Category Archives: Biography

My Sister Interviews Me

My sister Pearl interviewed me in 2010 about my interest and findings in family history research. I talked about some of the stories I’ve blogged about – Dock Allen’s Escape, finding Eliza in the 1860 census and slave documents. I have found more information since the time of this interview – court records about the land case between the Turners, newspaper articles, and several Wills from slave holders who owned my Cleages and Turners.

It gives you a chance to hear my voice and my thoughts about how to start your research.  I highly recommend being interviewed. I am enjoying listening to myself talk, for one thing.  If you can’t find anyone to interview you, interview yourself!  I think it makes a great addition to the legacy we are leaving for those following us.

2010 Story Corps interview with my sister Pearl asking me about my research and findings.

Pearl & Kristin walking through a field on cousin Ernest's land - SC 2013.
Me and Pearl walking through a field on cousin Ernest’s land – South Carolina, 2013.


On Being 12 & 70

My maternal grandmother, Fannie Mae Turner Graham, was born 129 years ago  on March 12, 1888, in Lowndes County, Alabama. She died on August 13, 1974 in Detroit, Michigan.  You can read more about my grandmother in this post  Fannie Mae Turner Part 1.

1958 augkris&fan
I was 12 and my grandmother was 70.  1958 in my grandmother’s backyard.

I am the same age as my grandmother was when we posed together on her back steps.  Looking at the photograph below of me and my granddaughter made me think about the endless circle and the passage of time.

My granddaughter was 12 and I was a  a few months shy of 70. 2016, we were at the beach in St. Petersburg, Florida and the water was freezing!



Northwestern High School Boycott – 1962

Reading about the present teacher’s sick out and the student walkouts in Detroit reminded me of this boycott of Northwestern High School in 1962.  I was a junior and remember picketing in the cold. Several students from our church Youth Fellowship came and picketed with us even though they were students at Cass. Most of my classmates went to school that day, I particularly remember one of my friends said she was not going to stay home because she didn’t want to miss a day at school.  Sometime later students from Northwestern were bused out to the white schools with vacant seats.

Click any of the images to enlarge for reading.

Parents Protest NW pg 1My sister Pearl in the checked pants carrying the sign. My father on the far right side walking towards Pearl.

a million merediths comboI am pretty sure “A Northwestern Teacher” was Ernest Smith, an activist and member of my father’s church.

Parents Protest NW centerspreadI am in the front bottom right photo, turning backwards with the high water pants.

A Typewriter & Roquefort Cheese

Summer of 1966. Me with the Underwood Five in the background.
Summer of 1966. Me with the Underwood Five in the background.  That small room held the dining room table, the upright piano, a bookcase, my mother’s desk, a combo radio/record player and the typing table.
underwood _five
To learn more about the Underwood Five, click.

I was hoping that this week I could find a photograph of someone in the family actually typing. I could not. I did find several photographs with a typewriter in the background. I chose this one of me in 1966 sitting in our dining room with our trusty Underwood in the background.  It was an upgrade from the ancient Underwood we had before.

I also found a story that I wrote on this very typewriter a little over a year later. I share it below.  I wrote it for a Creative Writing class at Waynes State University. The story alternates between a journal entry I wrote about a trip to Santa Barbara, CA and wanting to leave home and the rather strange story of #305751 (my student ID number) who works for a multinational corporation giving away cheese samples on the streets of Detroit.   Judging by all of the corrections, this was not the copy that I turned in.  I hope. Click on any page to enlarge.

roquefurt cheese pg 1roquefurt cheese 2

roquefurt cheese 3

roquefurt cheese 4  roquefurt cheese 5 roquefurt cheese 6 roquefurt cheese 7 roquefurt cheese 8

For more SepiaSaturday posts, CLICK!
For more SepiaSaturday posts, CLICK!

My Quilt Tent – 1958

1958 july kris tentI am standing in front of my tent made of a quilt attached to the former chicken house, at that point storage shed, in Nanny and Poppy’s (my Graham grandparents) backyard.  It was a June Saturday in 1958.  I was 11 and would turn 12 in August.  My cousin Barbara had her own quilt tent built over the wooden slide.

1958 June barbara tentIn the header we are eating lunch in the yard the same day.  Sitting at the table from L to R is my aunt Mary V., my grandmother, my greatgreat aunt Abbie, my grandfather at the head of the table (of course) me, cousin Dee Dee and cousin Marilyn on the end. My mother probably took the picture.

More posts about my grandparent’s house on Theodore.

T is for Theodore Street

Memorial Day and the Fourth of July

For more Sepia Saturday Offerings - CLICK!
For more Sepia Saturday Offerings – CLICK!

My First Gift


 book+of+me+adWhen I saw Prompt 18 – Your First Gift, in The Book of Me, I was sure I had a list of what I received when I was born in my baby book.   Unfortunately, when I checked there was a list of people who gave me gifts, but not a mention of a gift. I remember having a little silver cup and a silver fork and spoon but I have no idea who gave them to me.  I don’t know where they are now and I can find no photographs of them.

kris_1_yearSomething I did notice was that the handwriting and the language used in the baby book appears to be my father’s and not my mother’s.  I had always thought first_gifts_coverit was my mother who kept the book. Only a few pages were filled out at the time. There is some information I added years and years later when I was about 12 – When I started to talk and walk, what childhood illnesses I had, and a list of some of my elementary school teachers.

One last thing about the baby book – it was found in pile of trash to be thrown out with other papers from my father’s office at the church but someone saw it and saved it. Why was it in the office? Anyway, I’m glad it was rescued.

firstgifts-visitorsgifts-1Looking again, I see that Dearie Reid brought my going home outfit to the hospital. I’m thinking that she bought it. I wonder what I wore home. It must have been the second week in September in Springfield, MA by that time. Maybe cool?  Maybe hot?

From Montgomery to Detroit – Founding a New Congregational Church – 5th edition Carnival of African American Genealogy

OldchurchThis post was written for the 5th and newly reborn Carnival of African American Genealogy (CoAAG), hosted by Luckie Daniels of  Our Georgia Roots and Our Alabama Roots and founder of  the facebook community African-American Genealogy & Slave  Ancestry Research (AAGSAR).

I decided to write about my maternal grandfather and the church he helped found in 1919, Plymouth Congregational Church. Please click on the images to enlarge them and read the articles below.

newsarticle1_907My grandparents, Mershell and Fannie (Turner) Graham met in the First Congregational Christian Church in Montgomery, Alabama. They  were married there by Rev. Scott on June 14, 1919.  After the ceremony, Mershell took his new bride back to Detroit to begin their new life.  One thing that would be familiar was the worship service at the newly formed Plymouth Congregational Church.

Fannie and Mershell soon after their marriage in 1919.
Fannie and Mershell soon after their marriage in 1919.

When Mershell, migrated to Detroit from Montgomery, AL in 1917, many of his friends,  were also leaving.  In 1919, nine of them gathered together to form Plymouth Congregational Church.  At first they met in members homes and in borrowed and rented spaces.  In 1927 they were able to purchase their own building, a former Synagogue. They moved in May 15, 1927.

notice of organization.

Plymouth Congregational Church Garfield and
Plymouth Congregational Church at the corner of  Garfield and Beaubien streets on the East Side of Detroit.
After church about 1927. Mershell holding my mother Doris, Fannie, Mary V. and Mershell Jr.
After church about 1927. Mershell holding my mother Doris, Fannie standing behind Mary V. and Mershell Jr. in front.
Plymouth Congregational Church – September 30, 1928. Detroit, Michigan

Plymouth had been in the building about 1 year when this photo was taken. My grandfather, Mershell C. Graham, is standing behind his daughters, Mary V. and Doris (my mother).  Their cousin, Margaret McCall, is standing between them.  They are in the front row, towards the left side of center.  The minister, Rev. Laviscount, is standing behind Mary V.  My grandmother, Fannie, had just given birth to their youngest son, Howard, so she was not able to be there.

An article about the history of Plymouth.
An article with some of the history of Plymouth Congregational Church.
plymouth_founders 3
Mershell Graham’s name was misspelled as “Gardner” above.

  My parents met at Plymouth’s youth group.  My father was ordained there. In November of 1943, my parents were married at Plymouth by Rev. Horace White. On a visit home to Detroit while we were living in Springfield, MA, I was Baptized there, also by Rev. Horace White.

Invitation to my father's Ordination.
Invitation to my father’s Ordination.
My grandmother Fannie, my grandfather Mershell and my mother Doris. I am standing on the table.
My grandmother Fannie, my grandfather Mershell and my mother Doris. I am standing on the table.  I believe it was during this visit that I was Baptized at Plymouth.

Because I attended my father’s church on Sunday’s, I don’t have many memories of sitting in the pews at Plymouth. My memories are of going with my grandfather to fix thing, usually the furnace. My sister and my cousins and I would roam around the empty church while we waited for him to make the repairs.

Plymouth Congregational Church, now Plymouth United Church of Christ, was forced to relocate when the area was urban renewed in order to build the Medical Center in the 1970s. White churches were allowed to remain in the area while black churches were forced to relocate. The new church is located at 600 E. Warren Ave. and continues in use by Plymouth today.

Plymouth United Church of Christ
Plymouth United Church of Christ from Google maps


You can read more entries  by clicking this link  5th Edition of CoGAAC

The Freedom Now Party 1964

header_freedom_now_partyToday’s post is about the Michigan Freedom Now Party. My photographs were taken during the first convention, which took place in Detroit in September 1964.  It was held at Central Congregational Church, now the Shrine of the Black Madonna. To read an interview with Henry Cleage about organizing the party and what happened during the election, click this link – Freedom Now Party,.

Freedom Now Party Convention.

On the far left, back of my sister’s head and the back of my head. Standing in the checked shirt is Oscar Hand. Behind Mr. Hand, in the white shirt, is Richard Henry (later Imari Obadele) Writing on the wall is Leontine Smith. Against the wall in the white dress is Annabelle Washington.  I cannot name the others.

rally_fnp FNP flyer

Grace Lee Boggs, seated. Henry Cleage, perhaps reading the Preamble to the Freedom Now Party Platform, below.

majority report of platform

Freedom Now party candidates
Four of the many candidates on the Michigan Freedom Now Party slate.  From left to right:  Loy Cohen, secretary of state; James Jackson, lieutenant governor ; Albert Cleage (later Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman), govenor  and Milton Henry (later Gaide Abiodun Obadele), representative of the 14th Congressional District.


For more about my family and elections go to these posts: More From Elections of Yesteryear and Wordless Wednesday – Elections Past.

To see more posts about crowds and more – click this link!

Our Yearly Trip to the Zoo

This is the 25th post in the February Photo Collage Festival and the Family History Writing ChallengeThe photograph for today is from the Graham family’s annual trip to the Detroit Zoo.

Front: Marilyn with Barbara & Pearl behind her. Back: my mother Doris, my aunt MV, cousin Dee Dee and me. 1956.
Kris, Poppy, Dee Dee – 1959.

At the end of each summer my sister, cousins, mother, aunt and grandfather, Poppy, took a trip to the Detroit Zoo.

Sometimes the four older cousins spent the night before at our grandparents.  We slept on a foldout cot in Poppy’s room. We went to bed first and I was always asleep by the time Poppy came to bed. That worked fine, unless I woke up in the middle of the night. He had the loudest snore and it was impossible to get back to sleep until he turned over and stopped snoring.

My grandmother, Nanny, never went with us.  As I write this, I realize there are so many things I don’t remember.  I suppose our mothers drove across town, with Marilyn, to meet us in the morning.  Did we take two cars – my grandfather’s and my mother’s?  I don’t think so. I think we all smashed into one car, three adults in the front and 5 children in the back, with Marilyn sitting on someone’s lap. Nanny probably made us a picnic lunch to take. I can’t imagine buying hot dogs and french fries with Poppy along.

Mary V and Marilyn – 1956.
Poppy with camera – 1959. He was 70 years old.
Marilyn, still in the front. Me, Barbara, Pearl taking a picture of the photographer, Dee Dee. In the back are Connie Stowers (my mother’s friend) and my mother. 1959.

Looking at the photographs I can see that Dee Dee was way ahead of the rest of us in cool. Even in 1956, when she and I both wore our plaid slacks, her’s fit and look good. Mine are baggy. Luckily, it doesn’t seem to bother me.  That year Marilyn is so little and unaffected.

By 1959 Dee Dee is 16.  I’m amazed she still accompanied us to the zoo. It must have been a very important part of our year. I was 13 and still not at all cool. That expression on my face is one I recognize from other photos through the years, unfortunately. I would say the sun is in my eyes  but it doesn’t seem to be bothering anybody else. And why am I wearing that skimpy outfit?  The hats that Connie and my mother are wearing were some my mother bought for Pearl and me. White sailor hats were the rage for awhile. Unfortunately, those were the cheap version and did not look like the popular ones.  I don’t think we ever wore them. If I had, maybe I wouldn’t have been squinting at the camera. Little Marilyn looks a lot more blasé in 1959. I believe she is wearing one of the little sundresses my mother made for Pearl or me when we were that age. It was yellow with lace on top.

Reading The Newspaper – 1962

This is the 23rd post in the February Photo Collage Festival and the Family History Writing ChallengeThe photograph for today is a corner of our living room at 5397 Oregon in Detroit. My mother and I are reading the newspaper. I was 16.

reading_the_newspaper_1962It is probably Sunday, because my mother is still in her bathrobe. And who reads the Saturday paper so avidly? I think the bathrobe was light pink, but I’m not sure. The couch was an old one that my mother brought from Sally and Ivy’s mother when we lived on Calvert.  They moved out to Southfield, near the zoo, and bought new furniture. I remember going to visit once and hearing the lions roar.

The couch was old. My mother had a slip cover made. It was blue with a blue design.  I patched it once, in a fit of fix-it-up. It has been a long time since I have read a newspaper offline.  I wonder what we were reading about.

The couch and more of that corner of the living room. My uncle Henry took the photos.

There was an end table with a lamp and a brass ash tray. Both my mother and Henry smoked. The table had a fake leather top and a big drawer. One of my daughters has that table now. The lamp was white with red flowers and green leaves painted on it. There were gold lines at the top and base. The old television, in a wood cabinet ,was still working.  Later it died and for awhile there was a smaller TV, that worked, sitting on top of it.

The walls were beige. When we moved in, they were covered with wall paper. As soon as she could afford it, my mother had Mrs. Bruce’s brother come and paint it a clean, beige color.  There is no art work above the couch in this photograph. When I graduated from high school and began studying art at Wayne State University, my mother would tack one of my drawings up on the wall. Later on she had me frame them for her, badly. I never could cut the mats right.  You can’t see the rug here but it was a faded wine colored pattern. It was wall to wall and never replaced while we lived there.