Tag Archives: #me

Kristin Cleage

My paternal grandfather, Dr. Albert B. Cleage Sr. sitting on the railing. My mother, Doris Graham Cleage, holding me. My father Rev. Albert B. Cleage Jr. Summer of 1947 on the back porch of the house on King street.
My parents, paternal grandfather and me (Kristin) on our porch of the house on King street in Springfield, Mass. Photo by Hugh Cleage. 1947.

For this year’s April A-Z Challenge I am blogging a series of sketches about the free people formerly enslaved on the Cleage plantations in Athens, Tennessee. Most  are not related to me by blood, although our families came off of the same plantations – those of Samuel, Alexander and David Cleage.   Click on any image to enlarge.

Kristin Cleage (me) in 1970. Photo by James Williams.

This post is about my relationship to the Cleages of Athens, Tennessee. Kristin Cleage (that is me) was born free in Springfield, Mass. in 1946. My only sister was born when I was 2. My family moved back to Detroit when I was four. I finished high school and graduated with a degree in fine arts from Wayne State University.  I worked as a pre-school teacher, a doll maker and a librarian. Eventually I married James Williams, who had an Associates Degree and worked as an organizer and an inspector of asphalt for the Michigan Dept of Transportation. We had six children. All of our children attended college, lived to be adults and most now have children of their own. At various  times we have shared our home with children and grandchildren, and other relatives. We owned a variety of homes over the years, some with and some free from mortage.  We often lived around extended family.  I was the third generation of my Cleages born out of slavery.Pedigree View - Printer Friendly - Ancestry.com

Rev. Albert B. Cleage Jr, preaching about 1968.

My father, Rev. Albert B. Cleage Jr (aka Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman) was born free in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1911 to parents born in Tennessee and Kentucky. His family moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan and eventually Detroit.  He had six siblings.  All of them lived to be at least eighty years old. He attended public schools in Detroit and graduated with a BA from Wayne State University, followed by a Divinity Degree at Oberlin College and doing post degree work in film at the University of Southern California.  He married my mother, Doris Graham and they had two daughters. Both daughters lived to be adults, graduated from college and had seven children between them. My father pastored churches in Lexington, KY; San Francisco, CA; Springfield, MA and Detroit, MI. He was active in politics and with friends and family, published newsletter, advocated self determination and black power for black people. He founded the Shrines of the Black Madonna with churches in Detroit, Atlanta and Houston. He died at the age of 88 in 2000 in South Carolina.   He was the second generation born out of slavery.

My grandfather, Albert B. Cleage - 1909. About the time he graduated from Knoxville College.
My grandfather, Albert B. Cleage – 1909. About the time he graduated from Knoxville College.

My grandfather, Dr. Albert B. Cleage Sr, was born free in Hackberry, Loudon County, TN in 1883.  He was the youngest of 5 children born to Lewis Cleage and Celia Rice.  Eventually the family moved back to Athens, TN and his parents were divorced.  He and his siblings all graduated from high school.  Several attended college. My grandfather graduated from Knoxville College in Knoxville, TN and the University of Indiana medical school, Indianapolis, IN. He married my grandmother, Pearl Reed and they had seven children who all lived to age 80 or beyond.  After completing his internship, the family moved to Kalamazoo, MI. There he set up his medical practice.  After several years they moved to Detroit, Michigan where he opened Cleage Clinic and practiced medicine.  Three  of his siblings and his mother eventually moved to Detroit.  One brother remained in Athens. My grandfather regularly traveled back to visit. During his life, my grandfather helped found three churches and two black hospitals.  This was in the days when black doctors could not practice in most white hospitals.  In the 1950s my grandfather retired and in 1957 he died in Detroit.  He was the first generation born out of slavery.

My greatgrandfather Lewis Cleage was born into slavery on Alexander Cleage’s plantation in McMinn County, about 1852.  He was fourteen when freedom came with the end of the Civil War.  He married Celia Rice in 1872 in Athens, TN and they had five children. They all lived to adulthood and attended high school and/or college.  He worked as a farmer, in the steel mills, on the railroad and did other hard labor all of his life. He never learned to read or write.  He died in 1918 in Indianapolis, Indiana. He lived free for 52 of his 66 years.

My 2X great grandfather Frank Cleage was born into slavery about 1816 in North Carolina. I do not know how he came to be on Samuel Cleage’s plantation, but he was there by 1834 when he was mentioned in the letter to the overseer.  My 2X great grandmother Juda Cleage, was born into slavery about 1814. She  came to Alexander Cleage’s plantation with his wife, Jemima Hurst.  Juda was mentioned in both Elijah Hurst’s and Alexander Cleage’s Wills.  Frank and Juda both gained their freedom after the Civil War and were legally married that same year.  They had at least eight children.  Frank worked as a laborer.  I have not found them after the 1870 census.  I can only trace 3 of their children so I am unable to give death ages.  The three children I have found all did hard physical labor and were unable to read and write, as were Frank and Juda.

Some of my grandparent’s descendents, including members of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th generations born free. 2012 Detroit.

You can read more about each person by following the links or putting a name in the search box in the right hand column.

My Quilt Tent – 1958

1958 july kris tentI am standing in front of my tent made of a quilt attached to the former chicken house, at that point storage shed, in Nanny and Poppy’s (my Graham grandparents) backyard.  It was a June Saturday in 1958.  I was 11 and would turn 12 in August.  My cousin Barbara had her own quilt tent built over the wooden slide.

1958 June barbara tentIn the header we are eating lunch in the yard the same day.  Sitting at the table from L to R is my aunt Mary V., my grandmother, my greatgreat aunt Abbie, my grandfather at the head of the table (of course) me, cousin Dee Dee and cousin Marilyn on the end. My mother probably took the picture.

More posts about my grandparent’s house on Theodore.

T is for Theodore Street

Memorial Day and the Fourth of July

For more Sepia Saturday Offerings - CLICK!
For more Sepia Saturday Offerings – CLICK!

My First Gift


 book+of+me+adWhen I saw Prompt 18 – Your First Gift, in The Book of Me, I was sure I had a list of what I received when I was born in my baby book.   Unfortunately, when I checked there was a list of people who gave me gifts, but not a mention of a gift. I remember having a little silver cup and a silver fork and spoon but I have no idea who gave them to me.  I don’t know where they are now and I can find no photographs of them.

kris_1_yearSomething I did notice was that the handwriting and the language used in the baby book appears to be my father’s and not my mother’s.  I had always thought first_gifts_coverit was my mother who kept the book. Only a few pages were filled out at the time. There is some information I added years and years later when I was about 12 – When I started to talk and walk, what childhood illnesses I had, and a list of some of my elementary school teachers.

One last thing about the baby book – it was found in pile of trash to be thrown out with other papers from my father’s office at the church but someone saw it and saved it. Why was it in the office? Anyway, I’m glad it was rescued.

firstgifts-visitorsgifts-1Looking again, I see that Dearie Reid brought my going home outfit to the hospital. I’m thinking that she bought it. I wonder what I wore home. It must have been the second week in September in Springfield, MA by that time. Maybe cool?  Maybe hot?

Playing The Piano

I started taking piano lessons when I was about seven years old.  We lived on Chicago Blvd. in the parsonage.  Mrs. Fowler was our teacher.  I remember her as a stern older woman who, according to my cousin, sometimes smashed her fingers on the keys when she kept making mistakes.  I think of the room with the piano as the “Morning Room”. Maybe that’s what my mother called it. There was wall paper with fruit on it. My music book was “Teaching Little Fingers to Play” and I learned 3 note pieces with words like “Here we go, up a row, to a birthday party.”  When played in a different order it became the piece “Dolly dear, Sandman’s here.  Soon you will be sleeping.”  I must have practiced between lessons because I remember being used as a good example to my cousin Barbara one time.  The piano must have belonged to the church because when we moved, it stayed there.

The piano I took lessons on behind Henry and the cello.
The piano I took lessons on behind Henry playing the cello.

Several years later we were living in the upper flat on Calvert.  I told my mother I wanted to take piano lessons again.  She bought the used upright piano in the photo above. We all signed it on the inside of the flap you rest the music on and raise to get at the insides. Our new teacher was Mr. Manderville, the church choir director at that time.  He was my parents age and went in more for mean, sarcastic remarks as opposed to banging your fingers on the keyboard. I wanted to play “Comin’ Through The Rye” but he wouldn’t assign it and, for unknown reasons, I didn’t just learn it on my own time.

The only piece I remember by name was “The Wild Horseman”. I remember it as a complex piece that I played exceptionally well. Sort of like this.

Well, maybe I wasn’t quite that good, but in my memory, I am every bit as good. Eventually I told my mother I didn’t want to take piano lessons any more. She was not happy with that and mentioned buying the piano at my request so I could take lessons. She did let me stop. My mother played the piano much better than I ever did. She played it often after that.  Pieces of classical music she played on the record player and those she played on the piano have become confused in my mind now.  I will have to ask my sister what she remembers.

For more Sepia Saturday offerings, CLICK!
For more Sepia Saturday offerings, CLICK!

Another part of the prompt is pictures within the picture. You will notice three pictures on the wall and one of my sister and me on the piano, in my photo above.

The Freedom Now Party 1964

header_freedom_now_partyToday’s post is about the Michigan Freedom Now Party. My photographs were taken during the first convention, which took place in Detroit in September 1964.  It was held at Central Congregational Church, now the Shrine of the Black Madonna. To read an interview with Henry Cleage about organizing the party and what happened during the election, click this link – Freedom Now Party,.

Freedom Now Party Convention.

On the far left, back of my sister’s head and the back of my head. Standing in the checked shirt is Oscar Hand. Behind Mr. Hand, in the white shirt, is Richard Henry (later Imari Obadele) Writing on the wall is Leontine Smith. Against the wall in the white dress is Annabelle Washington.  I cannot name the others.

rally_fnp FNP flyer

Grace Lee Boggs, seated. Henry Cleage, perhaps reading the Preamble to the Freedom Now Party Platform, below.

majority report of platform

Freedom Now party candidates
Four of the many candidates on the Michigan Freedom Now Party slate.  From left to right:  Loy Cohen, secretary of state; James Jackson, lieutenant governor ; Albert Cleage (later Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman), govenor  and Milton Henry (later Gaide Abiodun Obadele), representative of the 14th Congressional District.


For more about my family and elections go to these posts: More From Elections of Yesteryear and Wordless Wednesday – Elections Past.

To see more posts about crowds and more – click this link!

Our Yearly Trip to the Zoo

This is the 25th post in the February Photo Collage Festival and the Family History Writing ChallengeThe photograph for today is from the Graham family’s annual trip to the Detroit Zoo.

Front: Marilyn with Barbara & Pearl behind her. Back: my mother Doris, my aunt MV, cousin Dee Dee and me. 1956.
Kris, Poppy, Dee Dee – 1959.

At the end of each summer my sister, cousins, mother, aunt and grandfather, Poppy, took a trip to the Detroit Zoo.

Sometimes the four older cousins spent the night before at our grandparents.  We slept on a foldout cot in Poppy’s room. We went to bed first and I was always asleep by the time Poppy came to bed. That worked fine, unless I woke up in the middle of the night. He had the loudest snore and it was impossible to get back to sleep until he turned over and stopped snoring.

My grandmother, Nanny, never went with us.  As I write this, I realize there are so many things I don’t remember.  I suppose our mothers drove across town, with Marilyn, to meet us in the morning.  Did we take two cars – my grandfather’s and my mother’s?  I don’t think so. I think we all smashed into one car, three adults in the front and 5 children in the back, with Marilyn sitting on someone’s lap. Nanny probably made us a picnic lunch to take. I can’t imagine buying hot dogs and french fries with Poppy along.

Mary V and Marilyn – 1956.
Poppy with camera – 1959. He was 70 years old.
Marilyn, still in the front. Me, Barbara, Pearl taking a picture of the photographer, Dee Dee. In the back are Connie Stowers (my mother’s friend) and my mother. 1959.

Looking at the photographs I can see that Dee Dee was way ahead of the rest of us in cool. Even in 1956, when she and I both wore our plaid slacks, her’s fit and look good. Mine are baggy. Luckily, it doesn’t seem to bother me.  That year Marilyn is so little and unaffected.

By 1959 Dee Dee is 16.  I’m amazed she still accompanied us to the zoo. It must have been a very important part of our year. I was 13 and still not at all cool. That expression on my face is one I recognize from other photos through the years, unfortunately. I would say the sun is in my eyes  but it doesn’t seem to be bothering anybody else. And why am I wearing that skimpy outfit?  The hats that Connie and my mother are wearing were some my mother bought for Pearl and me. White sailor hats were the rage for awhile. Unfortunately, those were the cheap version and did not look like the popular ones.  I don’t think we ever wore them. If I had, maybe I wouldn’t have been squinting at the camera. Little Marilyn looks a lot more blasé in 1959. I believe she is wearing one of the little sundresses my mother made for Pearl or me when we were that age. It was yellow with lace on top.

Reading The Newspaper – 1962

This is the 23rd post in the February Photo Collage Festival and the Family History Writing ChallengeThe photograph for today is a corner of our living room at 5397 Oregon in Detroit. My mother and I are reading the newspaper. I was 16.

reading_the_newspaper_1962It is probably Sunday, because my mother is still in her bathrobe. And who reads the Saturday paper so avidly? I think the bathrobe was light pink, but I’m not sure. The couch was an old one that my mother brought from Sally and Ivy’s mother when we lived on Calvert.  They moved out to Southfield, near the zoo, and bought new furniture. I remember going to visit once and hearing the lions roar.

The couch was old. My mother had a slip cover made. It was blue with a blue design.  I patched it once, in a fit of fix-it-up. It has been a long time since I have read a newspaper offline.  I wonder what we were reading about.

The couch and more of that corner of the living room. My uncle Henry took the photos.

There was an end table with a lamp and a brass ash tray. Both my mother and Henry smoked. The table had a fake leather top and a big drawer. One of my daughters has that table now. The lamp was white with red flowers and green leaves painted on it. There were gold lines at the top and base. The old television, in a wood cabinet ,was still working.  Later it died and for awhile there was a smaller TV, that worked, sitting on top of it.

The walls were beige. When we moved in, they were covered with wall paper. As soon as she could afford it, my mother had Mrs. Bruce’s brother come and paint it a clean, beige color.  There is no art work above the couch in this photograph. When I graduated from high school and began studying art at Wayne State University, my mother would tack one of my drawings up on the wall. Later on she had me frame them for her, badly. I never could cut the mats right.  You can’t see the rug here but it was a faded wine colored pattern. It was wall to wall and never replaced while we lived there.

1300 Lafaytte – 1968

Pearl standing, me seated, my father. The photographer told us to look in that direction.

This is the 17th post in the February Photo Collage Festival and the Family History Writing Challenge.   The next four  posts will be about some of the places that I lived that I didn’t cover in the Alphabet Challenge last year. Today I am going to remember 1300 Layfette, Detroit. My father, who was still using his name, Rev. A.B. Cleage lived here for a year during 1968-1969. I was a senior at Wayne State University.

In the aftermath of the 1967 riots my father had received many crazy letters, including death threats. Several people involved in the movement had been beaten or shot during this time period. There were also the more well known assassinations that took place.  I remember one sermon when my father announced that if he had heard there was a price on his head and plans to kidnap him and hold him for ransom.  He told the congregation that if he was kidnapped, give them nothing for his return.  Strangely, I don’t remember worrying about this.

The flat on the left was the one my father lived in. The 12th floor is about half way up.
The flat on the left was the one my father lived in. The 12th floor is about half way up.

It was during this time that it was decided that he would move out of his first floor flat on Calvert, that had no security measures, and into the an apartment on the 12th floor of the very secure 1300 Lafayette apartments.

Here is a description written by Hiley H. Ward in his 1969 biography of my father, Prophet of the Black Nation, about the apartment and the atmosphere of the times.

“…He has continued to live alone, until recently in a twelfth-floor panoramic apartment ($360 a month, two bed-room) in the exclusive downtown eastside Lafayette Park overlooking the river, Detroit and Windsor, Canada. His church described his moving there as a security measure… in his immaculate apartment two of three paintings remain unhung after a number of months – not a sign of particular interest in the place.”

Several things I remember:

  • My father leaving my sister and me standing out in the hall while he went through the apartment with a drawn gun to make sure nobody was there.
  • The picture above being taken by a Detroit Free Press photographer for an article they were doing about my sister Pearl’s poetry for the Sunday magazine, Parade.
  • The time I spent a week with him while my mother and Henry went out of town. He went over to his mother’s house on Atkinson for dinner every night. I decided to just fix myself dinner. I did, but I left the tea kettle on and forgot about it. It melted on the burner. I still have a lump of the remains.  During this visit I was instructed to give no one the phone number or the address.

    All that remained of the tea kettle.
  • Watching the 4th of July fireworks.

I was trying to reconstruct the layout of the apartment from memory when I decided to look online.  Currently the same apartments are in use as co-op apartments and I was able to find the layout and placement at the website for the current cooperative apartments.

1300_apt_sixAt the same time that my father was living here, The Black Star Co-op  being developed.

Poor Pete and PJ – Sepia Saturday #164

small-pet-turtle-01This is the 16th post in the February Photo Collage Festival and the Family History Writing ChallengeToday’s prompt includes a turtle tortoise.  None the less, I am going to write about my experience with turtles. My sister and I owned several turtles when we were growing up. We always named them PJ and Pete and they always got soft shells and died.  They lived in a little plastic turtle scape much like this one.  We added small, colorful rocks to the bottom. Turtle12

Their bowl sat on top of our bookcase in the bedroom. The room was bright but there wasn’t any direct sunshine there.  The turtles were fed a diet of dried food that came in an orange little container. Sometimes we supplemented it with a fly we caught, or some lettuce. As the shells began to go soft, we would try to get them to drink some cod liver oil and moved their island home into the sunlight. All to no avail.  They all died.  I don’t remember any turtle funerals but there might have been at least one. Perhaps my sister will remember. Pearl says, yes we did bury some of them. I don’t remember being upset, or even minding, when they died.

Our mother didn’t want any real large pets, like cats or dogs, because nobody was home during the day. Maybe because both of her childhood dogs died rather sad deaths too. She was happy to buy us fish and turtles. I think the turtles replaced the fish because it was easier to keep their habitat clean.  Once my sister and I took them out on the porch for a walk with strings tied around their shells. Not a big success.

I have since learned that turtles are salmonella carriers. Luckily we never had that problem.  My children never had turtles for pets but my husband used to find turtles trying to cross the road and bring them home for them to see before releasing them into the nearby woods or lake. After writing this, I have to wonder if they were disoriented from being moved like this. In fact, this whole thing sounds like the torture of turtles.

Pearl and Kristin pretending to race on the upper front porch. Notice the well kept houses in the background.
My sister Pearl and I pretending to race on the upper front porch of the flat on Calvert. This was the house  and the ages we were when we had turtles.
To see more turtles and other stuff, CLICK!

To read more about living on Calvert  go to “C” Is For Calvert.