On most Saturdays and all holidays my mother, my sister and I would drive the two blocks down Calvert on Detroit’s west side to pick up my aunt and her three daughters for the ride over to my grandparent’s house on the East side. We four oldest would sit in the back while the youngest sat up front between the adults.
Poppy, my mother’s father set up a table in the yard for holiday meals. He made it from boards set up on saw horses. There were chairs at each end of the table.. On each side of the table were benches made by setting planks on wooden boxes.
A wooden fence ran around three sides of the yard and separated us from the alley. The block was laid out with two long sides with a lot houses and two short sides with only two houses. Poppy and Nanny’s house was on a short side. The alley cut behind the houses and makes an “H”. If it hadn’t been for the wooden fence, we would have been sitting in the alley, as it was we had complete privacy. That’s how it seemed to me at the time anyway. Above the fence we could see the backs of the houses and tenements and garages that ran along one long side.
Looking at the photographs the only thing I can make out on the table is the white enamel pitcher which would have held the Hawaiian punch, our picnic drink, which was usually served in red, green and gold metal “glasses’.
After the meal it was time to clean up. The grownups would do it while we played in the yard. This was in contrast to real life during the week when we did the clean up and the dishes. I think this gave them time to talk while they worked and as I now know, doing the dishes is no big deal.
Then we’d have the long drive back home to the west side through all those interesting neighborhoods where I’d imagine what life would be like if I lived … there. And we’d sing songs and play car games. I wonder how long it really took. An hour? We didn’t take the expressway, all through neighborhoods. No urban renewal yet, or not on our route, and the neighborhoods were always full of people on porches and kids in the street.
While researching my paternal grandmother Pearl Reed Cleage, I found many references to her singing in her church and at community events in Indianapolis, Indiana. Later I looked in the online date base, ProQuest Historical Newspapers and found numerous society shorts in the Chicago Defender column “Brief News from the Buckeye State” about Pearl Cleage singing with the Harmony Trio in Cleveland, Ohio. The articles were dated from 1915 to 1922.
Finally I came across an article dated December 30, 1922 with the title “William Anderson Buried.” It mentioned that he left to mourn his passing Mrs. Margaret Anderson, a son, William Anderson Jr and a daughter Mrs. Pearl Cleage Johnson. So, was Pearl Cleage Johnson his step daughter? How did she go from Pearl Cleage in a May 21 short item about singing to Mrs. Pearl Cleage Johnson in the obituary? Why was there no marriage announcement? Was Cleage her maiden name? Probably not since she was singing as Mrs. Pearl Cleage. Perhaps a former marriage? Recently I came across this information again while cleaning up my files and decided to see what I could find out about Mrs. Pearl Cleage Johnson. I started by looking for Pearl Cleage on FamilySearch. References to my grandmother Pearl Cleage appeared and then a marriage record for Pearl Cleage to Burl Johnson in Cleveland Ohio on August 19, 1921. The brides name was Pearl Holmes Cleage, maritial status was divorced. She was born in 1884 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. . Her mother’s maiden name was Margaret Banks. Her father’s name was Harry Holmes.
I found her at 16 in the 1900 census living with her mother’s sister and husband. Living in that household were Harvey Martin and his wife Vaudalia, their three children, Vaudalia’s sister Marnir and niece Pearl. I found Vaudalia and Margaret Banks in the 1880 census living with their parents Pleasant Owen and Clara Banks, in Delpos, Van Wert, Ohio. Baby sister Mamie (not Marnir) were also there. I found that Clarinda was born in Ohio and Pleasant came there from Virginia before 1850. He fought with the U.S. Colored Infantry in the Civil War. Once I get started it’s hard to stop looking. I found two other marriage records for Pearl Holmes. She married Robert Williams June 6, 1908 in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. She married Jerome Cleage on September 23, 1914 in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. It gives her previous husband’s name as Williams but doesn’t say if she was divorced or he died. Jerome’s birthplace was Rhea Springs, Tennessee. His father’s name was Richard Cleage and his mother’s name was Adeline Wason. What I learned about Pearl’s life from various online records was that she was born in Fort Wayne Indiana in 1884. Her father died before 1900 leaving her mother a widow working as a servant in Dayton, Ohio while Pearl lived with her aunt. Pearl married three times and had no children. She was active in her church, St. John’s A.M.E. (the oldest African American church in the Cleveland area) both singing and in club work. In the 1910 census she and her new husband Robert Williams, a teamster, were living with her mother, 4 year old brother and stepfather in Cleveland. In 1920 she was not with Jerome Cleage and again living with her mother, brother and stepfather. In 1930 her stepfather was dead and her mother was living with Pearl and husband Burl in Cleveland. I found one photograph of Pearl in 1939 as a member of “Cleveland’s Popular Mystery Pals Club.” Unfortunately it is a horrible copy in the online paper and it is impossible to see what she looks like. Burl died in 1947. I have not found a death date for Pearl yet.
In part two I look for a connection between my grandmother Pearl’s husband Albert Cleage and the other Pearl’s second husband, Jerome Cleage who both came from south east Tennessee.
Another in the series of photographs taken in my maternal grandparents yard in Detroit. Shell was my grandfather. John Wesley was my grandmother’s first cousin who was visiting from Chicago. This photo was taken the same day as the fourth photo down on the linked page, dated September 21, 1961. On the back of the photo it says “Our backyard 9-21-1961 (right to left) John Wesley, John Bishops son, Ernest and Shell”
I moved often while I was growing up because my father was a minister. When he changed churches, we moved. I have written stories about each house individually. There are links at the bottom of this story. This is an overview of all those houses, with memories.
I was born on August 30, 1946 at 10 PM in the middle of a thunderstorm. The first of the two daughters of Rev. Albert B. and Doris Graham Cleage. I was named Kristin after the heroine of the novel by Sigrid Unset, Kristin Lavransdatter. My father was pastor of the St. John’s Congregational church in Springfield, MA. We lived in the back of the church community house after my father convinced the church to sell the parsonage to pay debts.
I remember… Laying on a blanket in the yard looking up at the clouds with my mother. Holding my sister, Pearl, on the way home from the hospital. Sitting on the basement steps while my grandmother washed Pearl’s diapers. Making Halloween cupcakes. Looking at the clearing evening sky after rain. Going to the ice ream parlor with my sister and parents. Leafless trees against the winter sky. The huge statues in a religious procession going past the house. Fall trees, a stream and a dog in the park. Watching the milkman and his horse from my bedroom window. Ribbon candy at Christmas.
When I was four my father got a church in Detroit and we moved there. All of the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins were there. We moved into a house down the street from my paternal grandparents a few aunts and uncles lived there too. I began kindergarten at Brady Elementary.
I remember… My grandfather picking up a baby bird and giving it little pieces of bacon. Not being allowed out of the yard. Being late for school all the time. A movie about white and red corpuscles fighting infection. Painting at the easel.
I attended first grade at Brady. During second grade I had pneumonia and missed the rest of that year my father was involved in a church fight and led a faction away to start another church. We moved. During the summer before we moved, my mother, sister and I stayed with my mother’s parents on the east side. My father stayed with his parents. My mother was taking classes in education at Wayne State University.
I remember… Playing “Sorry” at my grandparent’s kitchen table. Listening to the radio soaps. Going to meet my mother at the bus stop and collecting dropped flowers that we made into a slimy mud pie soup. Eating grated cheese and Ritz crackers. Going to the creamery with my grandfather to buy vanilla ice cream. Climbing up on the pile of logs against the wooden fence to look into the alley. The electrical storm when we sat in the living room, waiting for my mother to come home. Crying when she finally got there, telling of jumping over downed wires.
In the fall we all moved into a big stone house that would be mostly the church community house and incidentally we would live upstairs. The choir practiced downstairs, the youth group met in the basement rec room; they had card parties in the living room and piano lessons in the morning room. They all used the kitchen. It was kind of adventurous living in such a large mostly empty house with servant’s quarters in the attic and buttons that lit up on a numbered board in the kitchen when pressed in each room. At least my sister and I thought so. My mother didn’t feel that way. When I was eight my parent were divorced. It was a “friendly divorce”. We moved into a flat closer to Roosevelt elementary school that my sister and I attended and my mother was a beginning teacher. My sister and I went everyday to my father’s for lunch. He came by and visited. Neither one talked negatively about the other. My sister and I took piano lessons from Mr. Manderville and dance lessons at Toni’s School of Dance on Dexter.
I remember… Learning how to ride a bike. My great grandmother dying. Two more cousins being born. My aunt and three cousins staying with us while their family looked for a house. Saturdays my mother picked up her sister and three daughters and the seven of us drove over to the east side and spent the day at her parent’s. Vegetable and flower gardens, bird bath, swing, dirt, snowball tree, marigolds and a big brass bed we jumped up and down on
and slid through the bars of. Plays my older cousin Dee Dee wrote and we put on and on and on for the adults. My grandmother’s aunt who gave us rosaries and told us about cutting her mother’s mother’s (who she said was from Africa) toenails, while my cousin was cutting her toenails. Sundays after church at my other grandmothers where she had milk, tea and ice water on the table and the butter in little pats on a saucer and candles. The endless discussion of politics, race, church around that table. Getting my own room. Going to the fish house and the zoo and picnics at Belle Isle. Making dolls. Learning to roller-skate and ride a bike. Having a “best friend”. Reading, reading and reading. Roosevelt Elementary School changing from 99% Jewish to 99% Black.
When I was twelve I graduated from Roosevelt and went to Durfee Junior High School next door. Because of over crowding I was double promoted. A year later my mother bought a house on Oregon Street and we moved to the McMicheal school district. I transferred there while my sister continued at Roosevelt where she was a sixth grader. I was in the church youth group.
I remember… Going home after graduation with my best friend Deidre and having a snowball fight. Finding everybody else knew how to dance and I didn’t. How big Durfee seemed. My crazy seventh grade math teacher. Learning how to swim. Getting home before everybody. Never finding my way around McMicheal. Chaos during TV science classes. Learning how to sew. Making pineapple muffins and pineapple muffins and more pineapple muffins. My cousin growing out of playing ‘imaginary land” on Saturdays. Wishing I had enough money to get everybody a really good Christmas present. Arguing with my sister about who was supposed to do the dishes. Making doughnuts. Not getting “Chose” at youth group dances.
When I was 15 my mother remarried. She married my father’s brother, a lawyer, who was then a printer and started to put out a black paper, the illustrated news. I attended Northwestern High School. Favorite classes were Spanish and swimming. I was on the Swim Team. Worked at the Printing Plant one summer. Baby-sat another. My family bought an old farmhouse on two acres near Wixom, Michigan. We went there on weekend and longer in the summer.
I remember… Discovering Socialism, Revolution and Cuba. Telling an English teacher I certainly had nothing in common with Holden Caulfield. The freedom rides, school integration, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Kennedy’s assassination. The four little girls in Birmingham bombed at Sunday school. Being at the church Christmas bazaar while the Russian boats were headed for Cuba. Bare trees against the winter evening gray/peach sky. Not wanting to participate in graduation. Not going to the prom. Not wanting to. The green fields at the farm under a heavy grey, clearing sky after a summer. Not going on dates. Wanting to be able to say I had a boyfriend, but not wanting anyone I knew for one. Feeling like an outsider.
I attended Wayne State University from Sept 1964 until graduating in December 1968 with a Bachelors degree in Fine Arts. I worked in the cafeteria, in the school library, at the Center for the Application of Science and Technology, as the art director of the student newspaper, The South End. During Christmas vacations I worked as a saleslady in the Children’s only shop at downtown Hudson’s. One summer I worked in the pharmacy of the North Detroit General Hospital. I maintained a 3.0 average. Joined the Afro-American Action Committee and demonstrated against the war in Vietnam. Met my husband, Jim. My sister went off to study play writing at Howard University. My stepfather went back into law. We moved into a flat on Fairfield with my mother’s parents living downstairs. I did not attend my graduation.
I remember … Meetings. Meetings about the war in Vietnam, meetings about Black Student concerns, community meetings, political meetings, meetings about meetings. Seeing Jim from my writing class and running down four flights of stairs before realizing I need to be in that class. Both grandmothers saying that girl is in love. The Pentagon March against the war in Vietnam, Visiting my sister at Howard. Being tired of school and home and wanting to be on my own. Dropping a tray full of dishes in the cafeteria and the diners applauding. Reading Kristin Lavernsdatter. Hanging out at the Montieth Center. Putting out “A Happenin’. Malcolm X’s assassination. MLK’s assassination. The 1967 rebellion. Passing out campaign information at the polls. Bell Bottom jeans. Richard Grove Holmes, “Song for my Father.” Doing a two-color separation cover of the South End. Being hopelessly in love. Spending the night with Jim. Eating oranges in the snack bar. Hippies. Afros. Black pride. Black Power. Freedom Now. Graduating from Wayne and taking the bus west, to San Francisco. Leaving home. Grown.
Specific memories of each of the many childhood houses (including floor plans) I lived in can be found in the following posts:
This is a certificate for my mother’s oldest sister, Mary V. that her mother filled out. She also wrote information on the back.
Cradle Roll Certificate
To be given by the Cradle Roll Superintendent to the mother of the child and carefully kept until the child is grown.
This is to certify that Mary Virginia Graham
was enrolled as a member of The Cradle Roll
of the Plymouth Congregational Sunday School
at 2141 St. Aubin, Detroit, State of Mich.
on the 27th day of March 1921 born on
the 3rd day of April 1920 at Detroit State of Michigan. Parents Names: Father Mershell – Mother Fannie Graham
Signed Pastor Harold M. Kingsley
S.S. Supt. Mrs. S. I. Barnette
Cradle Roll Superintendent Mrs. E.E. Scott
Jesus said “Suffer the little children to come unto Me, forbid them not, for to such belongeth the Kingdom of God.” Mark – 10 – 14.
Mershell and Fannie Turner Graham were married June 15 – 191(9) at Montgomery, AL– were the first couple to marry after Plymouth was founded – and Mary Virginia was the first baby to be born into the new church, organized by about a dozen Montgom(ery__)
4 children were born to this union – 2 girls and 2 boys
Mary Virginia Graham – (Elkins) — April 3, 1920 — married Nov 9 19(41)
Mershell C. Graham Jr — June 10 – 1921 — Killed at 6 yrs aut(o)
Doris J. Graham —- Feb. 12 – 1923 — Wayne University
Howard Graham —-Sept. 7 – 1928 –died – scarlet fever Mar – 4 – 193(2)
Doris Diane Elkins – M.V.’s 1st and our 1st grand baby — Sept 7, 1943.
Several weeks ago I publshed a photo of my father and some his siblings and parents standing in front of their car The Cleage family out for a Ride. I got several conflicting identifications for the car from relatives on my facebook page. Today I found a photo of the car from a different angle with the words above on the the back. While I continue to work on my post about my grandmother Pearl Cleage’s doppelganger I thought I would share this.
Several years ago I made a picture to place on a clock face by printing photographs of my grandmother Fannie on a piece of acetate and cutting it to fit on a clock. I removed the plastic cover, took the hands off and lay the photo on top of the face. The numbers showed through. I replaced the hands and cover and it was a fully working clock.
I was reading a post over at Georgia Black Crackers about fried chicken and as I was getting into my third paragraph in the comment section I decided to just write about my chicken memories here.
Fried chicken used to be the main part of my favorite meal along with mashed potatoes and green beans. I grew up in Detroit, without chickens in the yard, but I remember going to the poultry market several times with my maternal grandmother, Nanny. Crates full of live chickens were piled around the walls. My grandmother would pick her chicken and they would kill it and dress it there. When she cooked chicken she always smothered it in gravy. Perhaps she bought the cheaper old birds that were too tough for frying. It was delicious.
Every Saturday my mother drove us all across town to my grandparent’s house. She and her sister would be in the front and the four, eventually five, of us cousins would be in the back. No seat belts in those days. We spent many happy hours playing in the backyard where our yard toys were kept in the old chicken house. Of course it was free of all signs of chickens. They were gone by the time we were there but I remember the story of the mean rooster that attacked my little uncle Howard and ended up as chicken dinner. And of chickens running around the yard with no heads after they’d been chopped off.
Nanny was a great cook. She didn’t know how to cook when she married at age 29, my grandfather taught her. Where he learned to cook so well I am not sure. Working in the dining car on the railroad? I’ll have to ask my cousin and see if she knows. He always cooked the turkey on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
When my sister and I were very small someone gave us three chicks for Easter. We lived in a combination parsonage/community house. It was huge. We kept the chicks in a box in the basement and thinking back I don’t remember a heat light which may be the reason that, one by one, the chicks died. I remember my mother throwing their bodies into the basement incinerator.
My Uncle Henry told a story about chickens from the time that he and his brother Hugh were conscientious objectors during the 2nd world war had a farm near Avoka, Michigan where they raised chickens and milked cows. One day it rained and they hadn’t put the chickens up. He said they piled up in the yard with their mouths open, just sat there and drowned from the rain running down their throats.
When I was grown living with my husband and children in rural Simpson County, Mississippi keeping goats and chickens, I learned first hand about killing, plucking and cutting up chickens. From my yard to the table. I wasn’t really that good at the killing part. In fact, I only remember one time that I actually killed a chicken. My husband was a printer working in nearby Jackson, MS. It was time to fix dinner and there was not much food in the house. He had the car so no chance for a trip to the store in town. I decided to kill a chicken. With the help of my two oldest daughters, who must have been about 9 and 12 at the time, we did it. Each of them held a clothesline tied to either the chicken’s head or feet and I chopped off the head. I would have gotten better I’m sure, but luckily never had to do it again.
One last memory. It’s really my husband’s memory, but I’ve heard it so often I can see it as if it were mine. Once during the annual family trip back to Dermott, Arkansas a relative gave them a chicken to take back home. They were living in Carr Square Village in St. Louis, MO at the time. They kept the chicken in the newspaper wagon long enough for it to become big enough to eat. His name was Speckle because he was black and white. One day they came home and they had a real treat, chicken sandwiches. Nobody asked why chicken in the middle of the week, they were too busy eating it. Later they found it was poor Speckle.
Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to:
1) Determine which event in your ancestral history that you would love to be a witness to via a Time Machine. Assume that you could observe the event, but not participate in it.
2) Tell us about it in a blog post of your own, in a comment to this blog post, or in a comment on Facebook.
Although it took me until Sunday morning to decide, I chose to be present when my first female ancestor from Eliza’s line appears, enslaved, on these shores. I want to know where she landed and where she came from. Was she a Mende, as my DNA test suggests? Were any of her people with her? I want to be there when she was sold to see what plantation she was taken to and who her first owner was. I want to know what her family named her and what slave name she was given.