One Hundred and One Famous Poems – 1933

This book has seen much use. It is held together with masking tape. It is full of the old standards of the day.  It was published by “The Cable Company, Manufacturers of the famous Cable Line of Pianos and Inner- Player Pianos.”  Click all images to enlarge.

My grandmother Fannie Turner Graham wrote on the cover of the book “Mary Virginia and Doris Graham. 1933. From Aunt Daisy who died suddenly 1961”

Aunt Daisy Turner who gave the book to my mother and her sister in 1933, the year after their little brother Howard died.
Bonzo, MV and Doris Graham. 1932. Backyard of house on Theodore, East Side of Detroit, Michigan.

I chose this poem by James Whitcomb Riley because I was feeling rather nostalgic, thinking about my sister and me back in the olden days.

Click for more SepiaSaturday

Jo Mendi

edwardmccallpoemI found this poem in my grandmother Fannie Turner Graham’s large scrapbook.  She just pasted stuff in there without much rhyme or reason.  Edward McCall, who was a poet and publisher, was her first cousin. Her mother Jennie and his mother Mary were sisters, both Eliza’s daughters.  I remember seeing Jo Mendi ride around the ring at the Detroit Zoo in the 1950s on one of our annual Graham family Zoo trips.

Jo Mendi 1950  http://www.zoochat.com/562/jo-mendi-ii-detroit-zoo-chimpanzee-204753/
Jo Mendi 1950

The note in my grandmother’s scrapbook says he died in 1934, but the photo I found on the webb says it was taken in 1950.  It turns out there were 4 of them and you can click here for their stories The True Story of Jo Mendi. And here for a Chimp Trainer’s Daughter telling about the brutal side of training chimps.

You can read more about McCall in these posts:

James Edward McCall, Poet and Publisher.

Poems by James E. McCall

She Was Owned Before the War…

Click for more Sepia Saturday.
Click for more Sepia Saturday.

“Negro Literature For Negro Pupils” 1922

Today I received  the following article from my friend historian Paul Lee via email. I will let him introduce the article.

“Alice Dunbar-Nelson was the first wife of famed poet Paul Laurence Dunbar.  Sadly, until recently, Dubar-Nelson’s own considerable gifts as a poets, as well as her journalism and political activism, were overshadowed by her illustrious first husband’s (overblown) legend.   

The Black Dispatch was one of the most respected “black” newspapers of its time.   It was published by the estimable Roscoe Dunjee, who was independent-minded enough to be a card-carrying member of the NAACP, but also remain an open (if occasionally gently critical) admirer of Marcus Garvey and a strong supporter of Mr. Garvey’s program of  ‘African Redemption.’

Mr. Dunjee, who was proud to be one of Oklahoma’s ‘black’ pioneers, opened the pages of his paper to regular reports from the branches, chapters and divisions of Mr. Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), which had a vital presence throughout the Sooner State.

‘Negro Literature for Negro Pupils’, The Black Dispatch (Oklahoma City, Okla.), Feb. 16, 1922, p. 1.”

Black Dispatch, 2-16-22

Alice Dunbar-Nelson
Alice Dunbar-Nelson

A Poem From My Cousin

My cousin Marilyn recently sent me copies of some photographs and family documents. Tucked into the envelope was this poem. She asked me to share it, and even though modesty made me hesitate to publish it, here it is.

My Cousin Kris

I'm helping Marilyn roller skate. About 1958 on Calvert in Detroit.
I’m helping Marilyn roller skate. About 1958 on Calvert in Detroit.

She keeps all the pictures,
And copies all the stuff.
And after all that creative work,
That still is not enough.

She sends copies to the family
And searches for the lost.
All out of her pocket,
Never asking for a cost

She loves the work she’s doing,
And is very computerized.
She’ll create a family tree
And come up with great surprises.

Always helping family,
Raising all her own
Productive, wonderful children,
From the seeds that she has sown.

Another generation
Has come into her life
Beautiful, smart grandbabies
The daughters, now a wife.

She has a laugh that makes me smile
And we remember olden days.
A cousin I can talk to
With great listening ways.

My cousin Kris, so smart
To go with a special soul
A mind forever thinking
And a warm heart of gold.

Cuz, keep doing what you’re doing
Be blessed in all your days
Know you’re appreciated
In oh, so many ways!

By Marilyn Elkins

Me, Detective – A Short Story by Henry Cleage

Today is my uncle Henry Wadsworth Cleage’s birthday. He was born on March 22, 1916 in Detroit Michigan. If he had not died on June 15, 1996, he would have been 97 today. In honor of his birthday I decided to run another one of his short stories. He wrote it in March of 1947 and sent it out to an agency but it wasn’t published. He also wrote a longer and slightly different version of this story. There was, however, no mention of a camera and that is the prompt for this weeks Sepia Saturday.

Henry and Hugh examine a camera.
Henry and Hugh examine a camera.

Me, Detective

By Henry Cleage

“Rural Detective Agency routes Thief” was in great big letters and underneath was the picture of the old man Lucas’s cat wearing the false teeth.  Then there was a little article about Sam and me.  I was humiliated. I jammed the magazine in my pocket and went up to the office.  The office is over the drugstore.

I opened the door and started towards my desk. I was almost there when I fell over the tripod. It was sulking in the shadows the better to destroy me.  I staggered on to the desk and sat there trying to organize myself.

Finally my mind was made up.  Whoever heard of a detective agency with a darkroom? I would just have to force Sam to stop fooling with them cameras and stick to business.  I couldn’t stand the strain and the indignity any longer.  It was getting so bad I was getting a fixation about cameras.  I could smell one a block away, and the smell didn’t do my blood pressure any good either.  After all, who was running the joint anyway?  I was in a state when Sam finally wandered in.

“Hello Dan.”. he said. He was loaded down with a camera almost as big as he was. He’s just about five foot six himself but he’s all energy and foolishness.  Oh, he’s a good boy all right. I don’t mean to say that he ain’t been a big help and all that, but after…  Just because he was the one who got us our license and set up the office don’t mean he can run around with a camera all the time. Besides it was only because he happened to know Sidney Jones’s daughter in the university where he was taking some fool course in photography that he was able to get the license.

 

But take that university business.  Ain’t that just like him?  If I wanted to be a photographer I would just grab a camera and start snapping pictures.  But he’s got to go at it the hard way.  He’s got a stubborn streak a mile wide.  If he wants anything, he’ll bust hell wide open to get it.  I didn’t even speak to him when he walks in.  He wanders around awhile tring not to get in my way, but I’m right there looking him dead in the eye.

At last I speak. “Sam”, I says, “What do you think is wrong with the business?”

“Geez” answers Sam “I think it’s wonderful.”

Now, ain’t he a ninny?  “Wonderful?” I gasp. “How can you say that when we ain’t had no business since old man Lucas lost his false teeth?”

”I don’t think we can expect a great volume of business, ever.” Says Sam. “That’s why I’m developing a sideline. With photography and our detective business, we ought to do alright.”

“How come we can’t expect a lot of business?” I says, stung to the quick by this fresh evidence of unamericanism.

“Why, the town is too small.” Says Sam innocently, his wide eyes even wider.

“Well”, I says “I think we can do more business if a certain one of us would tend to business and let our hobbies go.”

Sam seemed shocked.  “But, I think my camera work can be a help in the business.” he said.

Ain’t he a ninny though?

“Did the camera help in the Lucas False Teeth Case?” I roared.

“The picture I got of the cat wearing the teeth did.” Replied Sam.  “We sold it to the magazine for a hundred bucks.”

“Did the camera help in the Lucas False Teeth Case?” I repeated.

“I found the teeth.” Sam had the indecency to say.

“Did the camera find the teeth?” I scored.

“No.” Sam admitted.

I rose to my full six feet and glared down at Sam, sitting at his desk.  “Then admit you are wasting time with them gadgets.”

For a minute I thought I had him, but he’s stubborn.  He looked pained for a minute and then scratched his head.  He don’t like to argue.  That’s what I was counting on.

“I don’t think the camera has had a fair test.” He says.

I am almost exasperated but just then the phone rings and I grab it.  It’s old man Jones’ daughter herself.  She wants an appointment right away.  She gets it.

“I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do.” I says, turning back to Sam. “I want to be fair about this thing so we’ll make a bargain.” I look at him like I’m giving him the chance of a lifetime.  “That is if you got the nerve, the faith of your convictions.”

“What is it?” asks Sam.

“If you can use your camera in some legitimate way in our next case, I’ll keep my mouth shut. If you can’t, you’ll get down to business and forget it.”

Sam starts to protest but I come in fast.

“Oh?” I says “Welching?”  I shake my head disgustedly.  “Just a kid who don’t want to give up his toys.”

This gets Sam where he lives. He hates to be called a kid. That’s what I counted on.

“All right.” He says, his face tight and confused, “I’ll go along with you.”

I got him, I got him, I got him!  Geez, what a sucker.  I don’t know why, but I can get away with anything on him.  With other guys, he is as shrewd as the next one, but with me, he is putty.

Things are still pretty tense in the office that evening when Miss Jones comes in.  She is a looker all right. A tall well stacked dame with plenty of everything that makes the world go around.

When she sees Sam, she almost picks him up and puts him in her lap.  It seems they were regular old buddies at school.  Sam seems pretty fond of her too.  They act like two old college buddies.  Disgustin’.

“How is the demon photographer?” she hollers, laughing like mad.

“How’s the philosopher?” says Sam, grinning like an ape.

They kid each other around like two guys. I look at this chick again.  It’s amazing.  Usually a big shot chick with as much on the ball as this one, is got a lot of agony and such.  You know what I mean.  I figure this chick must be a problem to someone.  I can imagine her pulling almost as many silly ones as Sam.  I clear my throat and bring the meeting to order.

She’s really got a problem.  It seems that in her studies at school she comes across something pretty interesting in the way of the law of averages. And being the girl she is, she shoots right out to Whitey’s Roadhouse to see if the books are right.  They ain’t.  One thing follows another and before all is said and done, she gives an I.O.U. Now, for some peculiar reason, Whitey don’t want to give her back the I.O.U. even for the money.

“Well”, I says, “Why worry?” This chick must have a screw loose, I think to myself.  I would take the money and call it a good deal.

“Her father is running for mayor on the reform ticket.” Says Sam.

“What’s that got to do with it?” I shouts, very much put out by Sam’s habit of bringing up non-essentials.

“Petey Grace, the mayor’s handyman called me today and advised me to see that daddy did not choose to run or he would publish a Photostat of the I.O.U. in the paper.” She says.

That Sam, I think to myself.  Always showing off.  How in the world does he think we can get an I.O.U. if the guy don’t want to give it?  Besides, that Whitey bunch ain’t no boys to get too gay with.  And he’s in with the mayor too.  That’s a hard combination to beat.  It ain’t like finding old man Lucas’s false teeth.

I’m just on the verge of telling her that we are pretty well tied up, when I get a flash of genius.  This is just the case for showing Sam the folly of his ways.  It’s got to be strictly hush-hush, see.  The last thing you could use in a case like this is a camera.  I turn back to Jones with a suave smile.

“The way I see it”, I says, “the whole thing has got to be strictly hush-hush.”

“Definitely.” Says Jones, tossing her blond curls with a certain twist of her shoulders.

“No pictures or nothing.” I insist.

“Heavens no.”, replies Jones.  “That would discredit the reform ticket.”

“I’ll take care of it.” I say, standing up and bowing like they do in the movies when the interview is over.

Sam is pretty quiet after Jones leaves. I am pretty quiet too.  She carries quite a thrust, that girl does.

“Dan.” Says Sam.

“Huh?”

“That bargain,” he says.

“Yea?”

“Of course we can’t use this case as a test.”

“And why not?” I come back indignant.

“It ain’t a normal case.” Says Sam.

“There ain’t no such thing as a normal case.” I says.

“The bargain is unfair anyway.” Says Sam.

“Oh!” I says. “Baby wants to back down.”

Sam stalks out of the door.  I am dancing with glee, myself.  Sam knows he is licked.  He is so beat he walks out with only one camera, that little one with the light on it.  How can I lose?  It’s open and shut.  I look around at all the photo junk Sam will have to cart out of here.  Why with all that stuff out, I can get a bigger desk.  One like them big shots got.  Then I can get my bluff in on clients when they come in.

The twelfth hour found me doggedly making my way to Whitey’s Roadhouse.  It’s on Latham Road, about ten miles north of town.  Ordinarily I would have made it in half an hour.  Indeed in even less!  The fact is, the gas pedal on my 1936 Ford sticks, sometimes up and sometimes down.  Tonight it sticks up and so instead of traveling approximately 80 miles per hour, as I sometimes do, I was traveling ten miles an hour as I sometimes do.

When I finally reached the club, it was all dark.  I looked at my watch.  Two thirty AM! I kicked the gas pedal so it would know just who was to blame for my unseemly arrival.  The pedal, in perverse retaliation, became unstuck at that precise moment and the car, roaring like a lion, charged headlong into a large black limousine then leaving the driveway and pummeled it to a standstill.  So authoritatively did my car get in it’s licks that the limousine backed up in hurried confusion and swooshed off into the darkness.  But not before I caught a glimpse of Petey and the mayor.

Strange, I said to myself as I pried my ribs from around the knob on my steering wheel.  I drove on to the door.

When I walked in the door, I realized that I had taken quite a beating from that steering knob, particularly that spot on my chest where that knob had hit.  I stopped a moment in the dark to gingerly touch the bruise.

Immediately a short jug-headed individual who was looming out of the darkness skidded to a halt with his hands waving wildly in the air.

“Don’t shoot, boss!” he said. “The joint’s yours.”

I tried to gather my fumbling wits together but I didn’t do so good.  “Turn around,” I growled “and take me to Whitey.” I kept my hand on my chest because I knew he thought I had a gun.

So there we go, across the lobby and down a very discouraging hallway.  It felt like I was getting in deeper and deeper with every step.  I was in such a state, I wished I could see old Sam, cameras and all.  I want him so bad that for a minute I figure I can smell them cameras, even out here.  They don’t smell half bad now, but I had to stop dreaming ‘cause jughead stops in front of the last door.  I tell him to knock.  Then I hear voices inside.

“Did you hear that?” says the first.

“Who, me?” asks the second.

Finally the obscenities quieted and the second voice was prevailed upon to see to the knocking.  A guy who looks like the brother of the guy I am trailing opens the door and looks at my boy with considerable disgust.

“What the hell you knocking f…” then he sees the shape of things and waves the air with his hands too.

“A stick up!” grated Whitey who was cowering behind his desk in amazement. To him, the whole thing was like the tail wagging the rat. But a rat is fast.

I’m having myself a time.  I got the corners of my mouth turned down like a regular tough guy and I’m looking them over through narrowed eyes.  And then I hear the noise.  It’ just a little creak but I know it’s the door behind me.  Quick as a wink, I wheel towards the door, but I don’t see a thing.  Then I turn quick to keep whitey under control, but I am too late.  Whitey’s hand darts to the switch on the desk lamp, turns it off and continues on towards my head.  Somehow or other there is a gun in it when it point at my head.

Undignified as I must have looked I dived for the back of the desk and the protection it would give me.  The crash of the gun seemed to unhinge all the brains that I have.  Light and more light seemed to blast the room with almost as much authority as the noise of the gun.  It was all so unheard of, that the last I remember is the smell of that photo junk and that light.

The mumble of voices welcomed me back amongst the living.  I looked about wildly.  I was in my room and Sam was giving orders to the landlady.  It seemed he wanted a bucket of hot water and a tub of ice cubes.

“Oh no you don’t.” I shouted hysterically.

Sam dashed over to the bed and looked at me professionally.  He had a certain air about him and I didn’t like it.

“What happened?” I asked suspiciously.

“Well,” said Sam “after you dived into the desk and knocked yourself out, they gave me the I.O.U.”

“Yeah!” I hollered, scared that he would see how happy I was, but everything was so mellow.  We got the note and Sam has got to give up the camera.  Everything is breaking my way.  “Where did they find you?”  I ask, not that I give a darn but just to make conversation.

“I was there.” Says Sam.

A horrible feeling comes over me.

“If it wasn’t for the picture, we wouldn’t have got it.” Sam is swaggering, even though standing still.” I followed you in there and when Whitey shoots you through the hat, I get a picture.  After you knock yourself out, he finds out you ain’t out to hijack the joint, so he is glad to forget the whole thing if I give him my roll of film.”

Sam takes out a cigarette and lights it, all the time looking at me like an owl.  “Anything I can do for you before I go?” he says.  “I got to develop some pictures.”

I wave him out.  I ain’t got the heart to speak.

To see more Sepia Saturday offerings, click.
To see more Sepia Saturday offerings, click.

Mershell Graham and Fannie Mae Turner Marriage License – June 11, 1919

On June 11, 1919 Mershell Graham and Fannie Mae Turner applied for a marriage license in Montgomery, Alabama. They were married by Rev. E.E. Scott at First Congregational Church in Montgomery on June 15.  I have no photographs of the marriage or memories that were handed down. I could find no record of their marriage license in the Montgomery Advertiser. They seemed to have no section devoted to “News of the Colored Folk” as some newspapers did.

Mignon, Jean, Hattie, ?,?,?,Emma Topp, Mershell, Fannie
Moses McCall on Belle Isle.

Soon after the ceremony my grandparents left and returned to Detroit where Mershell was working.  I assume they took the train, which would have been segregated at that time. They roomed with friends from home, Moses and Jean Walker. There were other roomers, all of them saving up to be able to purchase their own homes.

To read Mershell’s letter of proposal read  The proposal To read Fannie’s letter of acceptance read –  The acceptance 

I found several marriage related, handwritten poems in my grandparents papers and have printed them below. I wonder if they read these during the ceremony or exchanged them.

The gift
Yes, take her and be faithful, still, and may your bridal bower,
Be sacred kept in after years, and warmly breathed as now,
Remember tis no common tie that binds your youthful hearts
Tis one that only truth should breath and only death should part.

Remember tis for you she leaves her home and mother dear,
To have this world with you alone, your good and ill to share,
Then take her and may future years mark only joys increase
And may your days glide sweetly on in happiness and peace.

The Brides Farewell

Soon, soon I’ll go – from those I love
You, Mother, Sister, among the nest,
Where I will often think of you,
Far in the distant west.

Farewell, Mother, though I leave you
Still I love you, Oh! believe me
and when I am far away
Back to you my thoughts will stray.
Oft, I’ll think of you and home
Though in other lands I’ll roam.
Yes, though miles may intervene,
I will keep thy memory green
Mother, sister, from my heart
Thoughts of thee shall never depart.

The Devilish Ghost – by Henry Cleage

Mercedes Gamble and Henry Cleage 1943
It was a marvelous party.  It had that nebulous, dreamlike quality that is so mellow. I was tripping daintily across the floor with this mellowness of aspect, when a small table sprang upon my person and bore me to the floor. It was pleasantly surprised to find that the lower level was as thickly populated and as chummy as the upper.  George was lying right next to me.
“Hello” I said, “a lovely scrunch.”
“Isn’t it though” said George raising his head to look about.
“Everyone seems to be having a very enjoyable time,” I said.
“Except Snuffy,” said George pointing towards a neglected part of the establishment.
He was right.  Snuffy was peering wildly out from behind some draperies.
He obviously wasn’t up to snuff.
“Soon as I rest up,” said George, “I’m gonna crawl over and see what’s up.”  He leaned back, tucked a bottle under his head and closed his eyes.
“Allow me,” I said, “I’m rested.
It was a gloomy hole that Snuffy had wormed into. Separated from the larger room by draperies.  It was dark and full of shadows.  Snuffy was sitting on a couch near the opening so that he could keep an eye on the party.  But his eyes had a haunted look, like they had seen too much.  Of course I knew personally that they had been around plenty, his eyes I mean, but there was definitely more here than met the eye, speaking of eyes that is to say.
“I’ve got a ghost,” said Snuffy.
“Female?” I asked.
“But talented,” said Snuff looking at me with respect.
I must admit that I was pleased.  One must be of a sensitive nature to delve into the mysteries with the nonchalance I had shown.  One must have imagination and faith.  Also one must have a particularly fine edge on.
“Behold,” said Snuff gesturing largely across the little room.
And there she was, a genuine ghost of absolutely the first water.  She was sitting across the room drinking a mellowroony.
She was, as far as I could see, a luscious piece of plunder too.  Of course it was all dark and shadows, but her robes and things were draped where they should be draped.  It was quite a ghost gown too.  Slit up one side about to her… It was beastly dark, as I say, and I couldn’t just say for sure.  The gown was very form fitting though and the ghost had no less a fitting form.  As a matter of fact, the tiny shaft of light that lay across that slit in her gown rested upon a limb that was surprisingly lifelike. But that cape gave her away.  That was a ghost cape if I ever saw one.
Immediately I realized the dire potentialities of the situation.  At a party like this where all is fellowship and noble sentiment, a ghost with a silted ghost gown has no place, especially if she also has a genuine ghost cape with a hood, yet.  Snuffy and I must protect the party, or vice versa.
But I wasn’t happy.  The party was showing admirable reserve strength as it swung into the stretch.  A lovely thing was doing a picturesque number on top of the piano.  Across the room George, apparently refreshed, was reaching great heights with his speech on fellowship.  Louis was standing before an Italian mirror, in a Mexican Sombrero, reciting German poetry.  And I was tied up, in a manner of speaking, with a ghost.  Giving my all—understand—for the group.
To top it all, Snuffy was well in was well in his cups and having difficulty remaining awake.  The ghost was not far behind, speaking of cups.  I was desperate.  That beautiful bit of talent on top of the piano needed me, I felt.  I couldn’t place her but that gown fascinated me.  A bit of ribbon here, a bit there and neither definitely here or there – understand.
I took desperate measures.  I marched right up to the ghost.
“Pffft, disappear,” I intoned whilst making mysterious motions with my hands.  Motions a ghost would understand, mind.
But she wasn’t having any.  She offered me a drink of mellowroony, which I accepted with a certain dignity and toddled back to my seat.
I was about to descend into a quandary when a nudge from Snuffy rescued me. I looked up.  Our ghost was upon us.
“She must not pass,” said Snuff.
The ghost had no intentions of passing.  She fixed us with those eyes and slowly raised her arms.
In those ghost capes and hoods she presented a most disheartening picture.  The room was full of darkness and despair with her just sitting there, but now it had gone hog wild.  It was as if some giant vulture had come among us.  As she hovered there she seemed to expand until she filled every corner of the room.  I was about to give her more room by leaving, when she spoke.
“Pfffffft,” she said.  She looked like the devil.
“Vamoose,” she hissed.
It was rather a nasty shock.  Being uncertain as to the powers of ghosts filled with mellowroonys, I quickly looked to see if Snuffy was still one of us.  He was and I was relieved.  Snuffy seemed relieved too.  We three looked at each other.  An impasse seemed to be reached.
Our ghost took in her stride though.  She sad down between us and cuddled up against my shoulder.  Snuffy cuddled against hers.  I was perturbed.
“Snuff,” I bellowed, thinking to keep him awake with conversation.
“Ummmm,” he replied.
“That girl on the piano with that gown, who is she?”
Snuffy and the ghost leaned forward to the opening and directed four beery eyes upon the piano and then fell back heavily to their former positions.
“Girl from the show,” said Snuff “George brung em.”
“Oh. And it ain’t no gown,” said Snuff fast loosing consciousness.
No?”
“It’s her costume, they didn’t change”.
“They?” I asked pointedly.
“Two girls,” he said heavily, “From a skit called Flesh and …” here Snuff gave it up.  He snuggled close to the ghost and put that devilish cape over his head and began to snore softly.
“Flesh and what,” I shouted hoping to arouse him. But I was let alone with a ghost with a slit in her gown.
I was beat – in a quandary-frantic.  This ghost was so permanent and so heavy.  The way she was leaning on my shoulder it wouldn’t be long before she had overcome me with sheer weight.  What to do?  Would I have to scream for help?
I was interrupted from my fast approaching neurosis by a giggle erupting from my left ear.
 “Flesh and the Devil,” my ghost confided in rare good humor.
“Didn’t you notice my devil’s costume?”
She held up that devilish cape.
*****
Henry wrote this story about 1943.  The photo at the top of Henry and someone I will try to find the name of was taken during 1943.  I looked up the drink “Mellowroony” and came up with the song “Cement Mixer” which you can hear near the end of this clip.  I had never heard of Slim Gaillard before but I think his performance fits in with the story. And he grew up in Detroit.

Where I’m From

(Randy Seaver of Genea Musings posted this for Saturday Night Fun.  You can also find the template here – “Where I’m From“.)

I’m from Motor City Burning.
From Jags shrimp, cousins down the
street and the River Rouge Plant.

I’m from moving every few years.
From parsonages, two family
flats, faded wine carpet and
summers in Idlewild.

I am from grape vines in
grandmother’s backyard and
collard greens in Poppy’s.

I’m from the “Cleage Look”
and Mommy’s firm closed lips. From
“Do you want to scrub floors for the
rest of your life?” and “What
were you thinking?”

I come from church starting
Congregationalists and Presbyterians. From
Black Christian Nationalists and Catholics.

I am from Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky.
From smothered chicken, baking powder biscuits,
caramel iced cakes and sweet potato pie.

I’m from Eliza’s freedom and Dock’s
escape.  From “I know nothing about you
people.” And digging yams in the rain.

I am from slaves, seamstresses, carpenters,
doctors, teachers, auto workers and dreamers.
From Annie, Matilda, Celia and Clara.

I’m from talking and analyzing  around
the dinner table. From meetings
and protests. From newsletters and
demonstrations.  From freedom now.

I come from the creamy crumbling pages of
my father’s photo album.  From my
grandparents faded love letters. I come
from those who survived.

Poems by James E. McCall

The first poem was written on the death of Howard Graham, my grandparent’s youngest son.  He died in 1932 from complications of scarlet fever. You can read more about it here My Grandmother’s Loss.  James McCall and my grandmother Fannie were first cousins, their mothers were sisters.


Good-night, Little Pal

Little pal, do you know how we miss you,
Since you journeyed into the West?
Once again in dreams we kid you,
And press you close to our breast.

Your hair was bright as the sunshine,
Your voice like the music of birds,
Your eyes were blue as the heavens,
And your smile too precious for words.

Goodnight, little pal; sleep sweetly
Till the dawn of the morning light;
May the angels of God watch o’er you–
Good-night, little pal, good-night.

In memory of Howard A. Graham,
By his pal, J.E.M.(James Edward McCall)
3/5/32

_________________________

The second poem is transcribed from the page of poems in my grandmother’s scrapbook. She pasted one thing over another, sometimes obscuring the original items on the page. The clippings are browning and fragile.

Winter in St. Antoine by James McCall
(In The Detroit Saturday Night)

In St. Antoine the snow and sleet
Whiten and glaze the drab old street
And make the snow-clad houses gleam
Like crystal castles in a dream.
There, many swarthy people dwell;
To some, ’tis heaven, to others,   hell!
To me the  street seems like a movie stage
Where Negro play and stars engage.
They laugh and love and dance and sing
While waiting the return of spring.
Some drown their heart-aches deep
In winter time on St. Antoine.

There, on the gutters frozen brink
A dope-fiend lies, with eyes that blink
And from a neighboring cabaret
come sounds of song and music gay.
At windows, tapping, here and there,
Sit dusky  maidens  young and fair,
With painted cheeks  and brazen eyes.
and silk clad legs crossed to the thigh
Upon the icy pavements wide,
Gay brown-faced children laugh and slide
While tawny men in shiny cars
Drive up and down the street like   czars.

Into a  church across the way
There goes a bridal party gay.
While down the street like a prairie-fire,
Dash a  bandit car and a cruising flyer.
Around the corner whirls a truck,
An old coal-peddler’s horse is struck;
The horse falls on the frozen ground,
The dark blood spouting from its wound.
A motley crowd runs to the scene;
A woman old, from shoulders lean,
Unwraps a quilt her hands have pieced
And spreads it o’er the shivering beast.

Among the swarthy folk who pass
Among the slippery street of glass,
Are some in furs and  some in rags;
Lovely women, wretched hags,
White-haired  migrants from the South;
Some wrapped in blankets, pipes in mouth;
Some smile while others seem to shiver,
As though they   long for Swanee River;
But though they dream with tear wet eyes
Of cotton-fields and sunny skies.
They  much prefer the heaven and hell
On St Antoine, where free men dwell.

______________________________

Jo Mendi was a famous chimpanzee at the Detroit Zoo.

You can read more about McCall in this post – James Edward McCall, Poet and Publisher.

Positive Proof – A Short Story by Henry Cleage

Henry W. Cleage - about 1936
Positive Proof

By Henry Cleage

Before Jones placed the evidence before me, I was doing all right with my paper “The Gaylord Gazette.”  I wasn’t getting rich, mind, but I was holding my own in a comfortable fashion.  I was even approaching that beloved stage where a man can begin accumulating those little extra things, those cultural folderas of gracious living—like, for instance, a fireplace.I was going to put one in the front room of my building.  There are two rooms altogether, a large room in the back for my press and linotype and a small room in the front for my desk and Jones’ desk.  A rail runs across the front room separating our desks from the waiting room.  The waiting room is for the public, people who drop in with a news item or a horsewhip for the editor.  No one has horsewhipped me yet, so in gratitude I decided to put the fireplace along that south wall about where those two middle chairs are.  Jones likes a fireplace too.

So you see, I was easing along pretty debonair.  Gaylord was a comfortable little town. Not too big and full of news like some.  That is until Jones uncovered that evidence.

Even though I am an old newspaperman of the old school, I was mortally shocked when the thing was brought out into the open.  Of course you may say a newspaperman should be immune to shock, and that’s all right for you to say.  But I am the one who has to rebuild his whole philosophy of life at my age.

Jones is my demon reporter.  Kristin Jones is her full name but I just call her Jones on account of she is a good “newspaperman.”  She is the product of the Gaylord public schools with four years of Vassar thrown in for confusion.  She has a gigantic capacity for managing.  When she returned from school she immediately looked for something to manage and I, sitting there, very comfortable in my snug little office must have appeared the easiest thing to get a grip on.  Jones has a stranglehold on the Gazette now, but I jut can’t find it in my heart to complain.  She manages with such a flair that it is good just to sit and watch her.

Jones is twenty-two and she has deep brown eyes and wavy brown hair which bounces on her shoulders.  Sometimes, though, when she is turning out some deathless prose for a threatening deadline, she piles it up in a disheveled heap on top her lovely head and it is something, I’m telling you. And when she puts on her little derby hat and dashes out of the office with her big brown brief case, I have to chuckle.  She is a journalist, she says.  She says that is what they call it at school.  She says the day of the sloppy reporter writing his story on the back of a grimy envelope is gone.  The reporter has a responsible position and with this responsibility comes the necessity for dignity—and a briefcase.

I say “O.K.”  I am too old to argue with youth.  Why I have been out of State University nine years!  I’m going on thirty-two.  But when I was in school, I always wanted to be one of those slick newspaper guys with a cigarette and chewing gum.  But like I said, we older folk have got to step aside and let the young folk have a say.  We had our chance.  Besides I am an owner, publisher, editor and reporter so I got to be a little bit pompous and such.

But don’t mention these sentiments to Jones anymore.  I used to and she would get mad for some reason or other.  Like once she was trying to make me start a readers’ survey.

“What’s that?” I asked at a complete loss.

“A survey,” she said patiently, “to determine your readers’ preference in reading material.”

“Oh,” I said, “I know all about what they prefer.”

“Why don’t you print it then?”

She was getting a bit pointed here, I thought.

“Too much of that stuff ain’t good for them,” I said innocent as a lamb.’’ Well she certainly laid me out.  And she was right too.  What right had I to assume to know my readers’ taste and then on top of that to decide whether it is good for them yet.

“O.K., O.K., “ I interrupted when she stopped to inhale.  “You are right.  It’s just another new idea an old man like me never heard of.  Thanks for bringing it up.”I leaned back in my chair like I wasn’t long for this world.

“I appreciate your teaching me these new, youthful methods,” I added.  I sort of groaned like my hardening arteries were hurting.  For some reason this seemed to irritate Jones, but she controlled herself.
“Just what is it your readers prefer but you feel is too rich for their blood?” Jones asked, obviously changing the subject back to the point.
“Comics,” I admitted.
Jones slapped her derby back on her head and switched out.  She forgot her briefcase.  I wondered what I’d said wrong.

So you can plainly see why I steer clear of the “youth question” now.  Anyway I am busy putting out a paper, and it is getting harder all the time.  I’ve been so restless lately.  Some days I have the awfullest time concentrating on the “Notices of Auction Sales.”  I go through the “Marriage Announcements” like sixty though.

And in the evening when the breeze is soft and the quiet is dark and full of shadows, I find my usual pastimes are boring me. Last night, for instance, I walked out on the poker game at the firehouse and went for a walk.  I take a lot of walks lately.  Oh it’s rugged all right! And now on top of all, Jones has got that evidence.

She had been mentioning, for weeks, that her evidence was almost complete and she said I would be proud of her good work when she “exposed” the culprit.  I wondered who it was.  I hoped it wasn’t anyone I knew.  I found out Tuesday afternoon.

I was just getting comfortable when Jones came in.  My feet were nicely balanced in the top drawer of my desk and a soft clover hayish wind was nuzzling my neck.  Two little flies were buzzing against the screen—buzz—buzz-buz-bu—b.  I had only just closed my eyes for a mere second when she rudely flung my feet from their comfortable position and into the wastebasket.  I felt trapped!

She had on a green sweater and a skirt.  I don’t know what color her skirt was but it was a green sweater.  It had little pockets on each side and a pin was stuck on the left pocket.

“Well,” she said looking at me with those eyes, “have you got to the nerve to see my evidence.”

“Do it take nerve?” I asked in a veritable chaos of confusion.She reached deep down in her briefcase and drew out a nickel notebook.  She fixed me with a narrowed pair of eyes.

” June 19—“ she began, but something forced me to speak.“Jones, my dear,” but she raised a hand for silence.

“Because, said Jones, “the evidence concerns you and your walks and things.”

“I haven’t got the nerve,” I sobbed, “take it away.”

“On one condition,” she said.

“Anything,” I pleaded.

So now we are married and Jones manages me and the Gazette legally.  I wonder why she never asked me in for a dish of tea when I was walking by her house all those times.