March 8, 1904 – Guitar and Piano Lessons

Courtesy of Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library/University of Georgia Libraries. Click to enlarge.
Pearl Reed

Homer Jarrett
230 Alleghany St. City

2700 Kenwood Ave
March 8, 1904

Your letter was handed me at supper and don’t you know, that I was rather glad to hear from you. I did not answer your letter before, because I thought you were tired of hearing such “silly” “little” letters. You have managed nicely to keep yourself out of sight lately, since I’ve come to think of it, I think it has been about a month – don’t you?

I heard of the bad news that you had from home and Homer I send you my sympathy. Are they better now, I mean the ones that were ill?

In regards to my music, why I suppose I am getting on quite well. My tutor flatters me and tells me that I am doing “Oh, so nicely”, but I don’t believe one half of what is told me. Do you know I’ve changed from the guitar to the piano? You must think me the most changeable person Homer, but I get so tired of everything so very soon, you know.

Aren’t you tired of this stuff Homer? Well I am.



Did Pearl forget the letter she wrote just a month ago telling him off for insulting her mother?

Guitar? I had no idea my grandmother ever took guitar lessons. When I decided to stop taking piano lessons, she told me I should continue because I could play at parties and for friends. Some years later, she taught her niece Helen (Minnie’s oldest daughter) to play the piano.

Pearl would have heard about Homer’s family back in Georgia being sick from Minnie, who was married to Homer’s cousin, James Mullins.

February 7, 1904 – Evil Thoughts

Courtesy of Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library/University of Georgia Libraries. Click to enlarge.
Pearl Reed

Homer Jarrett
230 Alleghany St. City

2700 Kenwood Ave
February 7, 1904

Mr. Jarrett,

Homer, for the evil thought and words concerning my mother, which you spoke a few weeks ago, I forgive you as I hope to be forgiven of my many sins and faults. My mother does not know anything about it and has often asked why you never visit any more. She shall never learn your terrible thoughts of her . She will always think you one of the most gentle young men in the city, if I can help it.

Pearl D. Reed


The Letters – The People


My grandmother, Pearl Doris Reed, was born in Lebanon, Kentucky in 1886. She was the youngest of the eight children of Anna Ray Allen Reed.  The four youngest, including Pearl, were the children of Buford Averitt, a white physician.  The older children had different fathers. By 1888 Pearl’s oldest brother, George, had moved to Indianapolis Indiana to work at Van Camps cannery. The rest of the family soon followed. She graduated from high school and took music lessons. In 1903, Pearl was nineteen years old. She lived with her mother and older brothers in North Indianapolis, Indiana.

Oldest sister Josie was dead before 1900. Sisters Sarah and Louise were married and lived in Benton Harbor, Michigan with their husbands and families. Minnie and James Mullins and her growing family moved back and forth between Indianapolis Indiana and Benton Harbor during this time.

Pearl’s mother, Anna Ray Reed, was born into slavery about 1845 in Lebanon, Kentucky. For most of her life she worked as a domestic or a laundress. During the time of the letters, she was often ill. Her sons supported her. Anna had two siblings. Her sister Clara remained in Lebanon, Kentucky. Her brother Thomas served in the Civil War. He moved to Indianapolis, about 1877. During the time of the letters, Anna and her family lived in the house directly behind Thomas’.

Homer Jarrett

Homer Jarrett was a cousin of Minnie’s husband, James Mullins. He was born in Harris County, GA in 1882. He completed 8th grade. During the time of the letters he was moving around a lot, from Indianapolis, to Pine Bluff Arkansas to St. Louis MO and back to Indiana. He eventually moved to Boston, MA where he made his living in real estate. He never married. According to his draft records, he was short, slender, tan complexion, black hair and blue eyes, . He died in Boston in 1959 at 77.

James Mullins

Minnie Averette Reed Mullins was born in 1878. Completed 8th grade. In 1898 Minnie married James Mullins in Indianapolis, IN. Their daughter, Helen was born in 1899, son James in 1900, Ben in 1901. Arthur was born in 1904. They had 12 children in all. They continued to move between Indiana and Michigan, settling in Michigan permanently by 1920. Minnie died in 1963 at 84.


Hugh Marion Reed Averette was born on April 23, 1876, in Lebanon, Kentucky. He completed the 8th grade. Hugh served as a coal presser during the Spanish American War and returned to Indianapolis in 1902. He married Blanche Celeste Young in 1906. They had four children. They moved to CA in the 1940s and the whole family passed for white. He died in 1951 at 75.

Lillian Louise

Lillian Louise Reed Shoemaker was born about 1873 in Lebanon, Kentucky. In 1891, Louise married Michigan native, Solonus Shoemaker, in Benton Harbor, MI. Daughter, Mildred, was born in 1899. Son, Floyd 4 years later in 1903. She died in 1938 at 65.

George Reed: Was born in 1867 in Lebanon, Kentucky. His mother was 18 when he was born. There was an older sister, Josephine, who was born during slavery and died before 1900. George never married and had no children. As the oldest son in a home without a man, he became the man of the house. He never learned to read or write and earned his living as a laborer. He moved to Indianapolis in 1887, where his mother’s brother Thomas Ray Allen had been living for at least five years. The rest of the family followed. George died in 1945 at 78.


Sarah Jane Reed Busby was born in 1871. Completed 4th grade. In 1889, she married James A. Busby in Indianapolis. They immediately moved to James’ home in Benton Harbor, Michigan. They had ten children. She died in 1954 in Benton Harbor, at 84

Clarence Elwood Reed was the youngest son of Anna Reed and the brother next in age to my grandmother Pearl. He completed 8th grade. In 1902 he moved with the rest of the family to 2730 Kenwood Ave. He later moved to Chicago and married at least three times. He had no children. He died in 1954 in Chicago at 72.

In 1900 a black laborer earned about $150. An black laundress earned $180 per year.  By 1910 the average worker earned $200 – $400 per year.

Finding The Letters

This photo of the letters is from Michal Brown Rare Books website before they sold the letters..

While  looking for some of his ancestors last spring, my cousin Peter Olivier found a packet of  letters online written by my grandmother Pearl Reed (Cleage) from 1903 to 1905. They were for sale by Michal Brown Rare Books who “specialize in Americana, especially manuscript materials. We offer manuscript letters and archives, diaries, journals, personal and business correspondence from the 17th century through the 20th.

By the time I found out that the letters existed, they had been sold to the University of Georgia in Athens. I thought it was strange because neither my grandmother Pearl Reed nor Homer Jarrett, the young man she was exchanging letters with, were well known. Homer seems to have saved every piece of mail he ever received. Eventually all of those hundreds of pieces (which included my grandmother’s letters) ended up being sold after his death, because in their entirety they give a unique picture of the era in which they were written.

I immediately got in touch with Special Collections Library at The University of Georgia in Athens.  I was able to purchase scans of all 41 letters and envelopes very reasonably. I was very excited to have a look into my 19 year old grandmothers life through her letters. It was lucky that the University purchased them. I could never have afforded to buy them.

Next, the people in the letters.

Correspondence Relating to George Reed’s Estate

Note: Sarah Jane Busby could not write and one of her daughter’s wrote the letters that, I believe, her mother dictated. At the end of one of the letters, the daughter writes as herself, a little note to Aunt Pearl. She doesn’t sign her name though so I don’t know which one it was. Sarah and Sally were one and the same.

7:45 A.M.

Benton Harbor Mich

April 4-18-46

1238 Broadway St.

Dear Pearl,

I am writing you again to see how you are. I am quite well and trusting you and family are the same.  The weather here is nice, only a little cool this morning.

I am sending these papers. I received this from Minnie yesterday. I am not paying any of her bills. She made it so therefor she will have to pay it. Her lawyer does not know anything about me. But if she signed my name on any of her papers I will know something about her. She is getting off easy with her lies.

When she came to me to help get a lawyer I told her then no. Because she said Ben paid $50.00 and want to know if I wanted to pay $50.00 an I told her no.  Minnie and her lawyer did not fight any case for me. George fought my case when he made his paper out the way he wanted them. She told the lawyer I did not know anything about law, and I don’t think she did either.

Will close. All send love to you and family.

Sincerely your sis Sally J Busby


Benton Harbor Mich

Jun 18-46

1238 Broadway St.

Dear Pearl,

I received your letter and was glad to hear from you. It found me not quite so well and glad to know you are the same. (Note; at first she said it did find her well.) No I was not affected by the bursting of water main.  I would love to go to Indianapolis but I am not quite up to it. I am having trouble since and bothers me quite a bit.

I won’t need to be there you have did a good job up to now and I know you will finish this job just as George would like and I know with God’s help you will come out more then (someone) (sic)

While you are out there you ask the lady what she would want to pay out for it. As long as she is the first to ask for it. And you can let me know just what you think it is worth.

What did Minnie say why she is going to Calif. and who is she going to visit. And they left her there in Detroit and they will do the same to her after her money is gone. I think she had better stay where she is at. But that is not any of my business.

I have no garden up yet and I have not got my house cleaned all up yet. Can’t get a man to take my storm windows down for me.

Did the tornado affect you any way? I just heard it on the radio.

Be good and take care of yourself. Your sister,

Sally Busby

P.S. Morris’ boy has twins girls – and a older son.

Benton Harbor Mich

Dec. 2-1946

1238  Broadway

Dear Pearl,

I received your letter this morning and was more then glad to hear from you. I am quite well. And was glad to hear that you & the family are the same. Yes I sent the receipt that the atty sent for. I don’t understand what he wants the hospital Bill for and it being paid. Pearl you have to see after my things until this estate is settled. He has not sent me any deed as yet. I have no deed yet.

I don’t know what to make of that atty. I don’t know what he is trying to do. I sent my things to him and I have not heard from him since. You know the Bond won’t be lifted until it is all settled. If George knew this is going on like this, he would turn over in his grave. I heard Minnie was gone and John went with her and I don’t know how true it is. All send love to you and your family.

Sincerely your Sis Sally

Note: There is no letter from Sarah Busby about the property not coming to her. I do not know if this was cleared up and it did go to her. The Mr. Frankovitz mentioned in this letter was the owner of the market located a block from George’s house on Kenwood.

1840 W. 20th St.

Los Angeles

Jan 1/47

Dear Pearl;

I arrived ok and the trip was very nice. The flowers are really pretty, so many are in bloom now in the dead of winter, one can imagine how it will be in the summer time. The last week has been very cold the coldest it has been in years so the people say. I have had a touch of the flu for the last week. But I am a little better now. I hope all of you folks are all right, and in the best of health. Peter seemed to take the trip very well.

Last week I heard Anny went back to Detroit after staying in Phoenix about two weeks. But I don’t think she is satisfy yet.

Say Pearl have you people heard or taken care of that rubber stock that George left. You said you were waiting for Albert to come back from Tenn. about a month ago. So I hope Grant hasn’t started any more of his tricks because I got very little of what George left anyway, I do need whatever was suppose to be mine very much.

Well that’s about all, I do hope to hear from you soon.  Tell Lou hello, and I do miss seeing him very much. Peter said hello also.

Your sister



Benton Harbor Mich

Jan. 2-1-47

Sarah Busby

1238 Broadway St.

Dear Pearl,

I am sending you this letter and the address of the Real Estate Office addresses on the estate. I have sent for the tax and can’t get no answer. I don’t understand why I can’t hear about the taxes. I do hope you can get these things straighten out. Because that Atty is doing the same thing right over again and why is he doing it? Well, this is all. Hopen to hear from you soon. All send love to you and your family.

I remain

Sincerely your




Sunday  2-6-1947

1238 Broadway St.

Sarah Busby

Dear Pearl:

I received your letter and was glad to hear from you. glad to know that you and family are well. Every one here is quite well. Only I am have some trouble with my knees.

No I have not received any mail from Atty Grant since the last of October. You was supposed to look after this estate so you had to see this estate was carried out as George wished it. Now you know when you brought the Deed the old one the transferred was supposed to be attached to it. Here he sent money to see if I would let the people have it. I wrote to Davis and  they did not answer either. It looks like you are letting them handle it to beat me out of it. Now you say if you could you would go to Indianapolis and see about it yourself. Why don’t you and see after it. You was paid for that until the estate was finished and anyone received their part. What is wrong now? Where does Bonding Co. located at? I sent about the taxes and they turned it over to Grant. I don’t intend to stand it, but I will understand it. Why are you so afraid that I will lose this property? You told they it was only worth $2,000 and have him sell it. And George told you to watch Grant. Now what is he trying to do? You must have taken your eye off of him. What is the matter that Grant does answer your letters? There is not any bills. I want to hear from you at once.

I remain

sincerely your

sis Sara Busby


Benton Harbor Mich

Mar. 3- 12th -47

1238 Broadway St.

Dear Pearl,

I am writing you again to see how you are. I am quite well and trusting you and family are the same.

The weather is quite nice here now only a lot of water. How is it in Detroit? Nice I hope.

Pearl, you said in your letter everything would be settled up in ten days. I have received no papers as yet of any kind and I don’t know just what to think about this Mr. Grant. I don’t see why they can’t make him settle up this matter. I am going to make another stop. I want to know what they are holding up that deed and transfer. I want to know what the hold is. I can’t hear a word from Atty Grant. When you write to him he won’t answer you and why and he has never sent the rent money at all. and I want to know. Will you be so kind as to write where George paid his taxes and find out for me how much it is. Because this is a stumbling block there somewhere. I hope I hear from you before the last of the week because this is not settled up with until I get my papers.

This is all family send love to you and family.


Your sister Sally,

Answer soon.

PS and Atty Grant said I owe him some money and I want to know what I owe him any money for. Please tell me.

1840 West 20th St.

Los Angeles California

April 7, 1947

Dear Pearl,

This morning I received three checks from Townsend and Townsend for $4.19. I thought we were getting interest from the stock but it seems that he sold the stock and that is all we get. I am sending you the letter so you will understand better. When you have finished reading it please send it back to me and also the other letter that I sent you some time ago.

How is everyone? I hope they are all well. Harold’s baby is just fine. She is a very big baby. I heard Marie had her baby, girl, March 9th.

I dreamed of you the other night. You sent Henry to tell me to come for three days to help you make Gladys’ birthday party. I thought it was such a queer dream. There was you and Albert an another man there, but there was a mist between us and I couldn’t see too clearly. Well, that’s all for now. Everyone is fine here, Minnie


Benton Harbor, Mich

April 4-22-47

1238 Broadway St.

Dear Pearl,

I received your letter and was glad to hear from you. This leaves me quite well and trusting you are still improving.

Yes, I receive a letter from Minnie and a check of $4.19 and she never told me the stock was sold. She said the atty sent it to her to send to me. and she told you that the stock was sold.

My Atty said it was not sold. Because he received a letter from stock Co. and it is not sold. And is that the first check you received?

As Grant I have never heard from him. And find out about the taxes from me and see about that transfer, you tell Minnie that I received the check because I have no address of hers. This is all and we all send love to you and family. I would like to get this all straighten up before there is a lot of scandal. Because people know you handled it. You know what I mean.

Aunt Pearl Excuse this writing I am in a hurry and tired. I worked my day and night too till 11:00 P.M. and I am so tired I don’t know which way I am going.

Will answer at once.




Fancy Free In The Hollywood Bowl – 1944

“The air was cool at night. I stretched out my arms in the moonlight and flew. I raced and raced in the cool night expanse, on the largest stage in the world. Around me the mountains ribbed the sky. Under my feet lay the beat of a full symphony orchestra.”

— Agnes De Mille, Dance To The Piper, pg 174

The Hollywood Bowl.

This excerpt below is from a letter written by my father to his parents and siblings in Detroit. You can see my mother hanging up clothes and my father smoking during that same time, up in the header photo.

2130 South Hobart Blvd. #4
Los Angeles, 7, California
September 2, 1944

Hi Folks:

It’s Sunday afternoon…hot as usual…Everything goes along about as usual (the poor get poorer and the rich get richer)…

We went to the Hollywood Bowl last night to see the incomparable “Ballet Theater”…Russian Ballet by S. Hurok. The Bowl is way out in “West h—” from were we live.  It took over an hour on the street car to get there… and the last mile took about half of the time… the street-car would move about an inch and wait for ten minutes and then move another inch.  We were late…as usual… but in plenty of time to see all we cared to see.  The Bowl is a dished out place down in between some mountains…with thousands of seats rising up the mountain sides in front of the stage.  The place was jammed!  We had the cheapest seats, naturally, which Doris purchased through the Red Cross for a slight reduction…but by climbing over the backs of the seats…very undignified…we managed to sneak into the next higher priced section..where we could see the performers… after a fashion…the section where we belonged …ran on and on…up the mountain…and the people on the stage must have looked like little ants or something…which was just as well…considering the nature of the performance.  The dancing was about what you would expect Pee Wee, Gladys and Barbara to put on after a week-end of rehearsal out in the barn.  Romeo and J. went on and on for hours…The people sitting next to us…who apparently had never heard of Shakespeare…decided the dance must be about an Egyptian princess or something.  “Fancy Free” which was supposed to be terrific…dragged on and on and on…long after the dance was finished.  All in all it was quite an evening.  We left before the last extravaganza in order to catch a street car before the mob…ran a block and a half…and finally caught what they humorously call street cars out here..and made our way home…

The Hollywood Bowl

About Fancy Free

My Trip To Norway – Summer 1981

A letter home.
A letter home.

I thought of this card when I saw the prompt for this weeks Sepia Saturday. There is no kiss but there is water and a boat. Reading the card made me remember that I had written up my trip to Norway years ago, I didn’t have to write it from scratch. Hence this post.


This article first appeared in Catalyst Magazine in the Summer of 1990.

In June of 1981 I was 34 years old, three months pregnant and on my way to spend seven weeks in Norway with my then ten-year-old daughter Jilo.  I left behind my husband Jim and three younger daughters, Ife 8, Ayanna 5 and Tulani 2.  There were also several milk goats and a flock of laying hens on our 5 acres in rural Simpson County, Mississippi.  It was my first time outside of North America.

I had been corresponding with Sister Peg Dunn, a nun, about our mutual interest in Sigrid Undset, Nobel Prize winning Norwegian author of “Kristin Lavrensdatter.” I had become intrigued after reading that she wrote her novels while raising six children. Sister Peg arranged for me to attend the International Summer School at the University of Oslo.  Jilo and I traveled to Norway with her.

It is now 1990, nine years later. I’m 43, the yet-to-be-born-baby is 8 and Jilo will be 20 in June.  We now live in Michigan.  The goats and chickens are gone, but we’ve got rabbits and the garden grows larger every year. When I think about that trip these are my memories, excerpts from my journal and from letters I wrote home.

I remember wondering if those men wearing fatigues waiting to board my plane were hijackers. The pain in my ears as the plane descended. Hearing Danish spoken over the airport loud speaker.

June 16, 1981, Airport in Denmark
Dear folks,
We are drinking orange juice in Denmark and waiting for the plane to Oslo. Ten hours is a long ride! Only two more hours of dark and I am sleepy.
More soon.
Love, Kris

I remember the marigolds and petunias in the window boxes of the apartments and houses everywhere we went. Walking up0 five flights, seventy steps to the apartment we stayed in.  Looking out of the kitchen window at the grass, women hanging out wash and children playing in the yard below.  Walking, walking and more walking.

June 17, 1981 Wednesday, Oslo, Norway
Dear Jim,
We are staying with the lady poet that I met in Chicago. She gave me 2,000 koner ($400) in the bank here. Jilo and I walked all over and never got lost.  Everyone does speak English so far.  Women wear backpacks instead of carrying purses.  Tomorrow the three of us will take a train to Trondjem – a seven hour ride, where we’ll stay in a youth hostel until Monday.  I miss you. 
Love, Kris.

I remember taking the train to Trondjem. How at one point, everybody (except us) got up and turned their seats around to face the opposite direction.  How tired we got of the bread and salami and bread and salami and bread and salami, we had packed to eat.  Mistakenly jumping off of the train before it pulled all the way into the station and then having to jump over the wires and cables to get to the station.

June 19, 1981, Dombas Norway
Dear Jim,
We are staying in a valley surrounded by snow capped mountains tonight.  We walked a mile or more from the train station to the hostel with our backpacks.  Was I glad not to have a suitcase!
Love Kris.

I remember not being afraid to walk around at any time of the day or night. The long days. At midnight it was dusk.  Riding the train through glacial mountains.  How low the clouds were.  Seeing a waterfall in the mountains.  Gudbrunsdal Valley.  How hard it is to strain to catch a work you understand in a new language. How it is even harder to come up with one and say it.  My discomfort at entering the World War II Museum of Resistance and being greeted in, surprise, Norwegian by the welcomers. How they saw my expression and tried French then, to my relief, English.

June 21, 1981, Monday, Dombas, Norway – journal entry.
Jilo and I walked around Dombas in the morning.  There was a field full of the biggest, bright yellow dandelions I have ever seen.  Someone was growing tomatoes under plastic covers…there were bus loads of middle-aged German tourists. Can’t help wonder what they were doing during WWII.

June 23, 1981.  Wednesday. Oslo, Norway – journal entry.
A warm sunny day.  Today we went out to Blinern University on the trikk (subway). Took a tour of the campus.  Met a friend of Sister Peg’s for lunch in the cafeteria, Liv.  She has a research fellowship here. Is married and has an almost two year old son, Mangus.  She had taught a few years in Chicago.  Had read and seen “The Women’s Room” on TV recently.  Especially remembered the part where the woman is trying to quiet the two children and put them to sleep and the husband staggers out going to his mother’s where he can “get some sleep.” She said the wife should have thrown one of the babies at him.

We walked home, a half-hour, pleasant walk through a camomile covered field.  At dinner preparation time (Jilo cooked) we blew the stove fuse and couldn’t figure out how to change it so had to eat cold leftovers.

Then we caught the trikk to another friend of Sister Peg’s.  She lived in an apartment made from the second floor of her parents’ house.  She taught English to adults and Norwegian emigrant children. She also had seen “Women’s Room” and liked it, although she said, it didn’t deal with the problems of her generation. She told us about the social discrimination against emigrants, poor people on the east side of Oslo (where the tour buses never go) and different dialects in Oslo and having her passport stolen from a basket she carried in the store. Those things didn’t used to happen, she said.  She had been going to Poland.  There was a candle on her table and along with wine, coffee, chocolates, nuts, coffee cake, Christmas cake, butter and goat cheese.  Jilo drank solo (grape pop) She gave Jilo a snowflake pin and showed her a bunch of English books.  One poetry book included the poem “Give you son forty licks, beat him when he sneezes.”  She told us how she used to drag her younger sisters around by their feet when she was left in charge and they would act up.

I remember watching Ethiopians playing soccer in the field of camomile.  Celebrating Jilo’s birthday in the mountains with whipped cream topped apple cake.  The Folk Museums with old, old  houses, stave churches and guides dressed in national costume.  The festival day at school with the fiddler father, singing mother and dancing daughter.  How they seemed to really be enjoying themselves.  Eating lefse, roumergroten, flat brod and brown goat cheese, Jilo walking and riding the trikk all over Oslo, by herself, not speaking Norwegian and never getting lost or having any trouble.

June 29, 1981, Monday, Oslo – journal entry.
Today began cloudy and rainy but ended up nice and sunny.  Met a Californian in the laundry room.  A student from last year passing through, doing her clothes and reading Don Juan.  Trying to lose her past.  She asked if I’d found rules to live by. I told her my sister had. She also mentioned the fox in “The Little prince” and being responsible for what you love.

I remember the children’s party. Organized by a Mexican married to a Norwegian and a Bulgarian.  The kids tossing balloons around.  The Bulgarian complaining about her young chuildren catching colds so often at day care and balancing the children, her ex-husband and job.  The Mexican singing “Las Mañanitas” for the son of a Norwegian woman who worked in the kitchen. Hearing the Royal British Wedding on television in another room while I washed clothes.

July 3, 1981, Friday. Oslo – journal entry.
Started out a very sunny, warm day until after lunch, ended up being cold and rainy.  Jilo and I went with some students to the theatre.  Before the play started a tall man came up and said that he should have written a synopsis and did I know the story?  Then he started telling it to me. A fairy tale about a princess, a would be prince who had to get three feathers of a dragon to win her. Very good…I even understood a few words. The theater was old and big. We had to to to a small room up in the top or the play.  Afterwards we went in the cold rain to a kiosk and got sausages, french fries and ice cream.  We had agreed to talk only in Norwegian.  Whew!  I was cold with a dress, bare legs and sandals. But a good evening and it’s nice to be back in the room and warm!

July 2, 1981, Oslo
Dear Ayanna, This morning the Norwegian woman who cleans my room, washed the floor and was speaking Norwegian to me about my flower, but I couldn’t understand what she meant.  I guess I have to study harder. 
Love, Mom.

I remember realizing that the woman had put a saucer under the plant for me.  Walking to the park past a mental hospital.  The man people told me had been brilliant who stepped from one square to another square for hours at a time all day  long when they let him out of the hospital. Seeing topless sun bathers. Vigelandsparken Sculpture Park with nude statues of all stages of life but, strangely I thought, no pregnant woman.  The garden section, blocks and blocks of tiny houses for drinking coffee and eating cakes, surrounded by flower and vegetable gardens of those who lived in apartments.  The strange feeling of living where Nazi soldiers had lived when they occupied Norway.  Hearing my mother’s laugh coming from a group of students gathered on the steps below my window. Watching day by day as a young man worked on repairing the stairs…the girl that came and watched him, talked to him. just wanted to be with him.

July 19, 1981 Lillehammer, Norway
Dear Jim,
We did get out alive from Sigrid Undset’s bed and house.  It was very strange. Reminded me of one of those Public TV mysteries where suspecting travelers are taken in and treated kindly by weird folk who later murder them in their beds. I discovered how Sigrid Undset wrote a Nobel Prizewinning novel “while raising six children.” She left the two step-daughters in Oslo and moved to Lillehammer with her two young sons and a nursemaid.  There she wrote the first book of “Kristin Lavernsdatter.” She was tired after this because she had to keep interrupting her work to cook, clean, etc., so she brought tow more old houses. One small one for her husband (an artist) to paint in when he came out from Oslo and one for herself to work in.  It is this one that we slept in and it is connected to the original house by an added on corridor.  She also hired several maids and a cook., in addition to the nursemaid. She then left the kids and the servants in the original house and proceeded to write her masterpieces.  She later had a third child and for many years later served as a foster mother to two Finnish war orphans…Her daughter-in-law, Christianna, was odd but very talkative and nice to us.  She gave me two children’s books by Sigrid Undset (in Norwegian) and she got her young neighbor to drive us out to Undset’s grave about 15 miles away.  There was a weird little man, about her age who she referred to as “the young man.” He tried to be pleasant, spoke no English and was always leaping around smiling. One time he was supposed to open a bottle of wine and he couldn’t find the corkscrew.  He kept popping into the room and finally she sailed out after him. I expected to hear a loud smack as she boxed his ears, but she found the corkscrew and opened it. I could understand a lot of the Norwegian they spoke and that was encouraging.  I had given up hope.
Love, Kris

I remember how awful it felt to be back in school studying Norwegian and how much I felt I was missing by sitting in the classroom when real Norwegians were all about talking real Norwegian and wonder still why I kept going to class.

July 22, 1981 – journal entry.
Homework very hard.  Feel overwhelmed by busy work.  Decided to skip class tomorrow and go on field trip with another class.  Miss  Jim.  Interviewed by the newspaper, Aftenposten. Very poor English by reporter, better by photographer, nonexistent Norwegian by moi. Rather embarrassing.  Jilo got us some Norwegian deodorant.  It doesn’t work a bit.

I remember the lady from Denmark who sat next to us on the plane ride home and talked about how bad things were getting, she had to lock her doors now when she left her house, not like the old days. How dirty everything looked when we got back to Chicago and how good it was to see my family and eat home-cooked food again.


To see more Sepia Saturday Posts, Click!


“It’s Thanksgiving eve…”

St. John’s Congregational Church
Springfield, Mass.

210 King Street
November 21, 1945

Hi folks:

It’s Thanksgiving eve…Doris is out to the Ballet with Mrs. DeBerry. We were planning to go but some of my folks are trying to organize a “Community Council of Negroes” and they called a meeting for tonight and I thought I’d better be there to see that nothing was pulled off… and when I arrived on time (for once) there was nobody present but me and another po’ cold Negro… and eventually two or three more showed up…but not the man with the key to the building so we adjourned without a meeting.  It was just as well that a way since I am interested in organizing a “similar” Council under the N.A.A.C.P. sponsorship…and that can’t be accomplished until the new president takes office December 1st.

Everything goes along…Our kitchen is now furnished except for the Frigidaire…The Ladies Progressive League finally got the “Breakfast set” in…and another lady contributed an electric wall clock..and other little nick nacks for the kitchen.  The guest-room is furnished with a bed and dresser…and the rest of the equipment is “on the way”.  Before Louis gets here and reports…I’d better mention that the house is still as empty as a barn….The living room has nothing in it….and the rest of the house has the uncoordinated look which a house has without curtains…drapes…pictures…n’ that…but its livable…and our credit is exhausted…The treasurer hands me my check and I hand it to the white-folks.  I guess I mentioned the couch we bought for the dining room…It’s “light oak”…modern’ n’ that… and sort of goes with our dinning-room outfit…we went down-town to get a studio couch that could be used as a bed for company… but saw this marked down from $129.00 to $89.00…and it being what we wanted (and couldn’t afford) we couldn’t resist a bargain…and put a nickle down on it.

My mother reads on the new couch

The church is going along nicely.  Sunday morning attendance is holding up…and quite a few visitors are dropping in.  We have seven new members waiting to be fellowshipped in. I’m trying to get fifteen before having an “in-gathering”.  The members are trying to make us fat with their Turkey dinner invitations …We ate out twice last week…great BIG ELEGANT dinners from soup to nuts n’ that.  We are also eating two Thanksgiving dinners out this week.  One tomorrow, Thanksgiving…and another Saturday with a family who have all their celebrations on Saturday when the father can be home from work.  We are still “ORGANIZING CRAZY”… We are organizing the entire church into “activity-groups ” of eighteen members each…About 25 or more groups.  These groups will meet monthly…The group leaders will “encourage the participation” of their members…check up on financial obligations (collect back dues) etc. and will raise their group-financial quota of $100.00.  They will, at least make it possible for more people to actively participate in the church program.  We are also organizing a Men’s Brotherhood consisting of all the men in the church.  They, too, will meet once a month with a Forum or banquet. or something “interesting”.  I’m trying to gradually get everybody DOING SOMETHING…and they seem to like the activity.  We had a recital at the church last Friday.  It was sponsored by the Choir.  The girl is studying at Julliard in New York and use to sing in the Choir.  Her father is on the Standing-Committee n’ that.  The admission was $1.20 which made me fearful… but a goodly crowd was out…and the girl got her $100.00 and the church cleared about $100.00 so everybody was happy. (See enclosed Program)

Hazel Scott
Hazel Scott. To read more about her and hear her sing click the photo.

We went down to hear Hazel Scott Monday night at the Civic auditorium.  It was jammed and packed….and she rocked them.  all of my members were out in a body…I didn’t recognize the scoundrels in them furs and diamonds..all sitting in the five dollar seats. AND IT WAS RAINING CATS AND DOGS.  Doris is taking a class in “Make-up” at the Springfield Playhouse…and I had to go by for her…and we had to run about ten blocks in the rain to the auditorium.. A sailor and his girl sat next to us…During the first half of the program he sat with his head down on his knees…I thought the music was just too much for him…Just as she got to the Modern music…he heaved once or twice…and turned out the balcony…(I was sitting next to him)…The woman sitting in front of him liked to died…and she came just that close to being drowned … it was a sorry mess…His girl friend was LOYAL …and I do mean LOYAL …she stuck  right with him…as we good neighbors fled in wild panic…wiped his face and helped his stinking hulk from the room…We enjoyed the program, however…The critic here was a little critical…she played too fast…had too heavy a hand…etc. with which I agreed…but anyhow… she sho’ rocked Springfield one time!  The Negro “Ministerial council” asked me to preach their Thanksgiving Sermon…But I had already agreed to say the Benediction for the White Folks at a city-wide Unity service at the civic auditorium.  Negroes do love to have their own little affairs.  They were all invited to participate in the downtown service….but they preferred to have their own “segregated service”.

The women’s missionary division of the State Congregational Conference is going to meet at St. John’s Church next week…to learn of our great work…and to consider possible expansions.  We are getting ready to receive them with open arms…and dreams of a parish house for them to chew on…

Church Choirs from here, there and everywhere are holding forth at our church next Sunday afternoon…at a Thanksgiving Vespers…Should be quite an affair.

Tell Louis and Hugh the girls having been notified of their coming are champing at the bit…with impatience.  One little girl said she’d hold up announcing her engagement until she had a chance to look them over…’cause after all.  We are EXPECTING THEM on the morning of December 1st.  the last dinner party we went to (last Sunday afternoon)… had places for them all set-up…The good lady understood they were coming that week-end.


Friday afternoon…

This is part 2 of the letter from November 10, 1945.  Part 1 talked about the Fellowship Dinner.  This part is about other things they were involved in – Missionary Society meetings, NAACP meetings and invites to the family to come on over.

Rev. Albert B. Cleage Jr

Friday afternoon the Missionary Society had a meeting…They had a round-Table discussion on International Problems…and had me…DeBerry, and the Methodist preacher to talk.  They had the white ladies from the Congregational Association here, also.  We had quite a meeting.  I undertook to explain the RUSSIAN SITUATION and why we good Christians should be sympathetic toward Russia…and stop WORLD WAR III before it starts.  We argued and argued. DR. DEBERRY AGREED WITH ME!  (Even in front of the white folks)  Doris head like to bust…(She don’t like white-folks) I “spoke freely”… there are times when “Uncle Tom” just got to go.  My good Missionary Ladies were so happy that their pastor wasn’t afraid to argue with the White Ladies their head’s like to busted.  It was a very good meeting… the best the Missionary Society has had for a long, long, time.  Even the young girls were out serving and that.  They asked me to speak at the college.  The International College is located in Springfield and several of “our young people” attend. So everything is going very well…I don’t know how much good we’re doing…but we’re having a lot of fun…and its interesting.  It’s a little TIRESOME, however, in as much as we’re rushing about on some “important business” all day and far into the night.  Doris claims to be exhausted…but she’s getting fat on confusion!

We went to the N.A.A.C.P. annual meeting (we joined this chapter)… Our buddy was elected President.  It was a mess.  We like to died at the folks…fussing and fighting.  Dr. *****, Mrs. *****’s friend is a weird psycho-neurotic personality who has devoted his life to fighting DeBerry.  He tried again (been trying for fifteen years) to take over the N.A.A.C.P. …. and failed again.  My church members make up a good working majority of the N.AA.C.P.  Both president and secretary are my members.

Well, so-long.  I hope Louis can run down for a week-end!!  Seems like Henry or Hugh could make that run with him! and GIRLS, we’re planning quite a round of events for Christmas-week.  You must be here.  I can’t promise that you’ll get married the first visit…but a New England Christmas should be interesting!  Most of the people are nice and mean well.  (Even those who are a little stuffy) And why doesn’t Daddy retire…instead of falling up and down the stairs.  Mama, tell him to retire and get it over with.  You know when we get something on our mind like that we ain’t no good ’till we do it.  Retire and get a new car and he’ll be O.K.

The Fellowship Dinner

Rev. Albert Cleage on the steps of St. John’s Congregational Church

November 10, 1945

Hi Folks:

Well, you-all know all the news (I told you everything over the phone)…but you-all should have been at the Fellowship Dinner!!! We (the Committee) started setting up the “dining-room” Tuesday evening.  They ab-so-lute-ly refused to believe that there would be more than 150 people present… “Ain’t never had more’n 150 people.” they said…and that was that.  So I had to start “setting-up” for the other 150 myself.  A few of them… not wanting to hurt the preacher’s feelings… humored me and helped …We set up every old piece of table there was in the church …The supper-tables only seated about two hundred including those we had to fix with improvised legs and that…we then used the Sunday-School tables ( a little-low in as much as they were for the primary department!!)  and the Sunday School Sand-box with a cover over it…and everything we could find.  All of the time we were a-fixing my officers would “console” me by saying that “It just can’t be done even if 300 people did come…which they wouldn’t… We’ll just have to eat in shifts…and go up stairs for the ‘meeting’.”I tried to explain this was a FELLOWSHIP supper and there wasn’t going to be no “Church-meetin’ wringin’ and twistin’!!! But somehow they couldn’t hear me.  They been a itchin’ for a “meeting” ever since I got here so they can argue about what happened eight and ten years ago and all get mad all over again.  Things are going along too peaceful for them…Everybody is too happy and contented.  Well, finally we got set up for about 285.  I dragged some more tables out into the corridor at the foot of the steps and told them to set them up too…They drew the line there, that was just foolishness.  There wouldn’t be over 150 people…and we had already set up for 285…and now the preacher was trying to set up little tables out in the hall!  Well, I put chairs around them anyhow… I had insisted that we borrow seventy-five extra chairs from the undertaker.  The women then set up the tables…and Doris and one of her buddies went wild with crepe-paper around posts and that.  Then I took out all of the little “money-saving sixty watt bulbs” and bought a whole new set of 100 and 150 watt bulbs…and then some of the ladies brought flowers… and Doris brought her candle-sticks and candles n’ that…it began to look like a banquet! AND EACH STEP WAS TAKEN OVER GOOD PESSIMISTIC MEMBERS DEAD BODIES…BODIES WERE STREWN EVERYWHERE BEFORE WE GOT THROUGH.  The man who was to cook the dinner was my buddy, however. He took my word for the number of people. I told him 300 people and he prepared for at least 300 and just went on carting in truck-loads of provisions while the rest spread gloom.  We (me and Doris) got through “preparing” as though 300 were coming about 6 o’clock and rushed home to take a bath and rush back.

Bus route from parsonage(A) to St. John’s Church(B)

We got back at 7 sharp.  A member stopped and picked us up as we waited for a bus or we would have been late…AND THERE WERE CARS FOR BLOCKS AROUND THE CHURCH…We could hardly get in! The dining room was already full!!! And people were lined up on the stairs trying to get down…and sitting around in the social room waiting for their turn.  The Committee had just “gone all to pieces”!!! The lady who was in charge hasn’t recovered yet.  Dr. and Mrs. DeBerry were sitting off in a corner looking big-eyed.  The speakers table up front on the stage was empty. (Dr. DeBerry was to speak of  “St. John’s History”. I collected the DeBerry’s …The Senior Deacon and his wife and the Treasurer who were to sit at the speaker’s table and set them down and then acted as head-waiter. I crowded people in where it didn’t look like another sardine would fit.  The CHAIRMAN of the committee had about five girls (UNTRAINED) to serve!!! Other girls and men “VOLUNTEERED”  and gradually the food began to issue forth in a growing trickle from the kitchen.  The people were very nice about everything..Actually I think it was a better FELLOWSHIP dinner because more of the GUESTS had to pitch in and help…Well, finally we actually seated about 325 people. Some would eat and then get up and help serve the others.  The place was JAMMED and PACKED.  We had some group singing. Oh YES. The treasurer sat next to me on the platform whenever I could get to the platform…and even as we were eating dinner he “ADVISED” me that it couldn’t be done, we’d have to adjourn to the church auditorium for the “MEETING”. I told him we’d do it over my dead body…Finally we were all eating and we had group singing…Our Choir Director is a large uninhibited woman just made to lead group-singing…then we had a couple of numbers by two girls…and then Dr. DeBerry talked…He made an excellent talk…Told them little anecdotes about the church…and what a wonderful person I am…and how they had to get behind me and do what I said…and how the Lord had guided him to Springfield …and had guided him in his work…and when he had to put down the burden had guided me here to carry on, etc. etc.  He struck just the proper light tone…and the proper PEP MEETING approach…Then I ANNOUNCED and THANKED…Those who had distributed tickets…those who had agreed to be Group-Leaders…and told ’em we’re going to build a parish house…buy a Moving-Picture Projector etc. etc.  The Sunday School Superintendent showed them the Slide projector we just bought…(They were impressed).  I introduced the CHEF and he made a little testimonial speech about the church being the best church in New England…and The Chairman of the Committee thanked those who had helped..and we sang Old-Ang-Syne (I ain’t even gonna try to fix this one!) and then Fellowshiped for a while.  Everyone had a good time…Dr. DeBerry said there were people out who hadn’t put foot in the church since he left…etc. etc. Almost our entire membership was present.  The men stayed and took down the tables etc. Some wanted to take up an offering but I refused.

(letter to be continued)