Family and church members accompanied my father as he signed up to run for City Council in Detroit, MI in 1965. We all have on our Cleage for Council buttons. That’s him in the front with the bow tie. I am looking melancholy over on the left. My cousin Ernie is in the striped sweater. Rev. Hill’s ( assistant pastor) wife in the back with the hat. My grandmother (Pearl Cleage) looking happily proud on the right. This followed the Freedom Now Party loss in 1964 and the 3 + 1 campaign in 1963 and preceded the run for the 13th District congressional seat in 1966.
These campaigns were run as educational, not to win. Not that that wouldn’t have been a welcome surprise. My family talked politics morning noon and night. Not just talked, lived. Two of my uncles started a printing business and for years the family and friends put out The Illustrated News, an eight sheet pink paper where they wrote about the issues of the day, mostly local but as this was the time of the civil rights movement, bombs and demonstrations and riots, there was also some national news. I remember riding in sound cars, passing out information at the polls, silk screening posters, leafleting. The summer of 1966 I spent lots of time with Jim, who is now my husband, campaigning. We capped it off by attending a “Victory Party” for Ken Cockrel, who hadn’t won. Those were the days my friend…
I moved often while I was growing up because my father was a minister. When he changed churches, we moved. I have written stories about each house individually. There are links at the bottom of this story. This is an overview of all those houses, with memories.
I was born on August 30, 1946 at 10 PM in the middle of a thunderstorm. The first of the two daughters of Rev. Albert B. and Doris Graham Cleage. I was named Kristin after the heroine of the novel by Sigrid Unset, Kristin Lavransdatter. My father was pastor of the St. John’s Congregational church in Springfield, MA. We lived in the back of the church community house after my father convinced the church to sell the parsonage to pay debts.
I remember… Laying on a blanket in the yard looking up at the clouds with my mother. Holding my sister, Pearl, on the way home from the hospital. Sitting on the basement steps while my grandmother washed Pearl’s diapers. Making Halloween cupcakes. Looking at the clearing evening sky after rain. Going to the ice ream parlor with my sister and parents. Leafless trees against the winter sky. The huge statues in a religious procession going past the house. Fall trees, a stream and a dog in the park. Watching the milkman and his horse from my bedroom window. Ribbon candy at Christmas.
When I was four my father got a church in Detroit and we moved there. All of the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins were there. We moved into a house down the street from my paternal grandparents a few aunts and uncles lived there too. I began kindergarten at Brady Elementary.
I remember… My grandfather picking up a baby bird and giving it little pieces of bacon. Not being allowed out of the yard. Being late for school all the time. A movie about white and red corpuscles fighting infection. Painting at the easel.
I attended first grade at Brady. During second grade I had pneumonia and missed the rest of that year my father was involved in a church fight and led a faction away to start another church. We moved. During the summer before we moved, my mother, sister and I stayed with my mother’s parents on the east side. My father stayed with his parents. My mother was taking classes in education at Wayne State University.
I remember… Playing “Sorry” at my grandparent’s kitchen table. Listening to the radio soaps. Going to meet my mother at the bus stop and collecting dropped flowers that we made into a slimy mud pie soup. Eating grated cheese and Ritz crackers. Going to the creamery with my grandfather to buy vanilla ice cream. Climbing up on the pile of logs against the wooden fence to look into the alley. The electrical storm when we sat in the living room, waiting for my mother to come home. Crying when she finally got there, telling of jumping over downed wires.
In the fall we all moved into a big stone house that would be mostly the church community house and incidentally we would live upstairs. The choir practiced downstairs, the youth group met in the basement rec room; they had card parties in the living room and piano lessons in the morning room. They all used the kitchen. It was kind of adventurous living in such a large mostly empty house with servant’s quarters in the attic and buttons that lit up on a numbered board in the kitchen when pressed in each room. At least my sister and I thought so. My mother didn’t feel that way. When I was eight my parent were divorced. It was a “friendly divorce”. We moved into a flat closer to Roosevelt elementary school that my sister and I attended and my mother was a beginning teacher. My sister and I went everyday to my father’s for lunch. He came by and visited. Neither one talked negatively about the other. My sister and I took piano lessons from Mr. Manderville and dance lessons at Toni’s School of Dance on Dexter.
I remember… Learning how to ride a bike. My great grandmother dying. Two more cousins being born. My aunt and three cousins staying with us while their family looked for a house. Saturdays my mother picked up her sister and three daughters and the seven of us drove over to the east side and spent the day at her parent’s. Vegetable and flower gardens, bird bath, swing, dirt, snowball tree, marigolds and a big brass bed we jumped up and down on
and slid through the bars of. Plays my older cousin Dee Dee wrote and we put on and on and on for the adults. My grandmother’s aunt who gave us rosaries and told us about cutting her mother’s mother’s (who she said was from Africa) toenails, while my cousin was cutting her toenails. Sundays after church at my other grandmothers where she had milk, tea and ice water on the table and the butter in little pats on a saucer and candles. The endless discussion of politics, race, church around that table. Getting my own room. Going to the fish house and the zoo and picnics at Belle Isle. Making dolls. Learning to roller-skate and ride a bike. Having a “best friend”. Reading, reading and reading. Roosevelt Elementary School changing from 99% Jewish to 99% Black.
When I was twelve I graduated from Roosevelt and went to Durfee Junior High School next door. Because of over crowding I was double promoted. A year later my mother bought a house on Oregon Street and we moved to the McMicheal school district. I transferred there while my sister continued at Roosevelt where she was a sixth grader. I was in the church youth group.
I remember… Going home after graduation with my best friend Deidre and having a snowball fight. Finding everybody else knew how to dance and I didn’t. How big Durfee seemed. My crazy seventh grade math teacher. Learning how to swim. Getting home before everybody. Never finding my way around McMicheal. Chaos during TV science classes. Learning how to sew. Making pineapple muffins and pineapple muffins and more pineapple muffins. My cousin growing out of playing ‘imaginary land” on Saturdays. Wishing I had enough money to get everybody a really good Christmas present. Arguing with my sister about who was supposed to do the dishes. Making doughnuts. Not getting “Chose” at youth group dances.
When I was 15 my mother remarried. She married my father’s brother, a lawyer, who was then a printer and started to put out a black paper, the illustrated news. I attended Northwestern High School. Favorite classes were Spanish and swimming. I was on the Swim Team. Worked at the Printing Plant one summer. Baby-sat another. My family bought an old farmhouse on two acres near Wixom, Michigan. We went there on weekend and longer in the summer.
I remember… Discovering Socialism, Revolution and Cuba. Telling an English teacher I certainly had nothing in common with Holden Caulfield. The freedom rides, school integration, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Kennedy’s assassination. The four little girls in Birmingham bombed at Sunday school. Being at the church Christmas bazaar while the Russian boats were headed for Cuba. Bare trees against the winter evening gray/peach sky. Not wanting to participate in graduation. Not going to the prom. Not wanting to. The green fields at the farm under a heavy grey, clearing sky after a summer. Not going on dates. Wanting to be able to say I had a boyfriend, but not wanting anyone I knew for one. Feeling like an outsider.
I attended Wayne State University from Sept 1964 until graduating in December 1968 with a Bachelors degree in Fine Arts. I worked in the cafeteria, in the school library, at the Center for the Application of Science and Technology, as the art director of the student newspaper, The South End. During Christmas vacations I worked as a saleslady in the Children’s only shop at downtown Hudson’s. One summer I worked in the pharmacy of the North Detroit General Hospital. I maintained a 3.0 average. Joined the Afro-American Action Committee and demonstrated against the war in Vietnam. Met my husband, Jim. My sister went off to study play writing at Howard University. My stepfather went back into law. We moved into a flat on Fairfield with my mother’s parents living downstairs. I did not attend my graduation.
I remember … Meetings. Meetings about the war in Vietnam, meetings about Black Student concerns, community meetings, political meetings, meetings about meetings. Seeing Jim from my writing class and running down four flights of stairs before realizing I need to be in that class. Both grandmothers saying that girl is in love. The Pentagon March against the war in Vietnam, Visiting my sister at Howard. Being tired of school and home and wanting to be on my own. Dropping a tray full of dishes in the cafeteria and the diners applauding. Reading Kristin Lavernsdatter. Hanging out at the Montieth Center. Putting out “A Happenin’. Malcolm X’s assassination. MLK’s assassination. The 1967 rebellion. Passing out campaign information at the polls. Bell Bottom jeans. Richard Grove Holmes, “Song for my Father.” Doing a two-color separation cover of the South End. Being hopelessly in love. Spending the night with Jim. Eating oranges in the snack bar. Hippies. Afros. Black pride. Black Power. Freedom Now. Graduating from Wayne and taking the bus west, to San Francisco. Leaving home. Grown.
Specific memories of each of the many childhood houses (including floor plans) I lived in can be found in the following posts:
I was reading a post over at Georgia Black Crackers about fried chicken and as I was getting into my third paragraph in the comment section I decided to just write about my chicken memories here.
Fried chicken used to be the main part of my favorite meal along with mashed potatoes and green beans. I grew up in Detroit, without chickens in the yard, but I remember going to the poultry market several times with my maternal grandmother, Nanny. Crates full of live chickens were piled around the walls. My grandmother would pick her chicken and they would kill it and dress it there. When she cooked chicken she always smothered it in gravy. Perhaps she bought the cheaper old birds that were too tough for frying. It was delicious.
Every Saturday my mother drove us all across town to my grandparent’s house. She and her sister would be in the front and the four, eventually five, of us cousins would be in the back. No seat belts in those days. We spent many happy hours playing in the backyard where our yard toys were kept in the old chicken house. Of course it was free of all signs of chickens. They were gone by the time we were there but I remember the story of the mean rooster that attacked my little uncle Howard and ended up as chicken dinner. And of chickens running around the yard with no heads after they’d been chopped off.
Nanny was a great cook. She didn’t know how to cook when she married at age 29, my grandfather taught her. Where he learned to cook so well I am not sure. Working in the dining car on the railroad? I’ll have to ask my cousin and see if she knows. He always cooked the turkey on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
When my sister and I were very small someone gave us three chicks for Easter. We lived in a combination parsonage/community house. It was huge. We kept the chicks in a box in the basement and thinking back I don’t remember a heat light which may be the reason that, one by one, the chicks died. I remember my mother throwing their bodies into the basement incinerator.
My Uncle Henry told a story about chickens from the time that he and his brother Hugh were conscientious objectors during the 2nd world war had a farm near Avoka, Michigan where they raised chickens and milked cows. One day it rained and they hadn’t put the chickens up. He said they piled up in the yard with their mouths open, just sat there and drowned from the rain running down their throats.
When I was grown living with my husband and children in rural Simpson County, Mississippi keeping goats and chickens, I learned first hand about killing, plucking and cutting up chickens. From my yard to the table. I wasn’t really that good at the killing part. In fact, I only remember one time that I actually killed a chicken. My husband was a printer working in nearby Jackson, MS. It was time to fix dinner and there was not much food in the house. He had the car so no chance for a trip to the store in town. I decided to kill a chicken. With the help of my two oldest daughters, who must have been about 9 and 12 at the time, we did it. Each of them held a clothesline tied to either the chicken’s head or feet and I chopped off the head. I would have gotten better I’m sure, but luckily never had to do it again.
One last memory. It’s really my husband’s memory, but I’ve heard it so often I can see it as if it were mine. Once during the annual family trip back to Dermott, Arkansas a relative gave them a chicken to take back home. They were living in Carr Square Village in St. Louis, MO at the time. They kept the chicken in the newspaper wagon long enough for it to become big enough to eat. His name was Speckle because he was black and white. One day they came home and they had a real treat, chicken sandwiches. Nobody asked why chicken in the middle of the week, they were too busy eating it. Later they found it was poor Speckle.
I found my greatgrandmother’s autograph/memory book in an envelope in a box where my mother saved little notebooks, wallets etc. The first part of the book, including the cover have vanished. Going by what is left I think my greatgrandmother started the book when she was 19 years old.
Transcribed entries numbering from top left down column, over to second column, etc.
Miss Virginia Allen
Mom passed aged 84
Mar 28 1954
When I am far away
From you believe
Me to be your
Dear brother Dock Allen Montgomery Ala Mar 14th/86
Jennie’s brother, Dock, was born in 1862, four years before Jennie. He worked as an errand boy and a barber – he drowned in 1891 on Aug. 30 Trying to “walk the moonlight path.”
Miss Jennie May you live long and prosper in this live And your last days be thee best Is my prayer. Yours Respectfully, J W Saffold Montg Ala Jan 7th 1886
The secret of happiness, is love Your true friend N.C. Lambert Montgomery, Ala. Sept. 29, 1884
Dearest Janie I wish you would Remember they creator In the days of thy youth when the evil Days are not nor the years draw nigh When thou may sayeth I have no Pleasure in them M.A. McCall Montgomery Ala/Jan/16th 1885
M. McCall is Jennie’s oldest sister Mary.
May flowers cheer your Path way through Life may life be a comfort unto you Compliments from R. Allen
R. was Jennie’s brother Rance.
Dear Jennie Remember me as your loving little Daughter when I am gone to come No more Compliments of Fannie M. Turner Montgomery Ala Mar 16 – 18/97 – Age 11
Fannie was my grandmother.
It’s better to trust and be deceived and reapthat truste , an that deceiving. Than doubt the heart, that if believed Would bless your heart, with true believing! Obediently V.B. Harris June 24th 1884
Grandmother Turners “Memory” Book – Note the entries written by DockAllen and Dock Allen, Jr. – they are probably the same – grandmother’s brother
This was added years later by my mother, Jennie’s granddaughter.
Dear Jennie There are few friends in this wild world that love is fond and true. But Jennie when you count them over, place me among the few J. M. Nesbitt Montgomery, Ala
To Miss V. Allen I hope that your future live may be such, As to permit you to be worthy of A welcome in heaven. Your well wisher Through life Montgomery April 4/22 Ala ThMC Logan
This is partial transcription of a very long interview that my cousin Margaret McCall made with her Aunt Stella Brown McCall in 1986. Margaret was Mary McCall’s granddaughter. Mary McCall was Eliza Williams Allen and Milton Saffold’s daughter. Stella Brown McCall was married to Margaret’s father’s brother. Margaret’s father was James McCall and his brother was Roscoe McCall.Louise was Stella and Roscoe’s daughter. Joe was Margaret and Stella’s cousin.
Margaret: I’m doing family history now and I’m on the McCall side. And I want to learn as much as I can because there are some gaps in things that I have been able to find. Stella: Well, I don’t know too much about the… Louise: She doesn’t know about the McCall side because she’s given me all the memories of her side. I have all those you know…
Margaret: On the Brown side? Stella: Yes. Louise: Oh yes. Margaret: But it’s the McCall side I’m interested in. Louise: Mother you can tell her one thing I remember you told me about the McCall side, you told me that Daddy, that Daddy’s father was a jailor Stella: He worked at the jail, the Montgomery jail down in Montgomery. Louise: and they used to have him…he was the whipper and, you know, he was supposed to whip the prisoners, you know the black prisoners. And he would pretend that he was whipping them and you know, make them yell and he would make the whip sound. Isn’t that interesting? I can just picture that. Stella: Well he had to pose to keep from whipping the prisoners. Louise: Oh and mother you can also tell her about how Daddy was getting that man out of Montgomery for looking at the white girl. And then they were going to hang him and Daddy had to take him out on that lonely road and get him out of town. And … Stella: they got stopped on the road. Louise: The police, the posse, don’t they call it a posse? Or whatever. Stella: Yes. Louise: came after him and then when they shined the light on Daddy. They were in a field and they saw that it was Mr., your grandfather McCall’s son and they said “Oh Rossie…” Stella: Because his father, not cutting you off, Ross’s own, father had worked at the jail and had charge of the colored prisoners. They would have him punish the colored prisoners and he never punished not one. Because he could do it like he wanted to do it. He just posed… Had a whipping place and made the noise like he was whipping them but he didn’t touch a one of them. Margaret: So this incident of Uncle Ross in the field, what happened? Stella: They stopped him, right at that field. Louise: No mother, start with how they were standing outside the drugstore… he and that other one, that Watkins boy and the white girl came by and she told her boyfriend that they had, that this Watkins fellow had winked at her and that started a riot in the city. Stella: Winked at her. Margaret: Is that right? Stella: A riot. Margaret: Well, how did Uncle Ross get him out of the city? Stella: Out of the city? Margaret: You said that they were in the field and the police came and said… Stella: Now all before this started, Ross had a friend out in the country. This man was a good friend of his and they would go hunting out there. And that’s why he knew the man… his name… I can’t think of his name… what was his name…anyway, well he had a home down in the country and he would go down there every summer you know, just take a week off and hunt and… Louise: A good place to hide out. Stella: To hide out. Yes. Margaret: That’s all? Stella: And there was a railroad train coming out of Montgomery going on to Atlanta and Ross got this man out of Montgomery and had this porter on this train to stop at this little station down there in the country and nobody would ever think a train would stop there and he stopped just like he got him to do and he put this man on this train in the back and had a place for him to stay and stay shut up and he did that until he got to Atlanta and he was safe. Margaret: And did he stay in Atlanta or did he leave Atlanta? Stella: Oh he left Atlanta. We didn’t hear any more of him. But Ross saved his life! They were going to lynch him uh huh, oh yes. Ross had some narrow escapes in that time. Margaret: He did? Stella:Yes, because you see this one was taking him for that and that one was taking him for this and it was terrible.
Margaret: Now tell me, you and Uncle Roscoe married in Montgomery? Stella: Montgomery, yes I married in Montgomery, Margaret: Where did Uncle Roscoe go to school? Stella: At State Normal School in Montgomery. And he went to the senior class and some girl got him in trouble and he had to jump out and go and that’s why he didn’t get his papers, you know. Margaret: How did she get him in trouble? Stella: Well she was… I guess something was wrong with her…. pregnant. That’s why he had to leave Montgomery. He left Montgomery. Margaret: And where did he go? Stella: Where did he go? New York. Louise: Who are you talking about Daddy? Stella: And then later he came on down. Louise: Married you. Stella: yes came back. Stayed away a long time though. I didn’t hardly…I was his little sister’s dearest friend and I didn’t know anything about him. Nothing. I’d heard of him because he was my brother, he was the age of my oldest brother Scott. Joe: Was Jeanette your friend? Louise: Um hum. Jeanette was your friend. Stella: Jeanette was my best friend all the way from the first grade. And I didn’t know anything about him. I didn’t know there was a brother because he was away. Finished the senior class and everything and gone. Got in trouble and gone. Margaret: Where did you go to school? Stella: Same place he did – State. Margaret: You went to State? Stella: Yes, same thing. Same school but many years later, you know. Margaret: Afterwards. Stella: Now I was Jeanette, his sister’s age, his baby sister. And I didn’t know anything about him (laughs) he came on the scene later. And we were swept away (laughs again. He’d come to the house everyday.. Margaret: Uncle Ross would come to the house everyday, uh? Stella: Everyday. Every evening. I can see him coming now.(laughs) Well, and that went on so far and we decided to marry. Margaret: How did you happen to leave Montgomery? Stella: Oh people were leaving Montgomery like mad at that time. Margaret: Why? Stella: There was kind of a thing going then, getting out of the South. That’s when all this uproar started down there. Started changing schools and everything and getting the different things in order for the blacks to go to one school and the whites to another school and they had to fight that and different things and it made an uproar in the city. And then many many of the… all the important families in the city just packed up and said they were going to leave the city and that’s what was happening.
Margaret: When you were going to school, where did you go before Normal? Stella: One school for me. One school for him. Same school. Margaret: What was that? Stella: State. Margaret: No, but before State Normal for your early education where did you go? Stella: The only education they had from the cradle to the top floor. Margaret: Oh, State went all the way. Stella: Yes, they had buildings on the big grounds and the grammar school buildings were around on the circle ad then the juniors and then the seniors. Margaret: Now was it integrated then or was it all black or… Stella: All Black Margaret:All Black
Stella: All black. Margaret: Okay, what about the teachers. Who were the teachers? Stella: White. They started off with all white. Now I remember when I was down in the grades there was one teacher that they had kept, teacher name of Mrs. Foster and she was an excellent first grade teacher. And they kept her. But then later on they started putting the white people in and they’d keep them in, then they’d kick about it and then had to give them recognition you know and finally they got the school like they wanted it and then they… it was a black school. Had it turned black, see, but in the beginning it had all white teachers. Yes because when Ross was there now he graduated, well I’d say, a good eight or ten years before I was in there and he had a teacher that I remember a Mrs. Stuart. She had been teaching there from the beginning and she was there until the end. She was from up North. They brought those teachers down from the north. That’s the way they did. The whole school was white but then finally turned right back because they were fighting it so. They wanted colored teachers in there. Margaret: Who are they who were fighting? Stella: The people. Margaret: The black people? Stella: Yes, that’s who fought. They had… I can remember the teachers, they were crazy about Ross. He was always such a good friend to them. (laugh) Getting in with everybody. He always was on the good side. Yes, Ross was a sight. Joe: You remember…one day…he was the first one I ever did see ride a motorcycle. Louise: That’s right. You know everything. Stella: Nobody had a motorcycle in the city but Ross. Louise: You remember that? Joe: First time I ever remember seeing him. Margaret: Where was this, Montgomery. He had a motorcycle?
Stella: He used to ride that motorcycle out to my house everyday and ride it back downtown to the drugstore where he was working. They had opened up a drugstore. Margaret: Who had opened up a drugstore? Stella:Mr. Tulane, his uncle and they all were working in it It was a nice big, good business and everybody would be so congenial and everything when you would go in. You remember the drugstore? You used to hang out around the drugstore every Sunday. You could find anybody you wanted at the drugstore (laughs) when you’d court.