cleage 4225 McGraw Avenue, recent appointee of Mayor Charles Bowles to the staff of City Physicians, began his duties in that capacity last Tuesday morning. Dr. Cleage is eminently fitted for this position as he has served on the Welfare Department at Indianapolis, and is a graduate of the University of Indiana Medical College. Dr. Cleage’s salary will be $3,300 a year with a $600 allowance for a private car.

    HI Kristin~
    Its Alamaze again! I pasted this short piece here because if your grandfather Dr. Cleage served on the Welfare Dept at Indianapolis & my great grandfather Rev. Dr. Marshall Talley was a member of House of Representatives, Im most certain theyre paths may have crossed. If you can think of anything or your memory/photographs of these two possibly knowing each other, I’d love to know.
    Thank you & i hope all is well!

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