My father, then known as Rev. Albert B. Cleage jr preaching. This is rather a long sermon, about 45 minutes. He talks about growing up in the black church in Detroit with no use for religion until attending Plymouth Congregational Church and hearing Rev. White preach. He mentions attending Oberlin Seminary and finishes up by sharing a bit from an article by Dr. Harding in a religious magazine. This was just at the start of 1967. What a year was to come. Click on the documents below to enlarge.
The Illustrated News was a weekly newsletter put out by my family and some of their friends in Detroit from 1961 to 1964. This issue dealt with the violence in Birmingham, Alabama during 1963 when the violence continued, uninterrupted. I was a sophomore at Northwestern High School in the spring of 1963. This is my offering after watching Episode 5 of Many Rivers to Cross. For links to other bloggers writing their response to this series, as well as the other posts I’ve written for earlier episodes, click this link – Many Rivers To Cross – Responses. To enlarge the pages for easier reading, please click on them.
Looking at this photograph, I wondered about the lives of the children in the boat. Here are their lives in a paragraph.
Evelyn Douglas, seated on the left in the first row, was born in 1910 in Detroit. She was the only child of Dr. Edward and Louise Douglas. Her father was a dentist. Her mother was a dressmaker before Evelyn was born. Evelyn graduated from the University of Michigan and earned a graduate degree in education. She married Charles E. Beatty, Sr., a pioneering educator, in 1935. He was the first black principal of Perry Elementary School in Ypsilanti, MI which later housed HighScope Perry Preschool program. She taught for 30 years in the Detroit Public Schools. Evelyn was the mother of three children. She died at age 93 in 2003 in Detroit.
Cornelius Langston Henderson, who sits in the middle of the first row, was born in 1915 in Detroit, Michigan. He was an only child and grew up several blocks from the Cleages on Detroit’s Old West Side. Cornelius was named after his father, Cornelius L Henderson Sr., also born in Detroit. Like his father, Cornelius Jr became an engineer. His mother, Gertrude, born in Virginia and taught in the Washington DC public schools before she married. The younger Cornelius graduated from Howard University in Washington DC with a degree in civil engineering. He later took postgraduate classes at the University of Michigan. He worked for the City of Detroit as a civil engineer for over 30 years, where he helped design sewer systems. He was married and raised two sons and a stepdaughter. He died in November of 1993 in Detroit and is buried in Detroit Memorial Park.
Albert B Cleage, Jr, my father, seated on the right end of the first row, was the oldest of the seven children of Dr. Albert B. Cleage Sr and Pearl Reed Cleage. He grew up to be a black nationalist minister and organizer around political and civil rights issues. He founded Central Congregational Church which became Central United Church of Christ and finally the Shrine of the Black Madonna. He had two daughter, my sister and me. He died in 2000.
Directly behind my father is his first cousin Helen Mullins. Born in 1899 in Indianapolis, Indiana, she was the oldest of the 12 children of James and Minnie (who was my grandmother Pearl Cleage’s sister) Mullins. James Mullins held various jobs through the years, including that of fireman, carpenter and laborer. Helen completed highschool. She married Otto Mitchell. They raised four children. In the 1940 census Helen was a telegraph operator for Western Union while Otto worked on the assemble line of an automobile factory in Detroit. They owned their own home. Helen died in 1982.
Helen is holding Barbara Cleage, my aunt. Barbara was the 5th child and first daughter of Dr. Albert and Pearl Cleage. She completed a year at Wayne State. She married Ernest Martin and had one son. Unfortunately the marriage didn’t work out and she returned to Detroit. Barbara worked as a receptionist in her father’s doctor’s office, at Cleage Printers doing layout and finally her true talent came to the fore and she organized and managed the bookstores and cultural centers for the Shrine of the Black Madonna. She was amazing at it. Barbara is 96 and lives in South Carolina.
Next, in the back row middle, we have my uncle Louis Cleage. Born in 1913 he was the 2nd of the seven children. He followed in his father’s footsteps and became a medical doctor, sharing an office with him for some years. Besides having a medical practice on Lovett Ave. in Detroit for many years, he was active in the Movement. He wrote Smoke Rings for the Illustrated News and ran for office on the Freedom Now Party ticket in 1964. He maintained a cottage in Idlewild where the family spent many happy summers. Louis died in 1994.
Last we have a partial, ghostly image of my uncle Henry Cleage. He was the third child born in 1915. He graduated from Wayne State in Detroit and became a lawyer. During WW2 he and his brother Hugh farmed as a conscientious objectors. (Where was Hugh when this picture was taken? Click to read) Henry later left the law and started Cleage Printers where he and Hugh printed far into the night putting out flyers for grocery stores, books of poetry and radical newsletters. He ran for Prosecuting Attorney on the Freedom Now ticket in 1964. After the 1967 Detroit riot, Henry returned to the law and worked for Neighborhood Legal Services until he retired to Idlewild, MI where he fine tuned his Status Theory. He died in 1996.
The photograph in the boat was taken the day of this picnic, summer of 1919.
I used news articles, census and other records from ancestry.com to fill in the lives of Evelyn Douglas and Cornelius L. Henderson, who are not related to me.
Three generations of my Cleages. Front left is Henry, with Louis behind him, center is my father, Albert B. front right is Hugh. Behind Hugh is my great grandmother Celia Rice Cleage Sherman. Back left is my grandmother Pearl Reed Cleage holding baby Barbara Cleage Martin. This photograph was taken about 1921 somewhere around Detroit, Michigan, perhaps on Belle Isle. My grandfather took the photo. There is another from the same day with him in the photo taken by my grandmother.
This shot was taken in our living room in the parsonage of St. John’s Congregational Church in Springfield, Mass. I just noticed the reflection of my father taking the picture last night. I looked everywhere for that teapot in later years but it was lost in one of the various moves. It was blue with a gold design over it. The couch was with us for many years. Eventually the cushions were covered in reddish leather, or something like it. I remember that table, which was also around for a long time. And those little plastic records my sister and I used to play on our little phonograph.
Bringing this back from August 2011 for this weeks Sepia Saturday prompt showing a mirror and the reflection of the photographer. If only I had a rose behind my ear like Billie Holiday.
The Black Messiah was published in 1968. It was taken from sermons that my father made about black power and the black Jesus. I have all of those sermons am thinking about putting them online in the coming year.
I remember taking my copy with me when I went on my cross country bus/train/plane trip after graduating from Wayne State University. At the train station in San Francisco, as I waited to catch a train to D.C., a young white guy came up and started talking to me. He asked about the book but mainly he wanted to talk about waiting for his girl friend (or a woman he hoped would be his girl friend) coming in on the next train.
I also remember lending my mother-in-law my copy when she was visiting us in Simpson County, Mississippi. She didn’t finish reading it before she was scheduled to take a flight back to St. Louis. She carefully covered the book with a brown paper bag cover because she didn’t want anybody to see the cover.
Below, Rev. Albert B. Cleage, Jr., interviewed by Scott Morrison, Mutual News (New York: Radio Station WOR-AM, November 1968)
When I finished writing up this post, I googled Northwestern High School and found the following statement in an online article from 2011 about school closures in Detroit:
“The academic program at Northwestern High School will close and the Detroit Collegiate Preparatory High School program will relocate from the east wing of Northwestern into the main academic part of the facility. Because of the importance of the Northwestern name to DPS and the community, this new program will be called Detroit Collegiate Preparatory High School at Northwestern.”
So, like so many other places of importance in my early life in Detroit, Northwestern High is no more. The original building was replaced in 1980 and the school was closed in 2011. So many of my family attended high school at Northwestern, some just for a year or two. Here is something about those who graduated, starting with Alberta Cleage in 1927 and ending with my sister Pearl in 1966.
Click on any image to enlarge.
Cousin Alberta Cleage, my grandfather’s brother Edward;s daughter, came up from Athens Tennessee to stay with her Uncle Albert and his family and graduated from Northwestern High School in 1927.
My uncle Louis Cleage graduated Cum Laude in 1931 and appeared in a picture of the physics lab, right there lower right, first desk. Advertisements for his medical practice appeared in the Norwester in 1941 and 1942.
Henry Cleage appears in a photograph of the orchestra in 1933 and as a graduating senior in 1934. He is in the back row, 4th from the left with his cello.
<– My uncle Hugh Cleage graduated in 1936, unfortunately that yearbook is missing.
My aunt Barbara Cleage graduated in 1938 but, again the yearbook is missing.–>
My aunt Gladys Cleage graduated in 1939. In the photo on the right Gladys is standing in front of the back steps. You can see Henry over her right shoulder. Not sure who the other two are but my grandmother Pearl is looking through the screen door.
My cousin Geraldine Cleage, Uncle Henry’s daughter graduated in 1940. They lived a few blocks from my grandparent’s house on Scotten.
Anna Cleage graduated from Northwestern in 1942 and appeared in the Norwester and in 1947 in the yearbook when she graduated from Wayne State University.
I, Kristin Cleage, graduated from Northwestern in 1964.
That is me in the middle, 2nd row. I pretty much looked like that throughout my high school career. I did not take a senior photo and didn’t plan to go to my graduation, but did end up going. Do not remember a thing about it.
My sister Pearl Cleage graduated from Northwestern in 1966. No yearbook photo available, but this is how she looked.
Four State Negroes Earn Scholarships
“National Achievement scholarships have been awarded to four Michigan Negro students according to a recent release from the National Merit Scholarship Corp.
Students winning the scholarships, which range from $250 to $1,500 a year, are Pearl Cleage, Detroit; Evans E. Pate Jr., Detroit: Ivy L. Thomas, Flint, and Vernice V. Killough, Remus.” The News-Palladium, Benton Harbor, Mich. Wednesday, February 2, 1966
Pearl gave the valadictorian speech at her graduation. Jim advised her to speak out against the war in Vietnam. She was horrified at the thought and regrets now that she did not do it.
Cousin Geraldine Cleage’s son Shelton Hill also graduated in 1966. Unfortunately, I have no photograph of him from this time.
Photographs of Northwestern High School are from the Website for the Alumni Association – NWHSAA.