It was June of 1971 and my grandmother Pearl Reed Cleage was waiting for the party to begin. Uncle Hugh is in the kitchen getting things ready. Grandmother was 87 and didn’t break her hip for some years yet. I remember so many dinners around that table. There were always cakes with caramel icing for birthdays. This time it looks like there are two cakes – one chocolate and one with caramel icing. Both have candles.
Candy corns in the little silver dish. There were often candy corns in the covered candy dish that always on the front room table coffee table. Candy corns or red and white striped peppermints or sometimes chocolate kisses.
I can think of several June birthdays. My father turned 60 that year. My cousin Anna Pearl turned eleven and her sister Maria turned nine. It must have been an all June collective party. I wish I had been there. My oldest daughter Jilo turned one that June.
My cousin Barbara was six years old when this photograph was taken. She is holding a little parasol and standing at the edge of their front yard.
In age, Barbara was right between my sister Pearl and me. Every year my father took the three of us to the Michigan State Fair. We went to the Fair right before the end of summer vacation in early September.
I remember buying little parasols like the one Barbara is holding. They were pin. blue, or yellow with flowers on them. We also liked to buy pop beads that snapped together into bracelets and necklaces. I don’t remember using them after the fair. They were part of the experience, like the cotton candy.
Living in Detroit, we didn’t see livestock everyday, but we saw it at the fair. I remember King Romancer the 23rd (or something along those lines), the bull who had sired many, many prize winning cows. And the time we rounded a corner to see a huge boar heading down the aisle towards us. Pearl and Barbara jumped behind me. There was someone with the boar and my father was right behind us, so all was well. We watched a 4-H cattle show where a girl kicked her losing heifer. As we walked through the various barns full of animals, I was envious of the young people who had cots in stalls near their animals.
The only ride we ever went on was the “Tilt-A-Whirl”. It was one step up from the Merry Go Round, and it gave me an upset stomach every year. We must have left for home soon after enjoying this exciting ride. I’m not sure when we stopped taking our annual trip, but it was well before our teen years.
While reading about Dr. Turner, who I talked about in Part 2 of this 3 part series, I became interested in the story of his wife, Leota Henson Turner and her uncle, Frederick J. Loudin. Frederick Loudin, although not a student at Fisk, became a member of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers. They toured the United States and Europe singing Spirituals and other songs that came down from slavery, to raise money for Fisk College. When the tour ended and the Fisk singers were disbanded, Loudin decided to keep the group together as the Loudin Jubilee Singers and under his direction they went on a six year tour of Australia, New Zealand, India, Burma, Japan and sang before the crowned heads of Europe. (Aside – My father used to tell us that he danced before the crowned heads of Europe so I like writing that. He was joking.). Loudin’s niece, Leota Henson trained for two years in Germany as a pianist. She later joined the group and toured with them as their pianist. There are a lot of articles about the tour out there and they received almost universal acclaim with full houses and bravos everywhere. She kept a detailed diary of the trip and wrote a series of articles for The Gazette after her return.
There is a lot more to tell about Loudin – how his ancestors were enslaved in the north and free by 1850, how he became a printer but could get no business, how he went to Pennsylvania where he met his wife Harriett. I could talk about the time the group sang spirituals in the Taj Mahal. I could write about the relative lack of discrimination the singers faced everywhere else in the world and the overabundance of it they found in the USA. I could tell about his invention of the key chain and how for a short period of time he owned a shoe factory in Ravenna, Ohio. However, I am going to tell only one more story, which ties into my family.
While reading the book “Out of Sight – The Rise of African American Popular Music 1889 – 1895”, I came across the following passage on page 77 describing Frederick and Harriett Loudin’s home in Ravenna, Ohio.
“Facing one as they enter the beautiful stained glass door of the house, stands a clock similar in size and form to the grandfather’s clock of ye olden time, which is made of teak wood and was brought by Mr. Loudin from Burma. It was made in Rangoon at the government prison..by a Burma convict. The wood is almost as heavy as iron, and resembles the polished face of dark granite. A year and a half was requird to make it…The clock stands eight feet in height and is one mass of bas-relief, gods, dragons and various monsters…”
As I read it, I realized that I had heard this story before, it was one my Aunt Barbara Cleage Martin had told me several years ago about a clock that stood in my Cleage Grandparent’s dining room for as long as I could remember and which now stands in my cousin’s home. When I turned the page, there was a photograph of the very same clock!
At my Aunt’s 90th birthday party, I asked her how we came to have this clock in the family. She told me that Dr. Turner’s wife had been a pianist who played all over the world. While traveling in Burma, they bought this clock. When the Turners were leaving Detroit they asked my Uncle Louis to keep the clock for them.
“Hugh, Gladys and Anna Cleage of Scotten took their share of places in the annual city ice skating meet which was held at Belle Isle last Sunday afternoon. Anna won first place and a gold medal in the Senior girls’ novice; Gladys, third in the same event and a gold medal. Hugh competed in the men’s 220 and two-mile events.”
This article is from one of the Detroit daily papers and is undated, but I would place it in the early 1940s. Years later when I was talking about this photo with my aunt Anna, she said that the story was wrong and that actually she came in third and Gladys won the race. She remembered taking an early lead in the race but soon falling behind as Gladys easily over took her. They learned to skate at the Northwestern High School skating rink, which was a few blocks from their home on Scotten. When my sister and I were in high school at Northwestern in the early 1960s we skated at the same rink. We got racing skates because Hugh and Gladys were so cool skating on the Lagoon at Belle Isle, but we were never gold medal material. The old Northwestern High School is no longer there. It was torn down and a new school was build where the skating rink used to be.
In 1986 my husband and I moved to Idlewild, Michigan with our children. We lived on Idlewild Lake. When it was frozen we skated right in front of the house. Hugh and Gladys could still skate circles around us. During the summer when Gladys and I walked around the Lake, people from Detroit’s Old West Side would stop us to ask if she was the skating champion. She was in her early 60s. This week I wish I had some skates. It would make it so much easier to get around frozen Atlanta. Above is a picture of four of my children skating on Idlewild Lake about 1990. To see more Sepia Saturday offerings click here.
Here we have my sister Pearl swinging in 1953. This playground was two blocks down from our house, the parsonage on Atkinson. My father’s church was across the street. Right outside the playground was the building where the 1967 Detroit rebellion began after police raided and arrested people attending a welcome home party for a returning Vietnam veteran.
You can see Economy Printing on the far left. The playground is right next to it. The rebellion was in full swing here.
On the back of the photograph it says in part, “This is part of Cook High’s band. Greta looks sour on this this picture, but she was cute. That is Janice where I have the X.”
My cousin Janice shared this memory with me –“Greta is ‘the little girl’ smile and I am playing the bells. Must have been in about the 2nd grade…The writing looks like my grandmother Cleage’s handwriting. Greta started marching as a junior majorette when she was 5. I joined the band in the 2nd grade. There were 6 to 8 senior majorettes, but Greta marched beside the Head Majorette. My Uncle was the school principal and my Aunt Bea made Greta the Junior Head Majorette and then Head Majorette. Smile… K to 12th grade. We often laugh about that.“
The bells that Janice is holding are described thus on Wikepidea:
“When used in a marching or military band, the bars are sometimes mounted in a portable case and held vertically, sometimes in a lyre-shaped frame. However, sometimes the bars are held horizontally using a harness similar to a marching snare harness. In orchestral use, the bars are mounted horizontally. A pair of hard, unwrapped mallets, generally with heads made of plastic or metal, are used to strike the bars, although mallet heads can also be made of rubber (though using too-soft rubber can result in a dull sound). If laid out horizontally, a keyboard glockenspiel may be contrived by adding a keyboard to the instrument to facilitate playing chords. Another method of playing chords is to use four mallets, two per hand.”
Janice’s uncle E. Harper Johnson was the second and final principal of Cook highschool. He was married to Beatrice Cleage, sister of Janice and Greta’s mother Juanita Cleage and daughter of Edward Cleage my grandfather Albert’s brother.
A photograph of my aunt Mary Virginia Graham standing on the front steps of the house on Theodore in Detroit. She was named for both of her grandmothers. The writing on the photo says “13 yrs Mary Virginia 1934”. A double exposure shows my mother sideways, overlapping.
This photo looks like it was taken the same day at Belle Isle, which was 5 miles from the house. The dresses are the same. My mother is standing the same way that she in in the double exposure.
This photograph of my grandmother Fannie’s cousin, Naomi Vincent was printed on the cans of Tulane Coffee. This was one of her father Victor Tulane’s many projects, which included real estate, founding a Penny Bank, and owning Tulane’s Grocery. He was also on the Board of Directors of Tuskegee Institute and a generally active citizen of Montgomery. I found the advertisement below in the Montgomery Advertiser.
Years later, he traveled North selling Alaga Syrup. Naomi traveled with him and it was on a trip to New York City that she met her future husband, Dr. Ubert Vincent.
Grand River Avenue figured in my life in multiple ways. I walked to both McMichael Junior High and Northwestern High Schools down Grand River. I took the Grand River bus home when I worked at J.L. Hudson’s Department store during several Christmas seasons. In 1971 and 1972, the Black Conscience Library was located at 6505 Grand River and that is my focus in this post.
In 1971 the Black Conscience Library relocated from temporary quarters to 6505 Grand River, the upstairs offices in a building right across the street from Northwestern High School. I continued as librarian for awhile. This was around the time that the heroin epidemic hit inner city Detroit hard. Chimba, one of the active members of the Library, was from the North End community. I remember him saying that the year before they had a baseball team, but that in 1971 there were so many heroin addicts in the community that they couldn’t get a team together. It was Chimba’s idea to start a methadone program in the Black Conscience Library to help addicts get off drugs. This was before it was widely known that methadone was a powerful, addictive drug in it’s own right. Eventually, the drug program over shadowed all other Library programs. I spent less time there and eventually got a job as assistant teacher at Merrill Palmer preschool. I still came around but not everyday and not as librarian. It was pretty depressing up there.
There were lines of junkies waiting to collect their scripts, men and women. Some brought their children. In the beginning, I watched the kids while the parents went to the lectures. I remember one baby with a bottle full of milk so spoiled it was like cottage cheese.
We came to the Library one morning to find it had been broken into the night before. All of the printing equipment and the tape recorder were securely locked up. There were no prescriptions laying around. Nothing was stolen, but we couldn’t figure out how they got in, until I noticed glass from the skylight on the table. They had come through the skylight. One night someone was found hiding in the Men’s room hoping nobody would notice they were there so they could rob the place. Another man tried to break in one early morning. Luckily, he couldn’t get through the front chained door. I remember a junkie who nodded off and fell out of his seat during the planning session for a radio program.
There were a few non-drug related activities. One I remember, was a panel discussion on the role of the father in parenting that was presented by several ex-members of SNCC (Student Non-violent Co-ordinating Committee). There were karate classes. One night I had come back after a particularly trying day and a car crashed into the shop downstairs. I caught a plane to visit my sister in Atlanta the next day. Those were the days of cheap standby tickets. I remember The Last Poets record playing over and over and over. The relief when the drug program ended.
This is one of a three page surveillance report from October 29, 1971 is from Jim’s police file. We knew they were watching, but when we got this report several years ago it was still creepy to see how much time they were actually spending watching, following, keeping track. “N/M” = Negro Male. “N/F” = Negro Female.