Category Archives: Family History Writing Challenge

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.

My Parents Time in San Francisco – January to July 1, 1944

This is the 23rd post in the February Photo Collage Festival and the Family History Writing ChallengeThe photograph for today is of a corner of the living room in my parents  apartment in San Francisco. It was 1944.

San Francisco Desk
My father’s desk in the San Francisco apartment. Photos of his sisters, Gladys and Barbara on the desk and one of my mother on the bookcase.  This desk looks like one that I have from my mother, but it’s not. I think the apartment was furnished. Surprised the typewriter isn’t visible.

My parents, Albert B. Cleage Jr and Doris Graham, were married in Detroit on November 17, 1943. They left immediately after the ceremony for Lexington, Kentucky, where my father had accepted a call from Chandler Memorial Congregational Church.  They were there only two months when he accepted an interim pastorship at the new, experimental San Francisco Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples.  He served from January of 1944 through June of the same year.  The captions under the photographs are taken from what my parents wrote on the back when they sent the pictures back home to their families.

church & house San Francisco
The Church – on the corner. We live upstairs – rear – behind the jungle. (Rubber, Magnolia – Olive, etc.)

church sign- san francisco

This is Romeo and Patrick and me – fat jaws and all. June 1944
Mountains! Taken out our front window – over the housetops across the street.
This is Post Street looking toward the Ocean. Looks like you could follow it right on up to Heaven, doesn’t it? June 1944
Looking down at the “Fillmore slum” from our front window. The lady who bakes cakes for us lives over there –
Guess who this gangster looking talent is. June 1944.
Birds eye view of my mother hanging up clothes in the backyard.

Following is an excerpt from a biography of my father, about his time in San Francisco. I wish I had the box of letters I know existed from those six months.

From Hiley Ward, Prophet of the Black Nation. (Piladelphis: Pilgrim Press, 1969), p. 55.

“Cleage does not remember his work with the famous Fellowship Church of All Peoples with any fondness.  The new congregation, which had about fifty members when he was there, was a contrived, artificial affair, he says.  ‘An Interracial church is a monstrosity and an impossibility,’ he said. ‘The whites who came, came as sort of missionaries.  They wanted to do something meaningful, but this was not really their church. The blacks regarded it as experimental too, or were brainwashed to think that it was something superior.’ He called his white counterpart, Dr. Fisk, ‘well-meaning,’ and said Fisk thought he (Fisk) was doing a great work, but had no understanding of tension and power.  He felt the Lord looked in favor on this work, and any whites that joined him were headed for glory. He hated to have problems mentioned. Problems included the property left deteriorating after the Japanese were moved out, and the boilermakers’ union ‘which set up separate auxiliary units for black so they could discontinue the units after the war.’ Cleage joined in with NAACP efforts to get at these injustices.  He was told he could stay at the Fellowship of All Peoples if he wanted to, and he said ‘they were nice people, but it did not seem to me it was a significant ministry.’ About Fisk, he said, ‘He talked about the glorious fellowship washed in the blood of the Lamb; I talked about hell on the alternate Sundays.  He felt upset about my preaching, but he didn’t want to raise racial tension in his heaven.'”


You can see a newspaper clipping of my parents and a very short post about their time in San Francisco here Newspaper Clipping of My Parents. Soon after July 1, my parents moved to Los Angeles, where my father studied film making for a year before he was called to pastor St. John’s Congregational Church in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Minnie Averitt Reed Mullins – 1878 – 1963

Minnie Reed Mullins
Minnie Reed Mullins about 1926 in front of the family home in Benton Harbor, Michigan

This is the 21st post in the February Photo Collage Festival and the Family History Writing ChallengeToday I will write about Minnie Averitte Reed Mullins who was my grandmother Pearl’s older sister.

Minnie Averitte Reed was born in Lebanon, Kentucky in 1878. She was the second child of Buford Avritt and Anna Allen Reed and Anna’s 6th child. Anna and Buford were never married and couldn’t have been even if both were willing as Buford was white and Anna was black.

Two year old Minnie first appears in the 1880 census living with her mother and five older siblings in Lebanon Kentucky. Her mother’s parents lived next door.

Click to enlarge.

By 1893 Anna Reed was in Indianapolis, Indiana. Minnie was 15.  Her two older sisters had already married and moved to Berrien County, Michigan.  In 1898, when Minnie was twenty years old, she married James Mullins. By 1900 they had one daughter, Helen who was a year old. Everyone in the household was identified as “B” for black. James was working as a fireman.  At that time the Indianapolis Fire Department with all the black fireman operating out of  the firehouse at 441 Indiana Avenue.

By 1910, there were 6 more children. James was born in 1900. Ben was born in 1901. Arthur was born in 1904. Pearl was born in 1906. The twins, Anna and Marie, were born in 1908 and Minnie was born in 1910.  The family was still living in Indianapolis and James Mullins had continued working as  a fireman. Everybody was identified as “Mulatto”.

By 1920 the family had moved to Detroit, Michigan.  My grandmother Pearl Reed Cleage, Minnie’s younger sister, and her family lived in Detroit. Three more children had been added to the family. William was born in 1913, Harold was born in 1914 and Barbara Louise was born in 1916.  James was working as a carpenter at an auto plant. Arthur was working at the Packer Auto Plant.  The two oldest boys were around 20 and no longer living in the home.

The Mullins Family

In 1930 Minnie and her family had moved to Benton Harbor, Michigan where her two older sisters and their families lived. Minnie was identified as ‘white’ while the rest of the family was identified as “Indian”, specifically “Cherokee”. James was working as  common laborer. Son Arthur, who works at a foundry and is “Cherokee” and his wife were living down the street as was sister Louise Reed Shoemaker.  Youngest son, John was 9 years old.

You can read about the Mullins family in 1940 here 1940, Minnie and James Mullins.  They were back in Detroit and only three of the sons were still at home. Minnie died in Minneapolis, Minnesota of pneumonia in 1963. She was 84 years old.

Poor Pete and PJ – Sepia Saturday #164

small-pet-turtle-01This is the 16th post in the February Photo Collage Festival and the Family History Writing ChallengeToday’s prompt includes a turtle tortoise.  None the less, I am going to write about my experience with turtles. My sister and I owned several turtles when we were growing up. We always named them PJ and Pete and they always got soft shells and died.  They lived in a little plastic turtle scape much like this one.  We added small, colorful rocks to the bottom. Turtle12

Their bowl sat on top of our bookcase in the bedroom. The room was bright but there wasn’t any direct sunshine there.  The turtles were fed a diet of dried food that came in an orange little container. Sometimes we supplemented it with a fly we caught, or some lettuce. As the shells began to go soft, we would try to get them to drink some cod liver oil and moved their island home into the sunlight. All to no avail.  They all died.  I don’t remember any turtle funerals but there might have been at least one. Perhaps my sister will remember. Pearl says, yes we did bury some of them. I don’t remember being upset, or even minding, when they died.

Our mother didn’t want any real large pets, like cats or dogs, because nobody was home during the day. Maybe because both of her childhood dogs died rather sad deaths too. She was happy to buy us fish and turtles. I think the turtles replaced the fish because it was easier to keep their habitat clean.  Once my sister and I took them out on the porch for a walk with strings tied around their shells. Not a big success.

I have since learned that turtles are salmonella carriers. Luckily we never had that problem.  My children never had turtles for pets but my husband used to find turtles trying to cross the road and bring them home for them to see before releasing them into the nearby woods or lake. After writing this, I have to wonder if they were disoriented from being moved like this. In fact, this whole thing sounds like the torture of turtles.

Pearl and Kristin pretending to race on the upper front porch. Notice the well kept houses in the background.
My sister Pearl and I pretending to race on the upper front porch of the flat on Calvert. This was the house  and the ages we were when we had turtles.
To see more turtles and other stuff, CLICK!

To read more about living on Calvert  go to “C” Is For Calvert.