H is for Henry William Cleage

a-to-z-letters-hThis is my eighth post for the April A-Z Challenge. I am going to write about my Great Uncle Henry William Cleage. He was born about 1877, in Louden County, Tennessee, the third child of Louis and Celia (Rice) Cleage.   The family moved to Athens where he attended Athens Academy, which was organized by northern Presbyterian missionaries. His parents divorced before 1889, when Celia married Roger Sherman. 

Teachers at Athens Academy.

Henry W. Cleage

is a native of Athens. He entered and finished the course of the Athens Academy under Rev. Cook’s administration.  He then attended Knoxville College.  His teaching one year at Riceville gave him his first ideas of the practical side of the profession n which he is now engaged.  At present he is a member of the corps of instructors of the Academy of Athens.

Mrs. Minnie B. Cleage

is not in the profession now, but she finished the course at the Academy of Athens, and was a student at Knoxville several years.  She is now the wife of Henry W. Cleage.

From an unidentified Athens, TN newspaper 1900-1901.

In 1900 Henry married his first wife Minnie B. Loving, August 20, 1900. His son, Richard Henry Cleage was born the following year.  Minnie died between 1901 and 1905 and we find Henry Cleage living in Indianapolis, IN with his older brother, Jacob and Jacob’s wife.  Richard stayed in Athens, TN with his grandmother.

910fayette
The small blue house is the one they shared.

Henry worked at the post office during most of the time he lived in Indianapolis. He and his brothers Jacob, his brother’s wife and his younger brother, Albert, shared the house at 910 Fayette for years until they younger men married and moved.

In 1918 Henry married his second wife, Ola Mae Adams. He met her while he was a postman  and she was living there with her sister.  They were married in her hometown, Danville, KY. and took a trip through Michigan after the wedding. His younger brother, Albert was married and living in Detroit, MI by that time.

While in Indianapolis, Henry Cleage was active in the founding of Witherspoon United Presbyterian Church and the colored Y.M.C.A.

Witherspoon Presbyterian Church
Witherspoon Presbyterian Church. Henry Cleage is in the center back row, 7 from the right. His brothers are to the right of him. My grandmother, Pearl is 3rd from the right.  Taken in 1909 in Indianapolis, IN.

His daughter, Geraldine, remembers her father fondly “He was a very loving, caring and giving person and a devoted family man, not only to his family but also his siblings families.”

His nephew, also named Henry Cleage, remembered “When I was at the Post Office and would get into trouble, he’d get me out.  He was very righteous.”

When the Cleage Brothers Corporation opened a grocery store in Detroit, Henry Cleage managed it.

Henry Cleage and family plus two family friends. Early 1930s.
Henry Cleage and family plus two family friends. About 1928. Front, seated is his mother, Celia Rice Cleage Sherman. Behind her are daughters Ruth and Geraldine. In the back row we have the unidentified friends on each end with Henry W. Cleage and his wife, Ola Mae.  They are in front of their house at 6315 Stanford, Ave. Old West Side, Detroit.

I can’t believe I didn’t write up Uncle Henry’s family for the 1940 census. I will have to remedy that later and for now we will leave Henry William Cleage and his family in 1928.

You can read more about Henry William Cleage in these posts:

A Church and Two Brothers – Two Splits

Witherspoon United Presbyterian Church

What did Lewis Cleage Look Like?  to see a photo of the 5 Cleage siblings – Josephine, Jacob, Henry, Edward and Albert.

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.