A Central Congregational Church Youth Fellowship dance held in the basement of the parsonage at 2254 Chicago Blvd, Detroit. You can see the jukebox there, right under the clock. I was too young at the time to go to Youth Fellowship, but at other times my sister and I went into the big, empty room with the pictures of the hunt on the wall as we roamed around the huge house. Those Youth Fellowship members looked so grown t0 10 year old me. Now they look so, so young. Frozen in time. Dancing to the jukebox.
In March of 1953, a disagreement between my father, then known as Rev. Albert B. Cleage Jr., pastor of St. Mark’s Community, United Presbyterian Church and a group of members who were not happy with the direction he was was taking the church, came to a head. My father and 300 members of the congregation resigned and founded St. Mark’s Community Church, which several months later became Central Congregational Church and in the 1960s became the Shrine of the Black Madonna.
The split within the church also precipitated a family split. The ties between my grandfather, Dr. Albert B. Cleage Sr. and his brother Henry Cleage were broken. The close relationship they shared throughout their lives, was gone. My sister didn’t know she had a cousin Shelton Hill (Uncle Henry’s grandson) until he introduced himself when they were classmates at Northwestern High School.
My grandfather Albert B. Cleage Sr. was the youngest of five siblings. He and his brother Henry were always close. They helped organize Witherspoon United Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis and worked together to open the black YMCA there. During the 1930s and 1940s, they lived several blocks away on Detroit’s old West Side and saw each other almost daily.
After my father, Albert B. Cleage Jr. (later known as Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman) was ordained in 1943, he served as pastor of churches in Lexington, KY, San Francisco, CA and Springfield, MA. During those years he often wrote home asking his family to help him find a church in Detroit. More than once he mentioned getting his Uncle Henry to help.
In 1951 a group representing the United Presbyterian Church, including Albert Sr. and his brother Henry, organized St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church. It was located on 12th Street near Atkinson. My father was called to be the pastor. They started with 90 members and increased to over 300 during the following two years.
Uncle Henry and my father were both strong minded men. By the spring of 1953, they had reached an impasse over who was in charge and whether the focus of the church should be on its own members or on the larger community. An emotional church meeting in March 1953 caused a split between both the church members and the brothers, Albert Sr. and Henry.
In 1956 my grandfather Albert was very sick with cancer when the family heard that Uncle Henry was quite ill and in the hospital. Soon after they heard that Uncle Henry had died. They wondered if they should tell their father. He was so sick and they didn’t know how it would affect him. In the end, they didn’t have to. My grandfather was lying in bed and said “Henry died, didn’t he?” They said he had. Grandfather said, “I thought so.” They never figured out how he knew.
My grandfather was too sick to go to the funeral. Afterwards, Uncle Henry’s family had the funeral procession drive by my grandparent’s house on Atkinson. The cars drove past very slowly. It was a gesture toward the healing of a rift that began with the church fight in 1953.
Henry William Cleage died April 10, 1956. My grandfather Albert Buford Cleage Sr. died a year later on April 4, 1957. Both are buried in Detroit Memorial Cemetery in McComb County, Michigan.
My friend, historian Paul Lee, asked me to publish the following article after a rash of violence in Detroit by young black men. The original articles were written by my father, Albert B. Cleage Jr/Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman, in 1968. It is depressing how the more time passes, the worse things seem to get. All photographs, aside from the first, are from The Illustrated News and were taken by photographer Billy Smith during the early 1960s. KCW
The following article is excerpted from a report on two columns by Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman, then known as the Rev. Albert B. Cleage, Jr., which were originally published in The Michigan Chronicle on May 4 and June 29, 1968, respectively.
Jaramogi Agyeman was the charismatic founder and pastor of the Shrines of the Black Madonna of the Pan African Orthodox Christian Church (PAOCC) and the father of Black Christian Nationalism (BCN), its sacred-secular creed of Black Power, or self-determination, which was proclaimed on Easter Sunday, March 26, 1967.
The Shrine sought to reclaim the African roots of Christianity and, at least until the passing of its founder on Feb. 20, 2000, to restore the historic sovereignty of black people, who were considered the scattered “Black Nation, Israel,” by forming a “black nation within a nation,” which included governing majority-black communities.
During his half-century in the black liberation struggle, he was called the “Apostle of Youth” because of his deep concern for and involvement with the education of young black persons, particularly with regard to addressing their inculcated sense of self-hatred, or “Acceptance of Black Inferiority” (ABI). From the 1960s to the 1990s, he was aided in this concern by the substantial percentage of Shrine members who were teachers.
The report and two of his weekly “Message to the Black Nation” columns dealt with ideas that he presented at “Project Salvation,” a Black Ministers-Teachers Conference sponsored by the Black Teachers Workshop at the University of Detroit-Mercy on April 27, 1968. It was attended by 300 conferees from across the country.
While much has changed in the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) since then, much has remained the same, or gotten worse, including the anti-democratic takeover of DPS by a black Emergency Manager imposed by Michigan’s white, racist, right-wing governor, who’s doing the bidding of corporations.
In light of the deplorable state of our schools and the dangers posed by young “monsters” here and across the country, many of Jaramogi Agyeman’s insights and prescriptions remain relevant. — Paul Lee
How many monsters did you create today?
A message to black ministers and educators
By Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman
(Rev. Albert B. Cleage, Jr.)
[Monsters are persons who prey on others because they have no sense of social or human identity.] Both the schools and churches have created these monsters. They have taught black children to hate black people and therefore to hate themselves.
Now that they have seen what white people are like, they also hate white people and have abandoned the integration dream which sustained the older generation. With nothing to attach themselves to, a whole generation of lonely, vicious youth is now running up and down the streets, grabbing pocketbooks, knocking down old women, taking anything they can lay their hands on, concerned only with their own individual selves.
Unless the black church can give these young people a positive self-image and something to attach themselves to, they will destroy not only themselves but all of us.
* * *
…black churches do not play any important part in the education of black children other than the destructive one of handing down the white supremacy power symbols of a white Jesus and a white God.
The school is a white institution which perpetuates and hands down the white man’s interpretation and conception of the world. We clean up our little children, tell them to study hard and send them off to school where almost everything they learn is a distortion of the truth.
White-dominated schools teach white supremacy. … In school libraries the books are predominantly white supremacy books. In every book about Africa, “the native” has a bone in his nose. They say that they are changing the books but you stop and look. The bone is shorter, that’s all.
The books and the personnel are still teaching the same point of view: white people have done everything in the world that was worth doing and poor primitive black people have been the kindly white man’s burden. This destroys our children.
The problem is with us
[Many teachers and preachers] are overly optimistic about black parents. They seem to think that black parents are fed up and want a basic change. I do not think that black parents are fed up. If they were, they would keep their children out of school until the schools are changed. We can change the schools any day that we decide that black children are important enough.
Perhaps the most pitiful thing is the fact that many black parents still believe that white folks know best how to educate black children. When they see too many black teachers in a school, they are upset. “This school is entirely black,” they say and begin looking for a place to move where they can get their children into an integrated school. It is pathetic.
Basically the problem is with us. We cannot expect white folks to be seriously concerned about educating black children. Why should we expect them to be? We know how they treat us in employment — keeping us in the poorly paid jobs at the bottom.
We know how they treat us when it comes to selling a house — charging $19,000 for a house they would sell a white person for $15,000. Why should they be any more democratic when it comes to education? I am not surprised at them but I am surprised that it takes us so long to wake up and do something to change an educational system that our tax dollars support.
Our children are being destroyed by the schools and we are doing nothing to prevent it. Some of you will say, “Our children are not so bad.” But you know as well as I do that our black children will knock an old black woman down, rape her and take her purse containing 50 cents.
These are not just “bad kids.” These are children in a white civilization who do not have any sense of identification with anything and who do not believe in anything. These are black children who have been destroyed by the black church and the white[-dominated] school.
Do you know what saved some of you older people when you were growing up? You had a dream. Your mother told you that if you studied hard, you could rise above other black folks. She told you that if you washed your face, stood up tall and walked proud, white folks would accept you.
So you spent your time trying not to be like black folks and trying to be like white folks. In a sense that saved you. As asinine and ridiculous as it now sounds, that is what saved a lot of older black people. It was a foolish dream but it was a dream. It was something to hang on to.
We hated ourselves. We did all we could to escape from ourselves. In church on Sunday we tried to shout our way right out of our black skins.
What dream do our children have?
Now let me ask you, What dreams do our children have? They know that the old integration dream is dead. They know that the white man does not want them and they do not want the white man.
Those who belong to the Nation and attend the Shrine of the Black Madonna reject the old integration dream just as black children do. But we have something to put in its place. We are working to build a black community that we can be proud of. We have a new dream to take the place of the old dream that is dead.
But most of our young people don’t have anything. They hate themselves. They hate white people. They hate everybody. They have been psychologically murdered by the black church and the white[-dominated] school.
Look at the black community. What does a black child have to identify with? When he goes to church, he sees white folks in Sunday School lessons, white folks in the stained glass windows, and a white Jesus up front over the altar.
When he rejected the integration dream and white folks, he rejected all of them, and he is not going to come into a black church and make an exception for a white Jesus. So you don’t see our young people in churches. The church doesn’t have anything to offer so young people stay away.
Our children are mad, evil, lonesome. They feel cheated and left out. They strike out at the world in anger and frustration. This is the basic task of the Black Nation.
The only thing that can save a black child is a Black Nation that they can come into. For a black child it is the difference between life and death. For a black child this is the only thing that he can come into that will give him a sense of identity.
Out there on the street, he has nothing to believe in and having nothing to believe in is psychological death for any child.
* * *
We feel that most ghetto schools today destroy children rather than educate them. The teachers and administrators serve as power symbols and kill a black child’s self-image. Their influence, their lack of concern, and in many instances their contempt make it impossible for a black child to learn.
So, we are insisting more and more that in a school for black children … its curriculum be reoriented to cover the culture of black people; that the present textbooks, which are essentially lies, particularly in the area of social science and history, be thrown out and that textbooks explaining the history and cultural background of black people be substituted. We are not insisting that white schools teach the truth, but we do insist that schools in black ghettos teach the truth.
This column was edited by Highland Park scholar and Michigan Citizen historical features writer Paul Lee, who indicated omissions with ellipsis (…) and paraphrases and clarifications with [brackets] and separated the Michigan Chronicle report and columns with asterisks (* * *). The subheadings are the Chronicle’s.
I’d like to thank Sala Andaiye (Adams) and Peter Goldman for their helpful proofreading, and Baba Malik Yakini for his sage counsel. — Paul Lee