In 1951 our family moved from Springfield, MA to Detroit, where my father, Rev. Albert B. Cleage, Jr., was called as pastor of St. Marks United Presbyterian Community Church at Twelfth and Atkinson. My paternal grandparents lived several blocks up Atkinson. The parsonage was right down the block from them. He was there until 1953 when there was a church split. My father and 300 members started a new church that became Central Congregational Church and finally The Shrine of the Black Madonna.
Recently my son James was in Detroit and visited many of the sites that were important in my life and my family’s life. He was lucky enough to have historian Paul Lee and Sala Adams as guides. I have matched photographs from the 1960s with some of the photos that they took last week.
Today’s photographs were taken at 5397 Oregon, on the West Side of Detroit. Ten years ago when I went around taking photos of places I had lived, there were people living here. Today the house and many in the area are wrecks. In one photo not shown here, I could see holes in the roof. The house on the left still has someone living there. The two houses to the right are also falling to pieces. It’s tragic.
I would never have imagined that this area would look like this when I lived there some 48 years ago. Today I’ve been looking at the house I live in right now and thinking about which parts would fall apart first if it were vacant for a decade. I doubt it would be in as good a shape as this one because it was built with much cheaper materials.
My sister Pearl patting goat while being held by my mother. The back of my head is visible on the lower right. This is probably at the petting zoo on Belle Isle in Detroit, Michigan. Taken in 1952 when Pearl was 3.
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.
My sister Pearl in the checked pants carrying the sign. My father on the far right side walking towards Pearl.
I am pretty sure “A Northwestern Teacher” was Ernest Smith, an activist and member of my father’s church.
I am in the front bottom right photo, turning backwards with the high water pants.
While looking through old copies of The Illustrated News for something completely unrelated, I came across this advertisment for Vicki’s Bar-B-Que. I noticed the oven and immediately thought of the Sepia Saturday prompt for this week. I decided to google Vicki’s and see if there were any photographs or other ads from the past. Imagine my surprise when I found that the restaurant is still operating and that the same family still owns it!
Although I do not remember ever eating at Vicki’s or tasting their sauce, I was able to find a family member who has been to the restaurant recently and she said, “Yes. Vicki’s is still there. Some people love it! I’m not a fan but I’ve only been there once. Maybe it was a bad day. They have the kind of bbq that is grilled meat and then you dip it on the sauce instead of grilling and caramelizing the sauce while grilling.”
You can see an interview with the present owner, the oldest son of the original family, and photos of the food and building, plus reviews of the present food and service at this link Vicki’s Yelp Page. The link to the video is just under the photos of the restaurant at the top of the page.
The Black Messiah was published in 1968. It was taken from sermons that my father made about black power and the black Jesus. I have all of those sermons am thinking about putting them online in the coming year.
I remember taking my copy with me when I went on my cross country bus/train/plane trip after graduating from Wayne State University. At the train station in San Francisco, as I waited to catch a train to D.C., a young white guy came up and started talking to me. He asked about the book but mainly he wanted to talk about waiting for his girl friend (or a woman he hoped would be his girl friend) coming in on the next train.
I also remember lending my mother-in-law my copy when she was visiting us in Simpson County, Mississippi. She didn’t finish reading it before she was scheduled to take a flight back to St. Louis. She carefully covered the book with a brown paper bag cover because she didn’t want anybody to see the cover.
Below, Rev. Albert B. Cleage, Jr., interviewed by Scott Morrison, Mutual News (New York: Radio Station WOR-AM, November 1968)
Here I am under the apple tree with my cousin Barbara where we built and rebuilt a castle for our fairies. Each family had one. Ours was Pinkie my cousins was Lucy. In between the castles we made various dirt pies and cakes. That little black utensil next to me was a sifter. It had holes punched in the bottom and we sifted the dirt with it.
We used to walk up the plank against the back fence and look out into the alley. Nothing really exciting out there, most of the time although I remember the police chasing a man through there once. I am pretty sure we were not standing on the plank watching. If we did, it was only for as long as it took an adult to call us inside While the chase went on.
It must be spring because we can see that there is no garden bu the Pussy Willow bush in the background seems to have buds. We are wearing our light jackets (or “jumpers” as Poppy called them.) and overalls. My saddle shoes are horribly dirty. My socks had probably slid down inside of them. Barbara is wearing buckled shoes but her socks look quite saggy. In the spring of 1955 I would have been 8 and Barbara would have been 7. She is missing a tooth, but not those you loose when you are 6.
In the fall my grandmother made the best applesauce with the apples from that tree. They were not the kind you eat uncooked. In spite of the sticky stuff my grandfather painted around the tree trunk, there were worms in the apples and they were very small and sour. They made the best applesauce ever though, with lots of cinnamon.
When I finished writing up this post, I googled Northwestern High School and found the following statement in an online article from 2011 about school closures in Detroit:
“The academic program at Northwestern High School will close and the Detroit Collegiate Preparatory High School program will relocate from the east wing of Northwestern into the main academic part of the facility. Because of the importance of the Northwestern name to DPS and the community, this new program will be called Detroit Collegiate Preparatory High School at Northwestern.”
So, like so many other places of importance in my early life in Detroit, Northwestern High is no more. The original building was replaced in 1980 and the school was closed in 2011. So many of my family attended high school at Northwestern, some just for a year or two. Here is something about those who graduated, starting with Alberta Cleage in 1927 and ending with my sister Pearl in 1966.
Click on any image to enlarge.
Cousin Alberta Cleage, my grandfather’s brother Edward;s daughter, came up from Athens Tennessee to stay with her Uncle Albert and his family and graduated from Northwestern High School in 1927.
My uncle Louis Cleage graduated Cum Laude in 1931 and appeared in a picture of the physics lab, right there lower right, first desk. Advertisements for his medical practice appeared in the Norwester in 1941 and 1942.
Henry Cleage appears in a photograph of the orchestra in 1933 and as a graduating senior in 1934. He is in the back row, 4th from the left with his cello.
<– My uncle Hugh Cleage graduated in 1936, unfortunately that yearbook is missing.
My aunt Barbara Cleage graduated in 1938 but, again the yearbook is missing.–>
My aunt Gladys Cleage graduated in 1939. In the photo on the right Gladys is standing in front of the back steps. You can see Henry over her right shoulder. Not sure who the other two are but my grandmother Pearl is looking through the screen door.
My cousin Geraldine Cleage, Uncle Henry’s daughter graduated in 1940. They lived a few blocks from my grandparent’s house on Scotten.
Anna Cleage graduated from Northwestern in 1942 and appeared in the Norwester and in 1947 in the yearbook when she graduated from Wayne State University.
I, Kristin Cleage, graduated from Northwestern in 1964.
That is me in the middle, 2nd row. I pretty much looked like that throughout my high school career. I did not take a senior photo and didn’t plan to go to my graduation, but did end up going. Do not remember a thing about it.
My sister Pearl Cleage graduated from Northwestern in 1966. No yearbook photo available, but this is how she looked.
Four State Negroes Earn Scholarships
“National Achievement scholarships have been awarded to four Michigan Negro students according to a recent release from the National Merit Scholarship Corp.
Students winning the scholarships, which range from $250 to $1,500 a year, are Pearl Cleage, Detroit; Evans E. Pate Jr., Detroit: Ivy L. Thomas, Flint, and Vernice V. Killough, Remus.” The News-Palladium, Benton Harbor, Mich. Wednesday, February 2, 1966
Pearl gave the valadictorian speech at her graduation. Jim advised her to speak out against the war in Vietnam. She was horrified at the thought and regrets now that she did not do it.
Cousin Geraldine Cleage’s son Shelton Hill also graduated in 1966. Unfortunately, I have no photograph of him from this time.
Photographs of Northwestern High School are from the Website for the Alumni Association – NWHSAA.