“It’s me again…”

2130 Hobart Blvd. #4
Los Angeles 7, California
January 9, 1945

"Albert B. Cleage"

Hi Folks:

It’s me again.  I heard from the Board of Pulpit Supply in Boston this morning…and as I “suspected” there ain’t no vacancy. Reverend White has not as yet contacted me regarding names and addresses…He was no doubt surprised that his “bluff” had been called.  The pastor is on a leave-of-absence and another pastor is serving for him. so that’s that.

You-all failed, apparently, to take my suggestion regarding the organization of a Detroit church very seriously. ‘Tain’t no use, however…in view of the absolute lack of Congregational openings I’m going to have to organize somewhere.  Let me present the matter again in an orderly manner so you can let me know your reactions immediately.

I think I can organize and operate a church in Detroit without any great difficulty IF either the Presbyterian or Congregational Board can be interested in contributing to such an undertaking.  By contributing for the purchase of an adequate plant in which the execution of a full church program would be possible.  The local Congregational Board does not think in those terms so I would prefer not to have to deal with them.  I have no way of knowing what the Presbyterian board would consider SO I WISH THAT DADDY and/or Uncle Henry would find out.  In my previous letter on this matter I mentioned a small church on Forest near Brush.  After more lengthy consideration, however, I think organizing that close to Reverend White could not but be considered a declaration of war… and I would rather not start with any more declarations of war than necessary (Rev. Hill and the rest would automatically consider any such move WAR no matter where it was located.) So, the Church on the Blvd. and Warren being out of the question until the war is over…I end up with the only practical possibility, The Church building at the end of Scotten (facing Grand River) is available and adequate. It is offered for sale for ninety-five thousand, ($15,000 down) THE LOCATION is better than it would seem off-hand.  It is convenient to both the WEST SIDE and the NORTH-END (where any members I might pick up would come from for the most part)  The building has two auditoriums…club rooms…offices…and a gas station on the corner  (For a co-operative venture!) WOULD THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH LEND A MISSION THE DOWN-PAYMENT ON SUCH A BUILDING? If a membership of say 100 and pledges of $100 a week could be lined up?

You are no doubt thinking the idea “impossible”…but I should think that a Board without a Detroit Church, properly approached regarding such a “community church idea” would not consider the risk too great.  Talk it over with Uncle Henry and let me know as soon as possible. (So I can get Bud busy sighing up members!)

Everything is O.K. (Same as usual).


I tried to find a photo of a church on the corner of Scotten and Grand River in Detroit, which was only a few blocks from the Cleage family home, but there is no longer a church there.

To the left is a photograph of Bud Elkins, who was helping my father look for a church building in Detroit. He was married to my mother’s sister, Mary V. Graham Elkins. At this time they had one daughter, Dee Dee, who is the 7 year old photographer who appears in this photograph.

Presbyterian Church Connections in the Cleage Family

Louis and Albert Cleage

Yesterday I was working like mad to complete an entry for the “Carnival of Genealogy – Our Ancestors Places of Worship”, by the midnight deadline when I came across two interesting pieces of new information.

First, even though I thought I had done this before with no success, I asked my cousins to ask their mothers what church they had attended as children in Detroit.  The answer came back – St. John’s Presbyterian Church. At first I thought there was some confusion because I knew that my father had been pastor of St. John’s Congregational Church in Springfield, Mass. and St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church in Detroit but St. Johns Presbyterian? I didn’t remember ever hearing of it before. So, I googled it and found that not only was there a St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Detroit but that my Cleage grandparents were among founders and that it was founded in 1919, the same year my Graham grandfather was participating in the founding of Plymouth Congregational Church, also in Detroit, also on the East side.  I looked for more information on St. Johns.  I searched for even one photograph of the old church. I came up with very little. I looked through the family photos for something that looked like it was taken at a church but also found nothing aside from a few where the family is on their way to church. I did find the information below.

Detroit and the Great Migration 1916-1929, by Elizabeth Anne Martin Religion and the Migrant

“We, the believers in Christ members, are very proud of our rich heritage. We rejoice always; give praise and thanksgiving to our Lord for His abundant blessings of the faithful shoulders we stand on. We accept our charge of ensuring an African-American Presbyterian witness for our Lord in the city of Detroit, Michigan and beyond to the glory of God! St. John’s Presbyterian Church was among the new congregations formed because of the migration. In the winter of 1917 Reverend J.W. Lee, “field secretary for church extension among colored people in the North,” came to Detroit hoping to establish a Presbyterian church. He was disturbed by the fact that many migrants of the Presbyterian faith had turned to other denominations because there were no Presbyterian churches in Detroit. In April 1919 Lee organized thirty-nine believers into a new congregation. He served as pastor until 1921, when he recruited a southern preacher front Alabama to take his place. By 1925 the Sunday services at St. John’s were so popular that some people arrived as much as three hours early in order to secure seats. Hundreds of persons had to be turned away at both Sunday and weekday services.”  One clarification, there were Presbyterian churches in Detroit but they were white.

Something the churches my grandparents helped found have in common is that they were both urban renewed and torn down to make way for, in the case of Plymouth, a parking structure and I’m not sure what for St. Johns but neither of the historic church buildings are standing today, although both churches are still going strong in their new buildings.

Next I decided to google the church my grandfather, Albert Cleage attended when he was growing up in Athens Tennessee. I found that he was too young to have helped start First United Presbyterian Church, it was founded in 1890 and he was born in 1883. However, his step-father, my great grandmother Celia Rice Cleage Sherman’s second husband, Rodger Sherman, is listed as the architect of the church on Wikepidia.  Amazed?  Yes, I was.  Mr. Sherman and Celia Cleage weren’t married until 1897,  First United Presbyterian church had been standing for 5 years by then.  The church is still standing and still looking good today.

First United Presbyterian Church - 2004

From the Website “J. Lawrence Cook – An Autobiography”
“After a short time at Fisk, just how long I do not know, my father (note: J.L. Cook) entered Knoxville College in Knoxville, Tennessee. [5] He worked to pay his expenses, and was also aided by donations from individuals back in his home town of Athens. In 1888 he received his bachelor’s degree from Knoxville College and entered Allegheny Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to prepare for the Presbyterian ministry. [6] On 9 April 1890 he was licensed as a minister by the Allegheny Presbytery, and with this credential returned to Athens to establish a United Presbyterian mission. Fresh out of seminary, he began holding services in an old dance hall. [7]”

Other posts about church founding in my family. 
From Montgomery to Detroit, A Congregational Church – COG Our Ancestors Places of Worship

Witherspoon United Presbyterian Church 1909, Indianapolis Indiana

Witherspoon United Presbyterian Church 1909 – Sepia Saturday #82

Witherspoon Presbyterian Church 1909, Indianapolis, Indiana.

This is a photograph of the congregation of Witherspoon United Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, IN in 1909, two years after they organized. This photograph is from the personal collection of my cousin Vivian Vaughn McDonald.  My grandmother Pearl Reed Cleage is the third person on the top right. My grandfather, Albert Cleage is next to her.  They wouldn’t be married for two more years. Next to Albert is his brother Jacob and next to him is their brother Henry.  Directly in front of my grandfather Albert is Jacob’s wife, Gertrude. Three people over from Henry is James Cleage, their sister Josephine’s husband.  He was from a different Cleage branch.  In the second row, second from the right is Henrietta Cleage, oldest daughter of James and Josephine. Although the woman 4th from the left, front row, looks like Josephine to me, I’m told Josephine was not there for the photo but was home pregnant with Hattie Ruth, the youngest of her five children.

In the 1909 Indianapolis City Directory Witherspoon United Presbyterian Church is listed as located in Realty Hall with Rev. David White as Pastor.

Here is another photograph in front of the church.  Also from my cousin Vivian’s collection.  Josephine Cleage is on the far right, wearing a dark dress.  The history below if from the Witherspoon web page, however they seem to have taken the history section down.

On April 30, 1907 the Presbytery of Indiana of the United Presbyterian Church held a called meeting at Realty Hall in response to a petition signed by 31 persons asking to be organized into a United Presbyterian congregation.

Begins With 31 Members

Prof. David Graham of Rushville was moderator and Rev. W. W. McCall of Greensburg was secretary. Other members present were Rev. Fred W. Schmuch of Milroy, Rev. N. B. McClung of Vevay, Rev. Mr. McDill of Madison, and Dr. Cowan of Indianapolis.

The petition was discussed at some length. By unanimous vote an organization was decided upon. The 31 members who signed the petition were as follows: Henry W. Cleage, Mrs. Carrie Perkins, Mrs. Emma Moore, A. T. Roney, Mrs. Cora Donann, Mrs. Cathern Crenshaw, Mrs. Daisy L. Brabham, Albert Cleage, Mrs. Gertrude Cleage, James Myers, Mrs. A. L. McElrath, O. F. Dennis, Mrs. Hattie  Mitchell, H. M. Mitchell, Mrs. Theresa Finley, Othello Finley, Miss Edith Finley, Miss Luell E. Hibbett, Mrs. Mary Peterson, Mrs. Anna Bowman, John T. Fox, Miss Pearl Reed, Thomas H. Bransford, Mrs. O. F. Dennis, Miss Alice Mathews, Miss Hilda Reeder, W. J. Perkins, Henry Moore and H. L. Hummons.

For other fine Sepia Saturday photographs dealing with windows or lights or who knows click here.  My family seems to have a habit of starting churches.  To see a photograph of the congregation of a church started by the maternal branch of the family click Plymouth Congregational Church.

Cradle Roll Certificate Plymouth Congregational Church 1921

This is a certificate for my mother’s oldest sister, Mary V. that her mother filled out.  She also wrote information on the back.

Cradle Roll Certificate
To be given by the Cradle Roll Superintendent to the mother of the child and carefully kept until the child is grown.
This is to certify that Mary Virginia Graham
was enrolled as a member of The Cradle Roll
of the Plymouth Congregational Sunday School
at 2141 St. Aubin, Detroit, State of Mich.
on the 27th day of March 1921 born on
the 3rd day of April 1920 at Detroit State of Michigan.  Parents Names:  Father Mershell – Mother Fannie Graham
Signed Pastor Harold M. Kingsley
S.S. Supt. Mrs. S. I. Barnette
Cradle Roll Superintendent  Mrs. E.E. Scott
Jesus said “Suffer the little children to come unto Me, forbid them not, for to such belongeth the Kingdom of God.”  Mark – 10 – 14.

Mershell and Fannie Turner Graham were married June 15 – 191(9) at Montgomery, AL– were the first couple to marry after Plymouth was founded – and Mary Virginia was the first baby to be born into the new church, organized by about a dozen Montgom(ery__)
4 children were born to this union – 2 girls and 2 boys
Mary Virginia Graham – (Elkins) — April 3, 1920 — married Nov 9 19(41)
Mershell C. Graham Jr — June 10 – 1921 — Killed at 6 yrs aut(o)
Doris J. Graham —- Feb. 12 – 1923 — Wayne University
Howard Graham —-Sept. 7 – 1928 –died – scarlet fever Mar – 4 – 193(2)
Doris Diane Elkins – M.V.’s 1st and our 1st grand baby — Sept 7, 1943.