Mershell, Mary V. and my mother Doris Graham are sitting on their front steps waving balloons on sticks. It was 1926. The house was on Theodore, the east side of Detroit. Sometimes I dream about this house and the porch usually figures in the dreams as I leave or enter or start down the street going somewhere.
My mother Doris and her sister Mary Virginia with their dog Bonzo. The picture was taken in August 1932, about 6 months after their brother Howard died of Scarlet Fever. Mary V. was 12 and Doris was 9. The sisters were granddaughters of Jennie Virginia Allen Turner, who was the daughter of Dock and Eliza Allen. My mother later had a sister-in-law named Gladys Cleage, who will celebrate her 93rd birthday this Saturday. I could not find a photograph of her with a sister and a dog, but here she is with sister Anna.
Gladys and Anna were the grandchildren of Lewis and Anna Cecilia Cleage, and great granddaughters of Frank and Juda Cleage of Athens, TN.
My mother said that after a difficult birth, her sister Mary V.’s foot was turned inward.She did not know if this was the fault of the doctor or not, but Mary V. wore a brace for years.
Mary V’s grandson, Ahmad Elkins, posted the pictres below on fb recently. They are his grandmother’s well worn baby shoes, saved through the years. Amhad shared his photographs with me and gave me permission to post them here.
Two other posts about Mary Virginia Graham Elkins are:
From Left to right My grandmother, Fannie Mae Turner Graham, peeking over my greatgrandmother’s, Jennie Virginia Allen Turner’s, shoulder. My grandmother’s sister Daisy Turner. Behind and between Aunt Daisy and Aunt Alice Turner, is my aunt Mary Virginia Graham Elkins, although she was not yet an Elkins. At the end, behind Alice, is my mother, Doris Graham Cleage, although she was not yet married a Cleage either.
They are posed in Grandmother Turner’s backyard on the East Side of Detroit at 4536 Harding. The house is gone now. They look like they just came from Church, at Plymouth Congregational, however the photo is dated July 4, 1939 on the back. July 4 was on a Tuesday that year. Maybe they went on a church picnic. My grandfather, Mershell C. Graham took the picture.
These three photographs of my mother’s sister, my aunt Mary Vee were taken in and around 1938. The first two have been colorized, and not very well either. What was happening in my aunt’s life then? She was 18 years old and had graduated from Eastern High School and was attending business college, where she won a prize for certificate for her speed and accuracy. After completing the program there, she worked for awhile at her uncle Jim McCall’s Newspaper. Later some friends of my grandparents from Montgomery helped her get a job at the City County Building as a secretary, where she worked for many years. Some years ago, Mary Vee talked with her daughter about her experience working at the paper.
“… her job was to read all these articles to Cousin Jim McCall, since he was blind. From what she read to him, he would formulate his editorial articles. She said he had a braille typewriter. She said she learned so much, just reading to him and talking to him about various topics. Mom said he was a wealth of information and he knew a lot about everything. She started working for them when she was 16 and continued every summer until she graduated from College. At that time, she said, it was due to a letter of recommendation from Uncle Jim that she landed the County job.”
What was happening in 1938: following a number of years of success with the US economy a recession hit which caused unemployment to rise back to 19%. In Europe Germany was continuing it’s strategy of persecuting the Jews and occupation in Czechoslovakia, the British prime minister Neville Chamberlain went to Germany fearing another world war and after agreeing to allow Hitler could occupy Czechoslovakia declared “Peace in our time” . The law changed in the US that meant the minimum hourly wage was 40 cents per hour for a 44 hour working week. On September 21st a giant hurricane slammed into the east coast with little or no warning from the Weather Service , the hurricane caused 40 ft waves to hit Long Island
and sixty three thousand people were left homeless and some 700 dead. On October 30th Orson Wells dramatization of “War of The Worlds” radio programme caused panic when it was broadcast more like a news breaking story than a play. Most of the world cheered when Germany’s Max Schmeling was defeated by a knock out in the first round by the great Joe Louis for the heavyweight championship.
And more: The Nanking Massacre took place in China during the continuing invasion of the Japanese during their invasion of China. The battle of Teruel, one of the most violent to occur during the Spanish Civil War, took place with German planes bombing the Spanish city. Guerilla warfare against Italy continued in Ethiopia.
Yesterday I talked about cousins, today I am going to share something about my aunts and uncles, some plain old aunts and uncles and some great and some 2X great.
Because my family seemed to socialized mainly with each other and a few long time family friends, I saw a lot of my aunts and uncles. When I was growing up, we spent every Saturday with my mother’s sister, Mary V. and her daughters at our maternal grandparents. We all rode over and back together. We also lived down the street and went to the same school so we saw her often.
My father’s family was very close and worked on political and freedom causes together through the years. We all went up to Idlewild together. Uncle Louis was our family doctor. My first jobs were working with Henry and Hugh at Cleage Printers. I babysat one summer for Anna and Winslow. I worked at North Detroit General Hospital in the pharmacy with Winslow. I worked with Gladys and Barbara at the Black Star sewing factory. My mother married my Uncle Henry years after my parents divorced so he was like a second father to me. I raked their memories for stories about the past for decades.
I had 4 aunts and 5 uncles, by blood. Two of my uncles died when they were children so I never knew them. All of my aunts married so there were 4 uncles by marriage. Three, Ernest, Frank and Edward, were eventually divorced from my aunts. I didn’t see them very much after that. Ernest lived in NYC and only appeared now and then so I didn’t know him very well beyond the fact he was very good looking and polite. Uncle Frank, who we called ‘Buddy’, was a an electrician. I remember him taking us to Eastern Market and boiling up a lot of shrimp,which we ate on soda crackers. And a story he told about a whirling dervish seen in the distance that turned into a dove. Edward, who we called Eddie was a doctor and I remember little about him except he was quiet and when I had a bad case of teenage acne, offered to treat it for me. Uncle Winslow was there to the end. I saw him often and I felt very connected to him. He had a wicked sense of humor and liked to talk about the past when I was in my family history mode. None of my uncles were married during my lifetime so I had no aunts by marriage.
We didn’t call our aunts and uncles “aunt” and “uncle”. We called them by their first names only. I did know two of my great aunts, my maternal grandmother’s sisters, Daisy and Alice. I knew one of my 2 X great aunts, Aunt Abbie. She lived with my grandparents until she died in 1966. Aunt Abbie was Catholic and I still have a Crucifix that she gave me.
I remember calling Daisy “Aunt Daisy”, but Alice was just “Alice”. Aunt Daisy had a distinctive voice and she laughed a lot. I remember going to dinner at their house once, and going by on holidays.
There were a host of great aunts and uncles that I never met but I knew from stories about them so that I felt like I knew them. Aunt Minnie and Uncle Hugh were my paternal grandmother’s siblings. I must have met several of my paternal grandfather’s siblings but I was small and don’t remember them, Uncle Jake, Uncle Henry, Aunt Josie and their spouses. And on the maternal side I heard so much about my great grandmother Jennie’s siblings that I felt I knew them too. When I started researching, these were not strangers – Aunt Willie, Aunt Mary, Aunt Beulah, Aunt Anna.
We didn’t call any of my parent’s friends ‘aunt’ or ‘uncle’. Not surprising since we didn’t call our own aunts and uncles, ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’.
This photograph was taken about two years after the one of my grandmother Fannie at Sugar Island. Grandma Graham was my grandfather, Mershell Graham’s adopted mother. Mary Virginia was born in April 1920 so she would be 2. Clifton was the son of my grandfather’s adopted brother, Clifton. Mershell Jr was born in June of 1921 so he must be about 1 year old. My mother was born in February, 1923 so my grandmother may have been just pregnant with her here. The park tables and benches are so unanchored. They are all cement now.
This photo of my mother, Doris and her sister, Mary V. Graham was taken in 1933. My mother was 10 years old and her sister was 13 years old. The photograph was taken on Belle Isle, an island park in the Detroit River between Detroit and Canada. You can see the river in the background.
They lived with their parents, Fannie and Mershell on Theodore Street. My grandfather worked at Ford Motor Co. at the River Rouge Plant. They had a dog named Bonzo. Their little brother, Howard, had died the year before from complications of diabetes and scarlet fever.
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.
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.
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.
In the 1940 Census, the Frank and Mary Elkins family was living at 3045 Anderdon Street in Detroit, Michigan. The rent was $30 a week and they had lived in the same house in 1935. Everybody in the household had been identified as “W(hite)”, that was crossed out and “Neg(ro)” was written over it. Unfortunately, no household on this page has the person who provided the information to the enumerator identified.
The father of the family, Frank Elkins, was 57 years old and had completed 4 years of high school. He worked at an auto plant as a courtesy driver. One of his granddaughters has informed me that he worked as a driver for Graham Paige Motors.
His wife, Mary, was 47 and not employed outside the home. She had completed 2 years of High school. She had made $50 in the last year outside of wages or salary. Daughter Mary was 21 and single. She had completed 4 years of high school and was not enrolled in school. She was not employed outside of the home.
Mother Mary Elkins and son Frank “Bud” Elkins
Young Frank was 19, single and had completed 1 year of college. He had attended school sometime since March 1, 1940. He was not employed. His daughter, Dee Dee, remembers that Frank graduated with honors from Cass Technical High School and went right to work, starting Elkin’s Electric Company. He tried to join the Electricians Union, but they barred Black folks from joining. In 1941 Frank and my aunt Mary V. Graham were married at Plymouth Congregational Church.