The Advent sermon below was preached on the first Sunday of Advent, November 27, 1966 by my father, Rev. Albert B. Cleage Jr., who was later known as Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman.
The Advent sermon below was preached on the first Sunday of Advent, November 27, 1966 by my father, Rev. Albert B. Cleage Jr., who was later known as Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman.
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.
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 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.
Inspired by a Facebook post by my cousin Nikki, I went through my collection of The Illustrated News and found the first mention of the Freedom Now Party (FNP). In the days to come, I will be posting a series of The Illustrated News issues that mention the FNP. There is a lot of reading there but I hope some will wade through it. This is the September 2, 1963 issue. The story about the FNP is on page 2. Other posts about the FNP are The Freedom Now Party Convention 1964 and Interview with Henry Cleage. Click any image to enlarge.
The Illustrated News was published during the early 1960s by my father’s family and family friends. Two of his brothers, Henry and Hugh, started a printing business because the family was always looking for ways to be economically independent. The main business was printing handbills for small grocery stores. They started several newspapers. First they did The Metro but the one I remember best is The Illustrated News. It was printed on pink paper (that was what was left over after printing the handbills) and distributed to churches and barber shops around the inner city. Some people had subscriptions. My father wrote many of the lead articles. My Uncle Louis wrote Smoke Rings, which was always on the back page. Billy Smith took most of the photographs.
A copy of the Illustrated News, published by Henry Cleage, other family members and friends from 1961 to 1964. It came out several weeks after the massive Detroit Walk to Freedom down Woodward Avenue on June 23, 1963. Click the link above to read an Illustrated News issue covering the march.
The inside pages are reprinted from The National Observer and Business Week June 29, 1963. The cover photo was taken by William “Billy” Smith. The “Smoke Rings” on page 8 were written by my uncle, Dr. Louis J. Cleage. Click on any image to enlarge.
I do not remember seeing my parents dressed up for this dance. I was six years old. I do not remember ever seeing my parents dressed up and going out. After we moved off of Atkinson to Chicago Blvd, I remember that my mother had several fancy gowns hanging in her closet.
I looked for information about an Alpha dance in Detroit in 1952. I couldn’t find anything. Neither of my parents were members of a sorority or fraternity. I am assuming that some members of the church invited them to the dance.
“In 1951, when I was four, my father received a call to St. Marks Presbyterian church in Detroit. We left Springfield, Massachusetts and moved into 2212 Atkinson, down the street from my paternal grandparents who lived at 2270 Atkinson. St. Marks was located a block away, in the other direction, on 12th Street. The 1967 Detroit riot started a block from the church.” For more click A is for Atkinson.
Moving from Springfield to Detroit in 1951.
[From Paul Lee, “UPRISING! Rare testimonies and reports in the ’67 Detroit Rebellion,” Part 8, The Michigan Citizen, Oct. 14th-Oct. 20th, 2007, pp. A9-A11]
Rebellions Create Strange Leaders
By Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman
(Rev. Albert B. Cleage, Jr.)
Introduced and edited by Paul Lee
This installment of our series on the ’67 Detroit Rebellion is the first not to be drawn from the records of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, or Kerner Commission, which President Lyndon B. Johnson established on July 28, 1967, to uncover the causes of the annual urban uprisings and make recommendations on how to prevent or contain future disorders.
Unlike the reports, surveys and interviews submitted by commission field investigators and consultants in the wake of the uprisings, written, compiled and conducted to present “a fair and accurate picture of what happened” and lead to the formulation of new government programs, initiatives and experiments, the following document offers a decidedly partisan, pro-black analysis of the complex social and psychological roots of the rebellions and their potential to help bring about fundamental social changes.
Voice of the Black Nation
This penetrating and provocative analysis was offered by a 56-year-old veteran of the civil-rights and Black Power movements in Detroit: Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman, then known as the Rev. Albert B. Cleage, Jr., the bold, charismatic and visionary black nationalist pastor of Central United Church of Christ, formerly Central Congregational
On Easter Sunday, March 26, 1967, he launched the Black Christian Nationalist Movement, later church, known as BCN, and unveiled a striking 18-foot chancel mural of a Black Madonna and child. He called upon black people to reconnect with the African roots of Christianity, “resurrect the historic Black Messiah and stop worshipping a white Jesus who never existed” — thus making him the father of the black-liberation theology movement
Seeing no distinction between the sacred and the secular, he worked to bring the black church to the center of the burgeoning liberation struggle, believing that the only real security for black people was to build counter-institutions and a counter-culture — a “black nation within a nation.”
Central church was formally renamed Shrine of the Black Madonna #1 in 1970. In the early 1970s, two satellite churches were established in other parts of Detroit and churches were later founded in Kalamazoo, Mich., Atlanta, Ga., Houston, Tex., and Beulah Land, S. C., near Calhoun Falls.
Jaramogi Agyeman, who was interviewed at least four times by Kerner Commission field investigators, adopted his African name in 1972 and the BCN Church was succeeded by the Pan African Orthodox Christian Church (PAOCC) in 1978.
When the Rebellion occurred, he was the divorced father of two daughters: Kristin Cleage Williams, who recently directed the organization of the vast, Detroit-based Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman Archives, and Pearl Michelle Cleage, a noted essayist, novelist, poet and playwright, both of Atlanta.
Almost alone among political and religious leaders, commentators and social scientists during that period, Jaramogi Agyeman’s analysis saw the Detroit Rebellion, which was the most destructive to date, as a “logical” outgrowth of the modern civil-rights and Black Power movements.
Also exceptional was the fact that, unlike most moderate black leaders, he refused to blame such uprisings on or denounce black “hoodlums.” Indeed, he frontally challenged what sociologists termed the “riffraff theory” that the uprisings were the handiwork of a tiny “criminal element” among African Americans.
This theory, which reduced the uprisings to orgies of criminality, was first made famous in Violence in the City: An End or a Beginning?, the report of California Gov. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown’s Commission on the Los Angeles Riots, better known as the McCone Commission after its chairman, former CIA director John A. McCone.
It examined the Aug. 11-16, 1965, rebellion in the mostly-black Watts district in Los Angeles, which was ignited by reports of police brutality following the arrest of an inebriated black motorist.
Jaramogi Agyeman’s analysis was made in a sermon delivered on Sunday, July 23, 1967 — only hours after the rebellion broke out following an early-morning police raid on a “blind pig,” or after-hours drinking establishment, near the corner of 12th Street (now Rosa Parks Boulevard) and Clairmount on Detroit’s near west side. The incident coalesced years of frustration and outrage over police brutality and other social injustices.
From the overflow
According to Kris Williams, “My father never read his sermons. After writing them out, he rarely even referred to his notes.” Longtime Shrine member Sala Adams recalls that he allowed himself to be led by “the overflow,” as he called it, in which he spoke freely and often powerfully from the spirit.
On the morning of the Detroit uprising, it appears that he intended to address the recent rebellions in Newark, N. J., Kalamazoo and East Harlem, N. Y., which he referred to in his sermon.
This made it easy for him to incorporate the fast-escalating events on 12th Street even before the press was ready to describe what was happening as a “riot.” The media felt bound at first by an informal agreement with the authorities to delay reporting the outbreak until the police could get it under control. But the agreement became unsustainable as the first reporters began arriving on the scene.
At 11:00 a. m., about the time that Jaramogi Agyeman began his sermon, Detroit Free Press reporter William (Bill) Serrin called assistant city editor Wayne King from a store on 12th Street. “Wayne, there’s a riot going on out here. …” King heard glass breaking in the background. “They just heaved a brick through the window,” Serrin explained, then hung up.
Unlike most Detroit and Michigan leaders, Jaramogi Agyeman had seen the handwriting on the wall years before the explosion occurred. He even correctly forecast what might trigger it.
“Yes, I’m afraid that there might be violence in Detroit,” he said in reply to a question by a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) television reporter in November 1965, four months after the Watts revolt. “I think you cannot continue to press a people without eventually some perhaps unforeseen accident sparking violence, such as happened in Los Angeles.”
Indirectly addressing the widespread belief that Detroit was a “Model City” in terms of its administration and race relations under the liberal leadership of the youthful Mayor Jerome P. (Jerry) Cavanagh and would be an exception to the ever-growing tally of nationwide rebellions, he continued:
“I think that the night before the violence in Watts, anyone in Los Angeles would have said, ‘It seems relatively unlikely that there will be violence,’ but the conditions existed there and the same thing [was true] in New York last summer” — referring to the first of the great urban uprisings, which occurred in Harlem from July 18-23, 1964 — “and I think the conditions exist here: police brutality, poverty, increasing unemployment, poor education.”
In contrast to most “militant” black leaders and activists, he did more than forecast doom and destruction; he sought to provide a constructive alternative to violence. In his view, the fact that violence did occur was due to the failure of the “white power structure,” which then controlled the city, to respond positively to his efforts.
“Do you think that your activities, your militancy, exacerbates rather than diminishes race tension?” the BBC reporter queried Jaramogi Agyeman in 1965.
“No,” he replied, “I think that my activities, my militant activities, are the only hope for peace in the city of Detroit. I think in Los Angeles and Watts, the danger was that there was no militant leadership, that the masses of people, having lost all faith in middle-class Negroes, had no one to turn to.
“I think in the city of Detroit, we have constantly kept some positive program available for the masses of Negro people — political action, protest, demonstration — but always with the idea that there is a hope that we can find a peaceful solution to the problem and that violence in the streets is unnecessary.
“So I think that without my militancy we would be in exactly the same position that the Negro in Los Angeles was. And I think I deserve more credit than the mayor for preventing violence in the city of Detroit because for a number of years I’ve given always a possibility for a positive program.”
Activist and innovator
During the 1960s, Jaramogi Agyeman was Detroit’s most outspoken advocate for black freedom, rights and dignity. He spread his message from the pulpit, rostrum and over the airwaves.
He wrote occasional articles for the militant Illustrated News, a small newsletter published by his family and friends, and a weekly column in The Michigan Chronicle titled “Voice of the Black Nation” in the wake of the Rebellion.
Church member and Detroit activist Grace Lee Boggs, wife of labor theorist James Boggs, prepared the column.
In an interview with The Michigan Citizen, Boggs explained that she took shorthand notes during Jaramogi Agyeman’s sermons on Sunday mornings and met with him Sunday evenings at the home of his brother Henry Cleage, an attorney, where “Rev.” looked over the text and made minor changes. On Monday mornings, she submitted the finished product to the Chronicle.
Beginning on Feb. 4, 1968, WCHB-AM, then a black-owned radio station in Inkster, Mich., carried a weekly broadcast of Jaramogi Agyeman’s sermons and speeches, recorded by church member Ollie (later Omari) McKinney, under the same name as the Chronicle series.
As a leading member of the black nationalist Group on Advanced Leadership (GOAL), he led campaigns for quality education and economic self-help and against job discrimination, police brutality and the forced removal of blacks from the inner city, which the government termed urban renewal and many blacks called “Negro removal.”
He called for and helped organize the mammoth “Walk To Freedom” down Woodward Avenue, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on June 23, 1963, and was a co-convener of the historic Northern Negro Grass Roots Leadership Conference, held at Mr. Kelly’s Lounge and King Solomon Baptist Church on Nov. 9-10, 1963, which featured a momentous keynote address by Malcolm X, then the national representative of Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam.
He was also a pioneer in independent black politics. In 1961-62, he organized the famous “5 Plus 1,” “3 Plus 1” and “4 and No More” campaigns to support black candidates for elective office.
In 1964, he made an unsuccessful run for governor on the mostly-black Michigan Freedom Now Party ticket. He also made unsuccessful bids for the Detroit Common (later City) Council in 1965 and the Detroit Board of Education and the U. S. House of Representatives (13th District) in 1966.
Following the Rebellion, he considerably expanded his influence as the chairman of three organizations: The Inner City Organizing Committee (ICOC), which was essentially the political arm of his church, the Citywide Citizens Action Committee (CCAC) and the Federation for Self-Determination (FSD), two short-lived united-front groups that sought to bring about the “transfer of power” in Detroit from whites, who then held it, to African Americans, who were becoming the majority.
In 1973, he co-founded the Black Slate, which helped elect African Americans to local, county, state and national office, including Coleman A. Young, Detroit’s first African American mayor.
Jaramogi Agyeman passed away on Feb. 20, 2000.
Link to the journal I kept during the riot -> Detroit Rebellion Journal – 1967
For this year’s April A-Z Challenge I am blogging a series of sketches about the free people formerly enslaved on the Cleage plantations in Athens, Tennessee. Most are not related to me by blood, although our families came off of the same plantations – those of Samuel, Alexander and David Cleage. Click on any image to enlarge.
This post is about my relationship to the Cleages of Athens, Tennessee. Kristin Cleage (that is me) was born free in Springfield, Mass. in 1946. My only sister was born when I was 2. My family moved back to Detroit when I was four. I finished high school and graduated with a degree in fine arts from Wayne State University. I worked as a pre-school teacher, a doll maker and a librarian. Eventually I married James Williams, who had an Associates Degree and worked as an organizer and an inspector of asphalt for the Michigan Dept of Transportation. We had six children. All of our children attended college, lived to be adults and most now have children of their own. At various times we have shared our home with children and grandchildren, and other relatives. We owned a variety of homes over the years, some with and some free from mortage. We often lived around extended family. I was the third generation of my Cleages born out of slavery.
My father, Rev. Albert B. Cleage Jr (aka Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman) was born free in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1911 to parents born in Tennessee and Kentucky. His family moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan and eventually Detroit. He had six siblings. All of them lived to be at least eighty years old. He attended public schools in Detroit and graduated with a BA from Wayne State University, followed by a Divinity Degree at Oberlin College and doing post degree work in film at the University of Southern California. He married my mother, Doris Graham and they had two daughters. Both daughters lived to be adults, graduated from college and had seven children between them. My father pastored churches in Lexington, KY; San Francisco, CA; Springfield, MA and Detroit, MI. He was active in politics and with friends and family, published newsletter, advocated self determination and black power for black people. He founded the Shrines of the Black Madonna with churches in Detroit, Atlanta and Houston. He died at the age of 88 in 2000 in South Carolina. He was the second generation born out of slavery.
My grandfather, Dr. Albert B. Cleage Sr, was born free in Hackberry, Loudon County, TN in 1883. He was the youngest of 5 children born to Lewis Cleage and Celia Rice. Eventually the family moved back to Athens, TN and his parents were divorced. He and his siblings all graduated from high school. Several attended college. My grandfather graduated from Knoxville College in Knoxville, TN and the University of Indiana medical school, Indianapolis, IN. He married my grandmother, Pearl Reed and they had seven children who all lived to age 80 or beyond. After completing his internship, the family moved to Kalamazoo, MI. There he set up his medical practice. After several years they moved to Detroit, Michigan where he opened Cleage Clinic and practiced medicine. Three of his siblings and his mother eventually moved to Detroit. One brother remained in Athens. My grandfather regularly traveled back to visit. During his life, my grandfather helped found three churches and two black hospitals. This was in the days when black doctors could not practice in most white hospitals. In the 1950s my grandfather retired and in 1957 he died in Detroit. He was the first generation born out of slavery.
My greatgrandfather Lewis Cleage was born into slavery on Alexander Cleage’s plantation in McMinn County, about 1852. He was fourteen when freedom came with the end of the Civil War. He married Celia Rice in 1872 in Athens, TN and they had five children. They all lived to adulthood and attended high school and/or college. He worked as a farmer, in the steel mills, on the railroad and did other hard labor all of his life. He never learned to read or write. He died in 1918 in Indianapolis, Indiana. He lived free for 52 of his 66 years.
My 2X great grandfather Frank Cleage was born into slavery about 1816 in North Carolina. I do not know how he came to be on Samuel Cleage’s plantation, but he was there by 1834 when he was mentioned in the letter to the overseer. My 2X great grandmother Juda Cleage, was born into slavery about 1814. She came to Alexander Cleage’s plantation with his wife, Jemima Hurst. Juda was mentioned in both Elijah Hurst’s and Alexander Cleage’s Wills. Frank and Juda both gained their freedom after the Civil War and were legally married that same year. They had at least eight children. Frank worked as a laborer. I have not found them after the 1870 census. I can only trace 3 of their children so I am unable to give death ages. The three children I have found all did hard physical labor and were unable to read and write, as were Frank and Juda.
You can read more about each person by following the links or putting a name in the search box in the right hand column.
Police brutality was a problem in 1963, as it is today. Today I am sharing an issue of the Illustrated News that covered a demonstration held in front of the Detroit police station, then at 1300 Beaubien. The protest was against the killing of Cynthia Scott, an unarmed woman. She was shot in the back. The demonstration was peaceful and there was no interference by the police. The article says there were 2,500 people at the protest. Also “We wonder if a grand jury investigation might not clear the air and throw some light upon the police brutality practiced on Negroes and why such shootings never come to trial.” And that is something people are still wondering today. There was no investigation and the officer was not charged. Click on all pages to enlarge enough to read them.