The Great Migration In Poetry- Winter In St. Antoine

st_antoine_blog

James Edward McCall
James Edward McCall

by James McCall

In St. Antoine the snow and sleet
Whiten and glaze the drab old street
And make the snow-clad houses gleam
Like crystal castles in a dream.
There, many swarthy people dwell;
To some, ’tis heaven, to others,   hell!
To me the  street seems like a movie stage
Where Negros play and stars engage.
They laugh and love and dance and sing
While waiting the return of spring.
Some drown their heart-aches deep
In winter time on St. Antoine.

There, on the gutters frozen brink
A dope-fiend lies, with eyes that blinkwinter_in_st_antoine
And from a neighboring cabaret
come sounds of song and music gay.
At windows, tapping, here and there,
Sit dusky  maidens  young and fair,
With painted cheeks  and brazen eyes.
and silk clad legs crossed to the thigh
Upon the icy pavements wide,
Gay brown-faced children laugh and slide
While tawny men in shiny cars
Drive up and down the street like   czars.

Into a  church across the way
There goes a bridal party gay.
While down the street like a prairie-fire,
Dash a  bandit car and a cruising flyer.
Around the corner whirls a truck,
An old coal-peddler’s horse is struck;
The horse falls on the frozen ground,
The dark blood spouting from its wound.
A motley crowd runs to the scene;
A woman old, from shoulders lean,
Unwraps a quilt her hands have pieced
And spreads it o’er the shivering beast.

Among the swarthy folk who pass
Along the slippery street of glass,
Are some in furs and  some in rags;
Lovely women, wretched hags,
White-haired  migrants from the South;
Some wrapped in blankets, pipes in mouth;
Some smile while others seem to shiver,
As though they   long for Swanee River;
But though they dream with tear wet eyes
Of cotton-fields and sunny skies.
They  much prefer the heaven and hell
On St Antoine, where free men dwell.

Hastings Street, Detroit 1941
Hastings Street, Detroit 1941

James Edward McCall was my Grandmother Fannie Turner Graham’s first cousin. He was a poet and a publisher.  He lost his sight due to illness while a medical student at Howard University. He and his family migrated from Montgomery Alabama to Detroit Michigan about 1923.

You can read more about  James Edward McCall, Poet and Publisher 1880 – 1963 here.

You can read more about Detroit’s Black Bottom & Paradise Valley here.

Links to my previous posts in this series and to other African American Bloggers blogging about this series are at Many Rivers to Cross

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

My best find of 2011

Even though it’s now Sunday night so I’m 24 hours late, I decided to do the Saturday Night challenge.  The question on Genea-Musings Saturday Night Genealogy fun  was to decide which of my genealogy research adventures in 2011 was my “very best” and to write about it.

My most exciting find of 2011 was discovering a newspaper article that validated my family’s oral history that my great great grandmother, Eliza Allen and her daughter Mary came off of the plantation of Colonel Edmund Harrison.  My cousin Margaret and I looked for years for something to prove the connection without any luck.   You can read all about it in my blog post here.  My only regret is that Margaret is no longer here to share my find.

"McCall family"
Mary Allen McCall with son James and his wife Margaret. Front row - his daughters Victoria and Margaret. Detroit about 1924.

Poems by James E. McCall

The first poem was written on the death of Howard Graham, my grandparent’s youngest son.  He died in 1932 from complications of scarlet fever. You can read more about it here My Grandmother’s Loss.  James McCall and my grandmother Fannie were first cousins, their mothers were sisters.


Good-night, Little Pal

Little pal, do you know how we miss you,
Since you journeyed into the West?
Once again in dreams we kid you,
And press you close to our breast.

Your hair was bright as the sunshine,
Your voice like the music of birds,
Your eyes were blue as the heavens,
And your smile too precious for words.

Goodnight, little pal; sleep sweetly
Till the dawn of the morning light;
May the angels of God watch o’er you–
Good-night, little pal, good-night.

In memory of Howard A. Graham,
By his pal, J.E.M.(James Edward McCall)
3/5/32

_________________________

The second poem is transcribed from the page of poems in my grandmother’s scrapbook. She pasted one thing over another, sometimes obscuring the original items on the page. The clippings are browning and fragile.

Winter in St. Antoine by James McCall
(In The Detroit Saturday Night)

In St. Antoine the snow and sleet
Whiten and glaze the drab old street
And make the snow-clad houses gleam
Like crystal castles in a dream.
There, many swarthy people dwell;
To some, ’tis heaven, to others,   hell!
To me the  street seems like a movie stage
Where Negro play and stars engage.
They laugh and love and dance and sing
While waiting the return of spring.
Some drown their heart-aches deep
In winter time on St. Antoine.

There, on the gutters frozen brink
A dope-fiend lies, with eyes that blink
And from a neighboring cabaret
come sounds of song and music gay.
At windows, tapping, here and there,
Sit dusky  maidens  young and fair,
With painted cheeks  and brazen eyes.
and silk clad legs crossed to the thigh
Upon the icy pavements wide,
Gay brown-faced children laugh and slide
While tawny men in shiny cars
Drive up and down the street like   czars.

Into a  church across the way
There goes a bridal party gay.
While down the street like a prairie-fire,
Dash a  bandit car and a cruising flyer.
Around the corner whirls a truck,
An old coal-peddler’s horse is struck;
The horse falls on the frozen ground,
The dark blood spouting from its wound.
A motley crowd runs to the scene;
A woman old, from shoulders lean,
Unwraps a quilt her hands have pieced
And spreads it o’er the shivering beast.

Among the swarthy folk who pass
Among the slippery street of glass,
Are some in furs and  some in rags;
Lovely women, wretched hags,
White-haired  migrants from the South;
Some wrapped in blankets, pipes in mouth;
Some smile while others seem to shiver,
As though they   long for Swanee River;
But though they dream with tear wet eyes
Of cotton-fields and sunny skies.
They  much prefer the heaven and hell
On St Antoine, where free men dwell.

______________________________

Jo Mendi was a famous chimpanzee at the Detroit Zoo.

You can read more about McCall in this post – James Edward McCall, Poet and Publisher.

James Edward McCall, Poet and Publisher 1880 – 1963

A cartoon from the 1919 July 26 issue of The Montgomery Emancipator.  It was edited by James McCall who we saw here as a young, blind poet.  He continued to write poetry and became a publisher of several newspapers, both in Montgomery and Detroit.  Below is part of an essay written by his daughter, Margaret McCall Thomas Ward.

Pioneer Journalists:  James Edward McCall and Margaret Walker McCall

by Margaret McCall Thomas Ward (their daughter)  

James Edward McCal’s destiny was to become a pioneer African American journalist and Newspaper publisher.  He began his life as a mixed race colored boy in the deep south, one generation away from slavery.  His parents, Edward McCall and Mary Allen McCall, were emancipated slaves.  They were the offspring of white masters.   Edward was a skilled carpenter and Mary was a talented dressmaker.

The couple placed great stress on eductaion and they used their resources to educate their five children to college level.  James, the oldest of the five children, graduated from Alabama State Normal College in Montgomery, Alabama.  He left Alabama for Washington, D.C. to enroll in Howard University Medical School.  At that time, he was recognized in Montgomery literary circles as a gifted poet, however, he dreamed of following in the path of his paternal grandfather who was a physician.  Fate intervened.  At the end of his first year at Howard, he contracted typhoid fever which damaged his optic nerve.  Gradually, his vision diminished and for the rest of his life he was totally blind.

He returned home to Alabama, broken hearted.  After he accepted the shock of knowing that he would never see again, he decided to look for another career.  He enrolled in Albion College in Albion, Michigan, and he graduated in 1907.  This time, he returned to Alabama with the determination to help people by using his gift and skills as a writer.  Even though he was unable to see, he had the advantage of a trained mind and a superior education.   He embarked on a crusade against injustices African Americans endured, not only in the south but throughout the United States.

In 1910, his destiny as a compelling voice for racial equality began in Montgomery Alabama.  He published a magazine dedicated to relieving the problems of domestic servants in the south by organizing and training this important work force.  He named the magazine The Colored Servant Girl, and he wrote of the dignity of this occupation in an editorial entitled “What a Blind Man Sees in Passing.”  Also, he wrote articles about the activities of the Black community, and he published the articles in the white daily newspaper.  The articles were very widely read.  The success which he enjoyed with the publication of the magazine and articles motivated him to publish his own newspaper, the Emancipator.

Now begins the story of James McCall and Margaret Walker McCall, which is a romantic saga of ambition, faith, and love which lasted fifty years.  Margaret Walker, a lovely, ambitious graduate of Hampton Institute in Virginia and Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, fell in love with the blind newspaper man.  In 1914, they married and became a team in publishing the Emancipator.  Margaret worked in the capacity of Office Manager in their businesses.  She was the “eyes” of the union.  In 1929, when the Ku Klux Klan was most powerful in Montgomery, Alabama, the life of the outspoken editor was threatened.  The McCalls decided to migrate to Detroit, Michigan.  In a safer environment for themselves and their two daughters, they continued their newspaper careers.  For several years, James, with Margaret at his side, edited the Detroit Independent, a Negro weekly that flourished through the 1920s.

By 1935, McCall was editor and owner of the Detroit Tribune, which at that time was the only Negro weekly newspaper edited and published by and for Negroes in Michigan.  He called himself a “race man”.  Quite often, he used his poetic skill to write poems such as “The New Negro.” which was published in many anthologies.  He used the Detroit Tribune to crusade for better and more jobs for Negroes, better education for Negroes, promotion of Negroes in the Police and Fire Departments, and increased voter registration.  His paper was the first to wage a fight against police brutality in Detroit.  He campaigned for Black judges in the courts, for the right of labor to organize and for Negroes to join labor unions.

Due to advancing years, the McCalls sold the Detroit Tribune in 1946 and retired.  In 1963 James Edward McCall died.

This is a shortened version of that published, in full, in “Our Untold Stories A Collection of Family History Narratives” Compiled and written by members of the Fred Hart Williams Genealogical Society of Detroit, Michigan You learn more about the book, which includes 64 African American family history stories, here Fred Hart Williams Genealogy Society. It’s available on ebay also.

"She was owned before the war by the late Colonel Edmund Harrison of this county."

Yesterday someone  sent me a small newspaper item about my great grandmother on the Cleage side, visiting her children in Indianapolis in 1914.  Then I read a blog post on Reclaiming Kin about breaking down a brick wall with a newspaper article.  This sent me searching newspapers on The Genealogy Bank.  I expected to find more of the little society items about teas and meetings I have found in the past. I found several interesting articles, One about a horse owned by Victor Tulane putting it’s hoof through a car window and a photograph of my mother selling tickets to a church dance in 1951.  I started putting in the names I don’t usually look for, like my grandmother Fannie Turner.  I found two articles about her which I will share later.  Then I put in Edmund Harrison’s name.

Oral history tells us that Col. Edmund Harrison of Montgomery owned my 2x great grandmother, Eliza, during slavery. My cousin Margaret McCall Thomas Ward searched for decades to find something that would prove this.  I joined her search in 2002 but we were unable to find anything … until I came across the article below about Margaret’s father, James McCall.  It is that written record!  I really, really wish I could call Margaret and tell her what I found but she has been gone for almost 4 years now.  This is just a short part of the article, it was a very long article with many poems included.

 James Edward McCall, A Montgomery Negro Boy, Is an Intellectual Prodigy
“Blind Tom” of Literature Writes Clever Poetry, None of Which Has Ever Before Been Published—Lost His Eyesight by Hard Study.

The Montgomery Advertiser

The Montgomery Advertiser,  March 28, 1904.
    “Young McCall’s thoughts are high.  He is a muscian as well as a poet, and his happiest hours are spent in solitude with his thoughts which are ever bright and cheerful nonwithstanding his affliction.
    James Edward McCall is the oldest son of Ed McCall, for twenty-three years a cook at the Montgomery police station and one of the best known and most respected negroes in Montgmery.  Ed McCall was owned by W.T. McCall of Lowndes County.  His aged master is still living on the old plantation and he has no truer friend or more devoted servant than Ed McCall.  The mother of the young poet was Mary Allen, daughter of Doc Allen, for many years a well to do negro carpenter of Montgomery.  She was owned before the war by the late colonel Edmund Harrison of this county.”

Mary Allen McCall
James Edward McCall