Detroit March to Freedom down Woodward Ave. 1963. Can you find my father?
On April 4, 1968 when Martin Luther King Jr was murdered, I was a senior art major at Wayne State University in Detroit. I was walking across campus with Jim, who is now my husband, when some Rufus and Brenda Griffin stopped and told us what had happened. They offered me a ride home. I lived in the house at 5397 Oregon with my mother and Henry.
I remember going to school the next day and being in my printmaking class when my mother, who NEVER appeared in my classes, walked into the room to tell me riots were breaking out. Dufield, her school had closed (she was a teacher) and we left. We passed a small group of high school students marching down West Grand Blvd. but no violence.
Either that night or the next I was taken to the airport before the curfew so that I could meet my sister Pearl, who was coming in from Howard University, which had been closed due to the disturbance. She was a sophomore. We spent the night at the airport hotel. This assassination, both in itself and coming after so many others was so depressing. I was 21.
The photo above is from my Graham grandparent’s book “A Treasury of Fun”. They received it soon after their marriage in 1919. Although of a certain time and place, it says “home” to me. Maybe I read too many old books. Below is a collage of 4 of my many homes. Click images to enlarge.
When I was growing up, home was where my family lived. I didn’t think about how long we’d be there or where it was, it was home. And when we moved again (as we regularly did), the new place was home. Our familiar furniture and books were there. We ate together in breakfast or dining room, the familiar food. My sister and I did our same chores.
When I was 13 we moved into the first house we bought. We lived there almost 10 years, longer than any place else I lived up to that point. It was at 5397 Oregon. Because it was where we lived the longest, memories of home often center on this house. When I was a senior in college we moved to a 2 family flat with my grandparents. By that time I was planning my escape out into the world and that flat always felt temporary. In 6 month I graduated and was gone.
During my early years on my own, the house I lived in wasn’t always “home”. In my early 20s, I moved 7 times in 3 years. Living in back rooms, attics, other people’s houses, temporary apartments, always waiting/watching for the next place to go.
It usually takes a certain amount of time for a place to feel like home to me. Some places feel more friendly than others. After a year it begins to feel permanent, even though none have been forever so far. Although we usually move everything, or most everything, with us, several times we have not been able to and then home feels bare until we can replace the missing things with different ones. I still wish I could go back and get some of them – the roll top desk, the dressers.
Family, both in the house and in the area, make a house feel like home. A dining table where the household sits and eats meals and plays games. Puzzles, plants, paper, pencils, tools and photographs are always there. Space to work on projects.
In June of 1980 my sister Pearl and her daughter visited us in our home on St. John’s Road Mississippi. My husband, Jim, took this photo of both of us and our children. The one with her eyes closed is Pearl’s daughter. I thought it would be interesting to take an entry from her journal, as it appears in her new book “Things I Should Have Told My Daughter – Lies, Lessons & Love Affairs” by Pearl Cleage and, since I wasn’t keeping a journal at the time, take old letters and put something of what was happening in my life at the time.
Pearl had recently moved to her own apartment, leaving her husband and devoting her time to writing and figuring out freedom. From Pearl’s journal about her life in Atlanta …
“June 5, 1980
I have just discovered the only advantage to freelancing. You get to be stoned while you earn a living. Unfortunately, that is also true of rock and roll stars, actors who are lucky enough to be cast in Robert Altman films, Rastafarians, and particularly foolhardy circus preformers. I think it also applies to the construction crews that do most of the renovations that I know about. It also applies to artists of all kinds, but since I was talking about freelancing, which is a way of making money, let’s leave the art out of it, shall we?”
Meanwhile, several states over in Mississippi…June 17, 1980 from a letter to my father
How’s it going? It’s hot, hot, hot here. It’s been a strange weekend. Kibibi – the 25 year old woman who lived a weird summer with us at Luba when we first came to MS was shot 3 times in the head by her 10 month baby’s daddy during an argument. It was such a ridiculous, unexpected, stupid thing.
I remember Kibibi sister’s husband coming up the stairs of the house on stilts and telling us about the shooting. Given that the civil rights violence had barely ended, it seemed horribly sad that she was shot to death by her daughter’s father.
My sister and I running by the dunes at Ipperwash, on Lake Huron in Canada. It was 1960. I was 14 and would start Northwestern High School in September. Pearl was 12 and still at McMicheal Junior High School. The lake is in the background but the strange distortions at the top make it difficult to tell what is there.
My mother and Uncle Henry had been trying to find a place to spend weekends and vacations out of Detroit. That weekend we had driven through various towns and country to reach Ipperwash. There was a wide beach and cars could drive on it. The beach itself was all open to the public. I remember the house we looked at was like a big farm house and had beds all over, in the attic and in the several bedrooms. We spent the night at a cabin the realtor had and left early the next morning. They decided not to buy there because of the cars on the beach and the public.
I remember driving their or home through a rainy day. Looking through the car window at the towns we drove through, everything summer green, but greyed by the gloomy day.
The Ipperwash Crisis – While looking for photo of the beach, I found that during WW 2 the Canadian Federal Government expropriated the land of the Stoney Point First Nation with promises to return it after the war. The war ended, the land wasn’t returned. In 1995 members of the Stoney Point First Nation occupied the land in protest. There was a cemetery located in what was now called the Ipperwash Camp. During the protests an unarmed member of the protesters was shot and killed. The land was to be returned to the Stoney Point First Nation but it hasn’t been completed yet. You can read more about it at the link above.
I wrote this soon after the birth of my second daughter, Ife in 1973. We had been in Atlanta almost a year. Jim was printing and I was working at the Institute of the Black World doing clerical work. My sister Pearl and her husband lived within walking distance. Jilo attended preschool at Martin Luther King preschool.
March 29, 1973 – 9am – 8lbs 3 ounces – Holy Family Hospital, Atlanta, GA
I continued working at the Institute of the Black World until Monday, March 27, when the braxton hicks contractions were too uncomfortable. For the next three days I slept until 1 or 2 PM or later. Jilo was at school and Jim at work. We were living in a duplex at 2600 Cascade Rd. SW in Atlanta.
At midnight of the 28th the contractions became regular. I threw up. They were not too hard. Jim timed them. He’d read a chapter of a book about birthing this time. Daddy called about 12:30. At 4:10 we called Dr. Borders. Contractions were 8 minutes apart. Pearl and Michael took us to the hospital. Jilo stayed with them. I had one contraction on the way, about a twenty minute trip.
I was checked in, shaved with a dull razor, given an enema. It seemed like the contractions were gone forever. They weren’t. Jim was a lot of help saying don’t panic, don’t breath so fast. I really didn’t need to pant except when they were checking the dilation then it was so cold. In fact the room was freezing and next time I’ll wear a sweater.
Dr. Borders checked every half hour. At 8:30 am, I felt a mild desire to push and told Dr. Borders. She said go ahead and I was moved to the delivery room. Although I had been drowsy I immediately woke up alert and not at all tired. However once again the contractions disappeared. No one panicked though, they just sat and waited. At this time I kept expecting Dr. Borders to say it was taking too long and she’d have to give me a spinal. The nurses tried to help find the right breathing breath, breath push and confused me at first. The contractions were mild and not strong, they said, so gave me something to strengthen them. The one nurse pushed down on the stomach while I pushed. Jim was there in blue but didn’t get to say much. I was quite discouraged, but Dr. Borders said it was coming along and finally THE HEAD CAME OUT! I didn’t feel it come down or anything, it just popped out, I had an episiotomy. The cord as around her neck, but Dr. Borders got it off and out came Ife. It was something as I said before. They showed her to me and they hit her heels and she started crying. She had dark hair. They took prints, cleaned her nose, etc. And it was cold again. I got a heated blanket and we all congratulated each other. It took awhile to get stitched. I felt fine. I didn’t go to recovery, just to the room. Ife was supposed to come with me, both my doctor and her pediatrician okayed it, but the nurses never brought her. They told me her temp had to stabilize.
I felt fine, excellent, never really bothered by stitches. Roommate was weird, had a c-section and kept saying morbid things and complaining. A real drag. I had rooming in. I nursed her when she wanted and was never engorged.
I hadn’t realized before that my first daughter’s birth had been so messed up by the hospital staff coming in every five minutes like it as a public event, my Doctor’s lack or interest and knowledge of natural childbirth, Jim’s absence and lack of knowledge of how to help, the length of labor.
In Ife’s birth all of these things had an influence on me, which I hadn’t realized until labor really started. If I had known I was only going to be 4-5 hours in labor at the hospital instead of 14 and that Ife would indeed get herself born without forceps, etc. I would have been more relaxed and could have enjoyed it more. Things to remember next time-take a sweater, take a bag or breath under covers to avoid hyperventilation, which puts you out of it. THE BABY WILL COME OUT! Get a single room, leave as soon as possible, the hospital that is.
When I was growing up, this was the entry way to the Detroit Main Library. It opened onto Woodward Ave. We probably started going soon after we moved back to Detroit when I was 4. There was a man who stood there, a very friendly older man who looked at your books when you were going out to make sure you had checked them out. Younger than I am now, Ihe was very friendly and always smiled at my sister and me. He wore a blue suit and had a round head, with little hair.
To the right was the check-out counter. The door you can see to the right led into the children’s room. The picture books and early reading books were right inside the door to the left. Straight ahead, against the back wall were the books for older readers – “Invisible Island”, the Narnia books and others. My mother brought us here often, interspersed with trips to libraries closer to our home.At the time I don’t remember noticing the high ceilings and the murals specifically, but they were the background for my library experience. In 1963, an addition was added on the Cass side of the library. With building and lawn, it occupies the entire block. For reasons I don’t understand, most of the books were moved into the new area, leaving the old one behind. The book checker moved to the new side of the building and continued to sit there all day and look at books. He was there when I studied on the new side all through college and he was still there in 1972 when I started taking my oldest daughter to the library.
To read more about the Main library
I Met My Husband in the Library “I usually studied in the sociology room of the Main Library, which was in the middle of Wayne’s campus. As I was leaving to go to my next class that day, a guy came up and asked if I was Rev. Cleage’s daughter. I said I was.”
Detroit Public Library“Designed by Cass Gilbert, the Detroit Public Library was constructed with Vermont marble and serpentine Italian marble trim in an Italian Renaissance style. His son, Cass Gilbert, Jr. was a partner with Francis J. Keally in the design of the library’s additional wings added in 1963. Among his other buildings, Cass Gilbert designed the United States Supreme Court Building in Washington, DC, the Minnesota State Capitol and the Woolworth Building in New York City.”
Historic Detroit Library “In March 1910, after some surprising opposition, the Common Council voted to accept an offer from steel magnate Andrew Carnegie to provide money to go toward improving the Detroit library system. Following two years of court cases and legal mumbo jumbo, the city finally got the go-ahead to start issuing bonds and moved ahead with building a replacement for the structure downtown, a building that was still only 35 years old.”
My grandfather, mother, sister and I were spending several weeks at my Uncle Louis Cleage’s cottage in Idlewild. We made a day trip to Ludington, on Lake Michigan, about 30 miles from Idlewild. We had walked out to the light house, which was no longer in use. 1956 was the year I wore glasses.
In this picture, taken facing land but on the same pier, you can see how the cement walk slopes down toward the lake. There was a flat part down by the water where fish had washed up and they were flopping around trying to get back to the water. My sister Pearl and I climbed down and were throwing the fish back in the water until our grandfather noticed and told us to come up and stop it before we fell in the water. We did it but we were not happy about it.
This photo was taken in 1986 during the first winter we lived in Idlewild. We used a variety of shovels to clear the ice – new red plastic snow shovels, ancient metal snow shovels and a coal shovel we found in the garage. My aunt Gladys and uncle Hugh were in their 60s then and out skated all of us. They had racing skates and glided around with their hands behind their back looking so cool. You can see a photo of them in earlier years here – Skating Champions.
For most of the 20 years we lived there, the ice was frozen solid, 4 or more inches deep by Christmas and remained frozen until early spring. Ice fishermen came from far and wide to drill holes and sit on buckets or in little huts and fish through the ice. Once a car drove across from the far side to our side. This year Idlewild Lake hasn’t frozen at all because of the warm winter.
When I was in High school my sister and I would walk up to Northwestern High School and skate on the rink in a corner of the field. I found several articles in the Illustrated News from December 1961 and January 1962 about the lack of a warming shelter or place to leave your shoes while you skated at this same rink. I was in the 9th grade that year and I do remember this. Click on the pages below to enlarge and read the articles.
Part 1 of the story – the problem is raised.
Part two of the story…citizens become involved.
Part three of the ice skating shelter story – problem solved.
This post is in response to the Deck the Halls Geneameme over at the Family History Across the Sea Blog. To participate or find links to more blogs doing the meme, click on the candles to the left.Thanks to Pauleen for putting this together.
Do you have any special Xmas traditions in your family? In addition to having a Christmas tree we also set up a manger. When the children were home or my granddaughter is here we set it up at the beginning of Advent and move Mary and Joseph along day by to to arrive at the stable on Christmas Eve. Jesus appears at midnight and the three wise men start their journey, arriving on Epiphany.
Is church attendance an important part of your Christmas celebrations and do you go the evening before or on Xmas Day? Some of us attend Church services and some don’t. Those who do go to the night service on Christmas Eve.
Did/do you or your children/grandchildren believe in Santa? None of us believe in Santa.
What’s your favourite Christmas carol? My favorite Christmas carol is We Three Kings and you can click on the link to hear it played on hang drums.
Do you have a special Xmas movie/book you like to watch/read? In the past I used to watch It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol on television but since I no longer have a television, I listen to Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales, which you can hear by clicking on the link.
Does your family do individual gifts, gifts for littlies only, Secret Santa (aka Kris Kringle)? I have 5 children and 6 grandchildren who live in the same city my husband and I do, Atlanta, GA. On Christmas evening they all come over to my house. After we eat dinner, we open all the gifts. At this time my children, grandchildren and we the parents give gifts to everyone of us. They aren’t expensive gifts but there are a lot of them. You can see some of us just before opening our gifts on Christmas day in 2011 above.
Is your main Christmas meal indoors or outdoors, at home or away? Christmas dinner is indoors at our house.
What do you eat as your main course for the Christmas meal? You can read a description of our usual Christmas dinner, with a photo by clicking the link above. It is the same dinner my grandparents and my mother cooked, with a few changes – turkey with cornbread stuffing, greens, rice, green salad, rolls (my grandmother had biscuits), cranberry jelly (my grandmother’s came from a can, we make ours with fresh cranberries), candied sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese. We also have brisket and various desserts – sweet potato and mince meat pie, or cheesecake, pound cake, fruitcake.
Do you have a special recipe you use for Xmas? I make my own fruitcake from a combination of various recipes and changes I make. Click on the link to see me mixing it up. I have a bowl of mixed dried fruit and I need to go on and finish the cakes! I am so late.
Does Christmas pudding feature on the Xmas menu? Is it your recipe or one you inherited? We had no Christmas pudding on the table.
Do you have any other special Christmas foods? What are they? Not that I can think of.
Do you give home-made food/craft for gifts at Christmas? Sometimes I give fruitcake and sometimes various children or adults make cookies to give. Click the link to see some of the gift cookies.
Do you return to your family for Xmas or vice versa? Our family is mostly in Atlanta. One son and granddaughter live in other cities. This will be the first Christmas she hasn’t spent with us in 5 years. He is living far away in Seattle so often doesn’t get here. Our parents are no longer living so this is “home”.
Is your Christmas celebrated differently from your childhood ones? If yes, how does it differ? When I was growing up we went to both grandparents house, my maternal grandparents in the afternoon and my paternal grandparents at night. Aunts, uncles and cousins would be there. Food and gifts were eaten and exchanged along with conversation and laughter. We were in Detroit so we usually had snow for Christmas. Here we are more likely to have rain.. We’re the grandparents now so our children and grandchildren come here. only one daughter has in-laws in the city so the others do not make visits to two houses on Christmas day.
How do you celebrate Xmas with your friends? Lunch? Pre-Xmas outings? Drop-ins? I don’t have any friends that I celebrate Christmas with. The closest would be my sister and her husband. We go by there during the holiday and they come by here on Christmas day after dinner at her daughter’s house.
Is your neighborhood a “Xmas lights” tour venue? Our neighborhood is far from a tour venue. There are very few lights in this area.
Does your family attend Carols by Candlelight singalongs/concerts? Where? There are Christmas concerts at the various schools my grandchildren attend and sometimes we attend. This year I went to a French caroling concert at one school. If we go to a Christmas church service there will be carols to sing along with there.
Have any of your Christmases been spent camping (unlikely for our northern-hemisphere friends)? Although my youngest son and my husband received boy scout Polar Bear Badges for winter camping, none of us have done any Christmas camping.
Is Christmas spent at your home, with family or at a holiday venue? Here at home.
Do you have snow for Christmas where you live? There was a snow scare one year and everybody spent the night with us but since we have left Michigan we have not had a white Christmas. It’s raining outside right now with no predictions of snow. The temp is 55 F right now on December 16.
Do you have a Christmas tree every year? We have a living tree every year. We tend to wait until the last minute to get it and put it up a few days before Christmas. When we lived in the country my husband would cut ours or we would buy a $5 scotch pine from a roadside stand. Now that we are in the big city we buy a pine and it costs more than $5.
Do you have special Xmas tree decorations? We save the decorations from year to year so some are from when my own children were small and some were bought and some were made by my grandchildren. I wish I had a few from my mother’s tree or her parents tree but those disappeared long ago.
Which is more important to your family, Christmas or Thanksgiving? The meals for Thanksgiving and Christmas are identical. This year we ate at one of my daughters for Thanksgiving. New Years Eve is also a family celebration with everybody who doesn’t have plans sleeping over here. The grandkids consider the New Year sleepover perhaps a higher point than Christmas. Click to read something about my Thanksgiving memories.