Tag Archives: #Detroit

Grandmother Before the Party

Before the party.

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.

My parents at the party, a corner of Henry. Blair and Anna Pearl are at the kids table in the front room.
A better view of the front room.

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.

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Thanksgiving At My Grandparent’s

"Thanksgiving at the Grahams"

This was Thanksgiving at my Graham Grandparents house in 1963, east side Detroit.  My grandfather cuts the turkey.  My mother sits on the right.  I am on the left, my sister next to me.  Wonder where my Aunt and cousins were?  Usually there were four more around the table.  How we all fit I do not know, but we did.  The house is gone now. Everybody in this photo except my sister and I are dead.  We are almost as old as my grandparents were.

Signs From On High – Wayne State University

Here is a photograph including 3 signs from the early 1940s and a rough sketch of the same area that I did in 1968. Both were taken from upper floors on Wayne State University buildings looking on Cass Ave.  I did the sketch from an upper floor of State Hall.  I believe that the photo was taken from Old Main, (the only tall building facing that direction on campus at the time), by my uncle Henry Cleage while he was a student at Wayne.

After looking on Google maps, I no longer think this was taken from Old Main, looking down Cass.  I wonder where it was taken from because that is definitely the Macabee building.

Photograph  taken from Old Main in the early 1940s

The Macabees building on the upper left corner use to hold the Detroit Board of Education. My husband and I went and picketed there the first day we met, in support of the Northern high school student boycott in the spring of 1966.  You can read more about that in I Met My Husband in the Library.

cityscape - sketch complete
Very rough sketch from about 1968.
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A Church and Two Brothers – Two Splits

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.

1953_Church_split2The 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.

Left to right: Albert, Josephine, Edward.  Back L Henry, back R Jacob
The Cleage siblings: left to right front; Albert, Josephine, Edward. Back left Henry. Back right Jacob

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.

A Trip to the Cleaners – Sepia Saturday #161


I found this photo of an unidentified cleaners in my Cleage photographs. There are no Cleages in the photo. It’s pasted on a piece of cardboard and a child, has scribbled in pencil all over the picture. I assume unidentified Cleaners is located in the neighborhood of the Old Westside of Detroit.

I have not been able to identify either the cleaners or the owners. There is a “Detmer Woolens” calendar on the wall but I can’t make out the year even when I scan it at 600 dpi.  The dress the woman behind the counter is wearing, the narrow pant legs of the menby the counter and in  poster on the wall and the short hair on the calendar girl make me think the photo was taken in the mid-1930s.  I found this history of Detmer Woolens interesting.

Sepia Saturday 161 Header
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and here is the link

1940 Census – James and Margaret McCall and Family

4880 Parker now - from Google Maps.

In 1940 James McCall and his family lived at 4880 Parker Ave. on the east side of  Detroit. The house was worth $5,000.  He was 58 years old and had completed 4 years of college. He had worked 52 weeks in 1939, earning $1,600 managing a Printing Establishment.

James and Margaret McCall in the early 1940s.

His wife Margaret was 52 years old. She had completed 4 years of high school and was not working outside of the home. She was the informant. Everybody in the house was born in Alabama, had lived in the same house in 1935 and was identified as “W(hite)”.  I would guess that people are wrongfully identified as “white” because the enumerator would not ask race, they would assume they “knew” by looking.

Margaret and Victoria McCall - Palm Sunday 1941.

Oldest daughter, Victoria, was 24 years old, single and had completed 4 years of college. She had worked 40 weeks in 1939 as a public school teacher, where she earned $1,600. The youngest daughter, Margaret was 21 years old. She had worked 24 weeks in 1939 and earned $240 as a secretary of a Printing company.

The McCall’s owned their own printing company and published a newspaper “The Detroit Tribune”.  My aunt, Mary V. Graham, who was their cousin,  worked at the same printing establishment in the 1940 census. In the 1990’s she shared her memories of her work there. Mary V’s job was to read newspaper articles to  James McCall because he was blind.  From what she read to him, he would formulate his editorial articles.  He had a braille typewriter that he used to write the articles.  Mary V said she learned so much, reading to him and talking to him about various topics.  She remembered that he was a wealth of information and knew a lot about everything.

You can see the 1940 census sheet with the McCalls HERE.  Other posts featuring James McCall are Poems by James E. McCall and James McCall Poet and Publisher and “She was owned Before the War by the Late Colonel Edmund Harrison…”

View 1940 Detroit, Michigan – Where we lived in a larger map

“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.

The 5th Annual iGene Awards!

Once again it’s time for the Annual IGene Awards when we look over our blog posts for the previous year and pick those we think are deserving of winning in one of five categories – Best Photograph, Best Screen Play, Best Documentary, Best Comedy and Best Biography.  Before we start, I must thank my family for both their written contributions and their behind the scenes inspiration. Without further ado, here are my winners for this year.


For Best Photograph my mother once again stole the show, this time sharing the spotlight with my father in the photo My Parents About 1943   taken at the Meadows.


For Best Screen Play He Had Him Hidden Under the Floor, based on the story told to me by my cousin Jacqui about the daring rescue of a local black dentist from the angry mob of white men by her grandfather, Victor Tulane. It takes place around 1918 in Montgomery Alabama. The movie begins with dentist William Watkins flight from his house located 3 minutes away to the Tulane’s home.  It’s dark and Aunt Willie and Naomi are already asleep as he’s ushered inside by Victor.  Next we see the light shinning through the window, waking up the women. We see the mob come in and go through the search of the house and don’t know until after the mob leaves that indeed the dentist is there, hidden in a secret place under the floor.   Of course Aunt Willie and Naomi are terrified without knowing that he’s in the house because after all, a mob is a mob and where it will end you never know. It ends with his ride to the train station under the produce and we see the train leaving the station with him on it and perhaps Victor Tulane heading back home down the still dark and lonely street, which is just beginning to wake up.

I called on my sister Pearl Cleage to cast my movie because she is a playwrite and knows about those things. Not to mention she watches movies and plays and knows who would work while I do not have a clue. From Pearl…

Okay here’s my cast. I think the way you laid out the movie was great, from the arrival of Dr. Watkins with the women being sent back to bed, through the mob search, through the ride to the train station and the farewell in the early hours of the morning. I can truly see the ending with Victor Tulane heading home in the dark. bravo. You get the Oscar for the screenplay. I get the one for casting:

Dr. William Watkins: Terrance Howard, currently being seen in “Red Tails,” where he plays one of the Tuskegee airmen. Nominated for an Oscar for “Hustle & Flow,” where he played the lead. He was also featured in “The Best Man,” and has appeared in many films, playing a variety of characters.

Victor Tulane: Idris Elba, a British actor of African descent who can do such a convincing American accent that when he first got famous in the USA for his role on “The Wire,” playing a Baltimore gangster, people were shocked to hear him on the talk shows speaking with his real accent, which is undeniably British. I’m sure he could do a perfect Alabama accent. He was wonderful in the Guy Ritchie film “RocknRolla,” and has been in many films and television series.

Willie Lee Tulane: Viola Davis, Oscar nominated star of “The Help,” Tony Award winning star of “Fences” on Broadway. Also known for her ten minute turn in the film “Doubt” where she played an anguished mother with amazing grace, truth and dignity. She would be able to bring the complexity required of the role of Mrs. Tulane, who has to remain calm in the face of terror she knows all too well.

Naomi Tulane Vincent: Phylea Rashad, daughter of actress Phylicia Rashad, who is currently featured in a critically praised role in the Broadway play, “Stickfly.” she also won critical acclaim for her role in Lynn Nottage pulitzer prize winning play, “Ruined.”

Klansman #1: Billy Bob Thorton, featured in films as different as “Monster’s Ball,” and “Pushing Tin.” A great actor with a great southern accent. He makes a great bad guy and could play the role of the klansman who comes to the door.

Klansman #2: Sean Penn, featured in many films, including “Milk,” where he played San Francisco activist Harvey Milk so realistically it was hard to watch him get killed at the end. Penn can also play a convincing bad guy and would be great walking through the house with Billy Bob.

Best Documentary – Is the combined series featuring several doctors in Detroit and how their lives were interwoven with the lives of both sides of my family. It started with these two posts earlier in the year “Births, Deaths, Doctors and Detroit – Part 1” , “Births, Deaths, Doctors and Detroit – Part 2″. The more recent posts started with “The Hat”“Dr. Palmer Gamble – Solving Mysteries Part 1”, “Dr. Alexander Turner – Solving Mysteries Part 2” and finally “Loudin’s Jubilee Singers and a Clock.”.

Best Biography goes to “Growing Up – In Her Own Words” by Doris Graham Cleage for telling her own story.  Last year she won the best biography with a story about her mother, Fannie Turner Graham.


And once again Henry Cleage walks away with Best Comedy for one of his short stories,“The Devilish Ghost”, written in his usual suave, wise cracking style. There is a special guest appearance by piano playing fool Slim Gaillard, also a Detroiter.

To read other igene offerings, click here. Thank you, Jasia, for once again hosting them. I enjoy writing and reading them.


Dr. Parker Blair Gamble – Solving Mysteries – Part 1

Since posting “The Hat” on January 12 I have been sucked into a research whirlpool.  It wasn’t that hard to find some of the names. I looked on the backs of other photos in the set and found “Dr. Gamble” and “Mrs Gamble” identified.

Of course I wasn’t satisfied with just their names.  Where were they from? What building was that in the background? How did they meet my grandparents? Why were they all in the DC area?   When were these photographs taken? And who was the lady in the polka dot hat?

I thought the building might be on the Howard University campus in Washington, DC, but looking at photos online I was unable to find one that looked exactly right. I asked my sister, who attended Howard, if she thought it was on the campus and she suggested it was Freedmen’s Hospital, which was established in 1862 and served as the teaching hospital for Howard. The building shown below was new and completed in 1909. Googling “Freedmen’s Hospital” I found several photographs of the hospital that showed me she was right.

Dr. Gamble in front of Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington D.C.  My grandparents in back.
Dr. and Mrs. Gamble

I needed the Gamble’s first names to do more research. First I looked at a photograph I have of the doctors who practiced at Dunbar Hospital in 1922 to see if he was there.  He was and you can see him third from the right in the first row.  His name is listed as Parker G. Gamble. His middle name was actually Blair. My grandfather is on the end of that same row, on the far right.

Next I looked in a book I have called “Michigan Manual of Freedmen’s Progress” published in 1915 to”celebrate 50 years of freedom for the former Negro slaves of this nation…” where I found this entry for Parker Gamble on page 53.

“Gamble, Parker Blair,M.D., 226 E. Lafayette, Detroit.  Born at Chattenooga, Tenn.  Graduate of Knoxville College and the medical department of the University of Michigan, class of 1912.  Like almost all other Negro Professional persons, Dr. Gamble worked his way to his sheepskin and is now successfully practicing medicine in Detroit.”

With this information it was easy to go to Ancestry.com and Familysearch.org and find the following information in census records, draft registration records and marriage records.  I also googled and found small bits of information online.

In 1900, 14 year old Parker Gamble was in school.  He lived in Hamilton County, Tennessee with his parents, Wesley and Mary Gamble. There were six children in the family ranging  from 20 year old Lula who was teaching to 12 year old Jessie. All the younger children were in school.  Mary Gamble had birthed nine children and six were still living. Wesley Gamble earned his living as an iron moulder, that is he made molds for casting iron.

Parker attended Knoxville at the same time as my grandfather, Albert B. Cleage.  In 1906 he graduated. He enrolled in the University of Michigan Medical College and worked his way through.  I wonder if he worked on the cruise lines that went from Detroit to New York, as my grandfather did in the summers to pay for his education. On September 21, 1909 twenty four year old Parker married twenty two year old Melzetta M. Crosby, a teacher in Ypsilanti Michigan. In 1912 he graduated and moved to Detroit to practice medicine.

By 1918  Dr. Gamble had his own practice as a physician and surgeon  at 346 St. Antoine on the east side of Detroit.  According to his World War 1 draft registration papers he was 5 foot 6 inches tall and weighed 178 lbs with brown hair and brown eyes.  His wife, Melzetta Gamble was someone who would always know where he was.

He and his wife had no children.  By 1942 according to his his World War 2 draft registration he was an inch taller and had gained 10 lbs. His hair was showing some grey mixed with the brown and he had a mustache.

I found a few things out about him by googling. He wrote a thank you letter to W.E.B Dubois.  He introduced another doctor at the National Medical Association Convention held in Detroit in 1927. There is a scholarship for medical students in his name at Wayne State University.  Dr. Parker Gamble died in 1948.

Dr. Parker Gamble seems to have led a pretty quiet life.  The same cannot be said for Dr. Alexander Turner and his wife Leota Henson Turner who I will write about in part two of Solving Mysteries.