My grandfather, Mershell Cunningham Graham was born in Coosada Station, Alabama about 1888. He didn’t know his exact birthday and chose to celebrate Christmas day. His parents were William and Mary Graham and he had a brother named Bill and a sister named Annie. Aside from that and a few stories about digging sweet potatoes in the rain and sleeping outside the bedroom door of a little girl he was servant to, I don’t know anything about his childhood. He taught himself to read. Eventually worked in the dining car on the railroad. He moved to Montgomery where he met my grandmother, Fannie. He lost an eye in a hunting accident. During WWI he moved to Detroit where there was already a contingent from Montgomery, and got a job at Fords Motor Company. He proposed to Fannie by mail and I still have the letter she wrote back accepting his offer of marriage. He could fix anything and make most things. He always had a wonderful vegetable garden and flowers in the yard.
I can’t find him until the 1910 census when he is single and living in Waycross Georgia with Irwin and Mary Warren’s family as a boarder. He was working as a car repairman in a railroad shop. June 4, 1917 according to his WW 1 draft registration card he was single, responsible for his father, living in Detroit and working as a steward for the D & CAN Co. on the Lakes. Jun 11, 1919 he and Fannie Mae Turner were married in Montgomery, AL. In the 1920 census he and his wife Fannie are boarders in the house of Moses and Jennette Walker in Detroit. He worked as an inspector at an auto factory. By 1930 he owns his home and lives with his wife Fannie and three children, Mary, Doris and Howard on Theodore St. in Detroit. He was a stock keeper in an auto factory. Mershell Graham died peacefully in his sleep at home, September 6, 1973 in Detroit, Michigan.
Today I am posting some entries from his little notebook. Although everything isn’t dated, it begins in 1934. He writes the person’s name first on jobs. Completed jobs are marked through with an X
Daisy – 1 set of shelves for attic stairway – 5 ft tall 12 “ wide
Gwen – 1 table for basement 5 ft long 3 ft wide folding legs
Lottie Brandon – 1 porch flower box
Mother – 1 bookcase for house – use any size
1 Bulletin Board for Church – 1934 2 1/2 ft x 2 ft 10 “ Glass Front Brown Board in Back clear glass 26 1/2 x 30 7/8
Car struck by M.C. (note: Michigan Central) engine Mar. 10th 1935 At 2:15 P.M. Doris in car with me. No one hurt very bad. Doris received small cut on left hand M.C. RR settled for $25.00 part cost on fixing car.
B.T. Washington Died Nov. 15, 1915 At Tuskegee Ala.
Social Security Act Account number 374-20-3906 12-21-1936
My grandfather Albert B. Cleage Sr is center front. His brothers Jacob and Henry are on either side of him. I do not know who the men in the back row are. Do not know the occasion. I am guessing it was in the early 1900’s, before 1920.
Since posting Henry’s Diary I’ve gotten several questions off of the Blog so I’ve decided to add an explanation entry. Some of the information come from transcriptions I made of conversations with Henry during the 1990’s and some are new from today via my aunt Gladys Cleage Evans memories.
First Question was about the band:
Ben said “Enjoyed reading his journal. It sounds like they played in a band. Do you have info about the band?”
I sent out the call to two of Henry’s sisters via their daughters and got the following information back:
“okay, Gammie can’t remember what Hugh played, but Toddy was the manager, and booked the gigs and whatever they needed, he switched everybody around to accommodate … Louis on piano, Henry on sax and bass, cousin John on sax and soprano sax, cousin Bill on trombone, maybe cousin Harold was there, can’t remember, if anyone sang it was Henry… she’s still thinking I’ll get back as more is remembered! I didn’t even know they had a band… sorry as Gammie says, combo! 🙂
And from Aunt Anna via my cousin Anna: “Hi there! I had a chance to get Mom’s remembrances on Uncle Toddy’s band. This is what she recalls:
Uncle Toddy was trying to establish the business of being an agent where he would send singers and instrumentalists to different clubs etc. to perform. If he couldn’t get enough players, this is where he would ask Uncle Louis (player of drums), Henry (sax player, bass violin and vocalist), and sometime Mr. Hand (Oscar) – not really sure what he played – to fill certain jobs. Uncle Henry was a really good sax player and he had a great voice. Some group called the Vagabonds wanted him to play the sax for them. Mom thinks that Henry actually joined their band for awhile.”
From Henry, told in the 1990’s: “John was pretty good on the saxophone. He turned out to be pretty famous on the West Side of Detroit.” Henry says “When I played with John, he was so temperamental until he wouldn’t play. I remember a couple of times he didn’t like the set up. You know, at that point he was a jazz musician. I was more a Johnny Hodges type. We were playing at some big thing and he didn’t like to play outside, it was cold, So I played the whole thing myself. All the parts. He wouldn’t play.”
Second Question from my daughter Ayanna:
“What does he mean when he says that his parents went to the show. Was it movies?”
Yes, going to the show was going to the movies. There was a segregated theater on Grand River, which was a big business street several blocks from their house. Black people had to sit in the balcony. This was in Detroit, Michigan.
Henry in the 1990’s. Once he was going to the show with his cousin, Minnie “Girl” Mullins (she was named after her mother Minnie, hence the “girl”). After they purchased their tickets, the man was standing there directing them towards the balcony. Minnie put her nose in the air, said she wasn’t sitting up there and went and sat downstairs. Nothing happened, they weren’t thrown out or arrested or anything. He admired Minnie for her boldness.
And from my aunt Gladys again via cousin Jan again: “She doesn’t remember a segregated theatre! She doesn’t remember being in the balcony! JUST remembers Hugh taking her and Peewee to the show which was in walking distance! probably the same theatre…this is getting sooooo intriguing! anything else you need, let me know.”
Henry mentioned The Meadows several times. “The Meadows” was a former farm within driving distance of Detroit. They used to go out there and fish and camp out. I need to get more information about who owned it and where it was. More to come. Back to the Aunts!
And the reply arrives – got to love the internet!
From Aunt Gladys via FB message and her daughter:
“Albert Senior and a bunch of fellow doctors bought it. It was to be a place where everyone could get away and the kids could meet and play.. big house on the property with a porch that wrapped around 2/3 of the house… (Plum Nelly was the conscientious objector farm) … dances on the porches… near Capac Michigan… Apparently they sold it later. she kind of remembers parties on the porch… a get-a-way other than the Boule or Idlewild. Mom remembers the boys spending a couple weeks at the meadows during the summer and Louis packing the provisions.”
Henry Cleage was my uncle and also my step-father. He was a great thinker and during his life did a variety of things. He kept this journal while he was a freshman at Wayne State University in 1936. He did eventually graduate and got a law degree. He was also a printer and a publisher, publishing the Illustrated News, a radical black newsletter during the early 1960’s with family and friends. During WW2 he and his brother Hugh were conciencious objectors and spent the war farming in Avoca, Michigan.
January 1 Had argument with Toddy about pay for gig last night. Led me to believe I would receive 1/3 of pay and then tried to pay me 5 dollars. He eventually paid. (Not like a gentleman) (7 dollars)- worked on English paper – decided to take Mama to show and see “Peter Ibbettson” tomorrow.
January 2 Did not go to show, rain, snow, and slush. Bought this diary today- got up about 4:00 o’clock today on account of having gone to bed so late last night – Toddy stays up late and I have to stay up too-not being able to sleep with light on and cigarette smoke. Mama and Daddy went to show tonight -I spent night writing on 16,000 word English paper – am worried. Have so much schoolwork to do. Will take Mama to show tomorrow.
January 3 Went to see Peter Ibbertson”- bought “Rodget’s Thesaurus” at “Demings Bookstore” – It was nice out today. Wind was strong, skies overcast – seemed kind of wild out. Sat up all night talking about Book to write with Louis, Toddy. About Negros flying through fogs and dropping bombs, revolt, tom toms woods! Swamps, conquerors! (bog water)
January 4 Rainy, slushy, dirty out, then at about 7:00 got cold and froze over-stayed home all day – tooth swelled up again – wrote a bit on speech. Worried about tooth, and schoolwork. Have Economics test Wednesday. – Luck!
January 5 Weather was chilly and windy. Awoke this morning with swollen tooth. Went to Y.M.C.A. to hear Tompkins (Negro) recorder of Deeds (WA) Such abysmal ignorance for one in a high place!!! Said Negros should not be ungrateful!!!! (imagine) it was funny. Have a cold too now and must go to school tomorrow. Worried about speech and physiography
January 6 Chilly in morning began to snow about 11:00 AM good packing snow. I watched it from my physiography class window. Furry and ? First day at school since vacation. Was returned. Not so bad. work not so close as I thought should get it. However will have to give 2-minute speech Wednesday. Slept after school till 7:39 – going to bed now at about 2:30 – started ‘Magnolia Street” Good if I have time to read.
January 7 Snow on ground – test tomorrow in Economics – must make speech tomorrow-Momma and Daddy went to show. Nothing much.
January 8 Snow melting slow – dirty and slushy again. Gave speech and wonder of wonders I received an enthusiastic applause. Spoke on The World is Flat. Took test in Economics. Pretty good I think. Now about 4:00 children coming home from Wingert. Fighting with snow! “Man and War” inseparable. I wonder if I ever acted as they. I know I did. Heaven forbid, though! Going to bed at about 1:00 o’clock.
January 9 After school I went to see “Captain Blood” Very good. With Brewer. After dinner wrote some on theme. Mama, Daddy, went to a show, returned at 1:35.
January 10 Went to school at 11:30 on account of I didn’t go to speech class – no speech to give. Have felt much better after giving 2 min speech on Wednesday. Still worried about Geology report. Went to show tonight saw “I live my life” Joan Crawford and Brian Ahern – “Special Agent” Came home – wrote on theme. I have thought of spring tonight.
January 11 Awoke to find that I had lost 2 dollars very depressed. Wrote on theme. Played tonight at Quinn’s Lone Pine with Duke Conte, played bass, terrible night. Fingers sore. Noticed how good-looking Lene is… Ought to throw a line – Police stopped us at about 1:00AM. No permit to play until two. I was glad. Very animal acting bunch in River Rouge. Most of them seem friendly though.
January 12 Played matinee dance at Elks rest with Heckes, Toddy and Bill – Dracee’s band came in and sat in awhile (no trouble) Kenneth was there. Too tired and sleepy to study history. Get up early tomorrow (no English) Toddy is going downtown to get some books is supposed to get me ‘American Tragedy” and ‘Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations”
January 13 Haliver Greene died this morning -spinal meningitis. Didn’t get up early to study History, however there was no class – lecture tomorrow so I won’t slide, tonight. Toddy bought back two books about lives of Educators (putrid!!) only 25 cents a piece though – awfully windy out today-not so cold thought – like March. I would like to have been in the country, wrapped up good, walking into the wind at the Meadows, down the road towards the sand pile or over the hill to the creek – zest, spice, life, health, clear eye, firm step and all that sort of thing.January 14 Cold out this morning although it became somewhat spring like after school. Went to show after school. Another big fight this morning, I think they think I skip classes because I am sleepy, nonsense. Bought ‘Bartlett’s Quotations” $1.53. Seems worthwhile. Read one of dictator books – Good – tonight as I was going to the store the weather brought memories of spring. Roller-skating in street, if not roller skating then walking. Everybody walking and friendly. The crowd at Krueger’s and the tent. Perhaps riding through Belle Isle – water, boats.
January 15 Awoke looked cold out but it wasn’t – nothing happened at school- after had hamburgers and coffee and then went to Public Library to get my Geology report. Will have to go back tomorrow. After dinner went to sleep about 3 hours. Then got up and studied until 3:00 – oh yes, I bought Emerson’s “Conduct of Living” 25 cents. (Hal Green’s Vagabonds) Haliver Green’s Funeral today.
January 16 Got to history late, about 10 minutes. (No English) don’t know whether was marked absent or not. Had hamburgers, coffee and then to the library to study Geology report – think I’ll trying to memorize some of it instead of writing it all out. Got haircut today. Mama just went over to Aunt Minnie’s. John is here now. Mama’s gone so now I’ll smoke!!
January 17 Went to school at 11:30. No speech to give, my report is Monday. Alas! After school – hamburger and coffee. Went to library to get Geology report will go back Sunday, I think. Makes me feel good to study hard – feel like I am going somewhere – hope it all comes out alright – A’s and B’s I mean. Joe Louis knocked out Retzlaff after 1 min and 25 seconds of fighting. Listened to Times Golden Belt tournament. Negro’s didn’t do so good. Won 2 or 3 or 4 fights though. However Mt. Olive (Negro) won tournament.
January 18 Awoke and found it had been snowing – cleaned snow off sidewalks and took out ashes _(my week) – wrote notes on English paper as far as I have written on it – went to hippodrome (Rodgers) saw “Fighting Youth”. Stayed over.
January 19 Awoke about 2:30 – still cold out. Snow on ground. Went to main library to finish geology report – came home with Andrew Prue – he was reading Bible (researching the scriptures). Find that my report which is to cover Canadian Rockies just covers small part of them, worried. However I must five it tomorrow. Took Mama to Aunt Minnie’s when got home. Margaret called me Claire S., Marion’s Smith – took them for 1/2 hour ride – thought much of show last night
January 20 Awoke at 7:30 to school at 8:30 no English Class, no history nor did I go to speech went to main library to add to my report morning reading and it was inadequate – gave report – we both finished in little more than a half of an hour – Pastrcer talked about 5 minutes imagine! Tooth swelling again. Will be terrible about time I have to give speech Friday. Toddy told me of some boy who told him of how nervous I am when I speak. Has made me nervous again. (Playing Elegy on radio. Beautiful) Contented hr. Singing contented – reminds me of day (long ago) when I played with the Vagabonds.
January 21 8:30AM cold, snow on ground- had to go to public library to read 25 magazine articles for English. After this came home and took a nap. Awoke about 8:30, ate and then started studying – went to bed about 3:30-
January 22 Awoke 9:30 – cold!!! – Tomorrow will be 10 below. After school came home and went to bed. Slept till about 9:00- up date – wrote on my theme- studied speech a – a little more confident that I shall do alright- thought of Meadows to day – horses, dogs, – live there and come into city about once a week – country gentleman and all that sort of thing – Gladys has been helping me with my copying English theme.
January 23 Cold!!! After school went to sleep- awoke about 8:00 could not eat right away because we had company after dinner. Wrote summaries of the 25 and 27 for economics – then finished preparing my speech – must give it tomorrow! Alas.
January 24 Cold out at 10:00- Gave speech, not as good as it might have been, not as bad either. Sprinkled applause! After school came home. Went to bed – woke about 6:30 – played to night at Quinn’s Lone Pine – River Rouge. I don’t think I’ll ever play there again. “Pap” Cootes seems more and more to be a good fellow.
Awoke about 3:00 – not quite so cold – got book at library for English paper. After dinner I thought I would go to the show, but didn’t. Louis was going too, but didn’t. Have written about 600 words on theme today – might go to main library tomorrow study for Geology final – not sure – Toddy has ruined ?my pen? He’ll pay for it. O |/ (Oh boy that’s good) /\
January 26 Awoke late today – didn’t go to library. Did nothing all day but write on English paper – finished it. 13000 words. Not finished copying it though. Think maybe I will go to show tomorrow. Don’t know – will however go to the library (at school) to study physiography for final.
January 27 went to library but couldn’t study – went to show with Daddy and Barbara and Pee Wee- came home and studied for Physiography a bit – Will have final tomorrow at 12:30 – will go to school at 8:30 and study till 12:30.
January 28 Had Physiography final terrible very doubtful whether I’ll get a C – home and work finished up my English theme and notes. Hand in tomorrow – final in English tomorrow. Haven’t studied – nothing to study. Luck!
January 29 Warmer, about 10 above. English test today – nothing to get excited over – English teacher informs me that he lost my first theme (6,000 words) adds thought that although he hasn‘t mark for it, he has read it. I had better get credit for it – !!!
Daddy and I received comic valentines today – don’t know who from – family thinks Louise sent them – somehow I don’t – test tomorrow in speech. Here’s luck!. Pee Wee’s birthday.
January 30 Cool – 6 below tomorrow test in speech – but it was not test. Told us our marks – C. I came home today – studied all day for finals in History and Economics finals tomorrow – didn’t study Econ much. must study tomorrow between tests. Here’s to luck!!!
Had history test and economics test. Last night had indigestion or something didn’t sleep but about two hours – don’t know how I did on test. Economics was pretty bad. History might be alright received my last paper in economics 100% – test are all over – just wait now – must have tooth pulled next week.
February 1 Not so cold out – awoke about 3:30. Have done nothing all day. cleaned out my drawers tonight I wrote of Spring in my journal. Am worried about marks. woe is me!!! tooth will come out next week. (Happy am I.)
February 2 Not cold out- supposed to get warmer. Have done nothing all day – restless – test over. Worried about economics mark. Average so far is a B (87+) But I’m afraid that my final will bring it down. About 2:15 now. Going to bed. Going to school tomorrow to see about Economics grade.
February 3 Went to school and tried to jive myself a B in Economic – 67 on final!!! 89 average. I thought it would be bad. Told Goodman to disregard final!!! said he would remember to remember that I was sick during final. Wouldn’t promise but would do what he could. After this went to show with Margaret and 7 or 8 Negros. After show didn’t have money to get home -? Dillard’s girl got ticket from someone, boy in Frank Sedor – I used it. Dillard and Margaret went home with some girl who they would meet somewhere.
February 4 Awoke at about 2:00 – after Breakfast went to Dentist. didn’t know whether to have tooth pulled or not – taking speech. Said come back Saturday was cool and windy – snowy.
Tonight have worried over my program and requirements going to school tomorrow to see adviser and etc.
February 5 Cold and icy out. I did not go to school today, nor will I go until Monday. My tooth is swelling again. I have done nothing all day – seems that I having been driving to store etc. all day. I did go to show and saw “The return of Peter Grimm” and “I live for love” all-
February 6 Not so cold out. Awoke at about 3:00- nothing much happened – went to library. Saw George and Paul there. Paul was getting more lessons, studies hard -smart. I have been looking at outdoor life magazines tonight – boats – guns- fish etc. Wish I had money enough to buy tackle and go fishing this spring.
February 7 Not so cold out – awoke at about 3:30. Nothing much happened all day. I went to library after dinner with Paul, George and Morocco. got “Jean Christophe” – Toddy wanted it. Tomorrow I shall go to dentist. I guess that’s all.
February 8 Fair out. Awoke too late to go to the dentist did nothing much all day. Just before dinner I helped Uncle Jake to fix his tire – gave me a quarter. Shouldn’t have taken it, but I was broke. So I went to show tonight – saw Bing Croby in something I forget and Jane Withers in ‘There’s the life” the last was probably not a good picture but it was good entertainment. Tonight it was real windy and snowy, mellow.
February 9 Cold out all day – I suppose (haven’t been out all day._ Have done nothing today but read some of “Jean Christoph” by Rolland -I must go to school tomorrow and register – finished Jean Christophe. I hope none of my classes are closed.
February 10 Awoke at 9:00 arrived at school at about 10:30 to register – registered not taking public speaking 2 – taking En. Hygiene instead. Also taking Geology II under Mosley instead of Mac Lachten – tonight I went to Oscar’s. Listened to him and Arther Thompson lie. Lied a bit myself. Tonight I have thought again of the “Outdoor Life” No school tomorrow. school starts Wednesday.
February 11 Awoke at about 3:30 – did nothing all day. Must start school tomorrow. If I get 3 B’s and 2 C’s this semester I will have an honor pt average of 1 (better than .6, which I had) But I am not sure of 3 B’s and 2 C’s. woe! woe! woe! But I am hoping.
February12 Well today after school to find my marks had arrived. 3 B’s and 2 C’s just what I had hoped for on the other page- H*A*P*P*Y happy am I – B in Econ, B in History, B in Eng. C in speech and C in Geology. Seems that this is the first time I have ever planned something that came out exactly as I planned. I saw little Harlem today (at school)
February 13 Snow storm today. Rode to school with Daddy. haven’t gotten my books yet. Have a class tomorrow from 7-9 Might go to show after school and wait there for class – Saw “Metropolitan” tonight very good. Lawrence Tibbett.
February 14 After school (3:30) I went to Madison and saw “Littlest Rebel” and “Mary Burns, Fugitive” – arrived after show back at school in time for 7 o’clock class in Diction and Usage -after class 3 crowded street cars passed by – finally had to catch a bus.
February 15 Awake late and did nothing all day. Went to show and stayed over – nothing.
February 16 Woke late – nothing. Took Mama to Aunt Minnie’s came back and took Margaret to club meeting at Nacirema. Margaret is a nice girl. We listened to radio, mystery – George Beagle.
February 17 Awoke too late for 10:30 history class – I told Mama she didn’t wake me – she’s been mad all day – slept downstairs on couch until 1:00. Nothing else.
February 18 Unable to attend accounting lab because I had no book. Came home and slept until about 12:00. got up and ate something and went back to sleep again.
February 20February 19 Late to history (haven’t a book as yet) and quiz Friday. Home. Tonight had argument with Mama, Hugh, Barbara, pee Wee, Gladys – are Negros inferior to Indians. I said they were superior. Obstacles etc. have worked and accumulated some degree of wealth – Indians, no obstacles, live on reservations and have no wealth etc. Toddy and Louis settled it – all races are equal – sociology.
Just two classes today – is my hygiene teacher ignorant!! seems nice though. No geology tomorrow. Go to show at 2:30. Stayed up late to get ready for history quiz (oral) tomorrow.
February 21 Flunked out on History quiz (oral). Lent Ed Carson 20 cents. Owe Hugh 20 cents. Went to show at 2:30. Saw “Magnificent Obsession.” (Irene Dunne and Robert Taylor) Good! “Collegiate” (Jack Oake, Joe Kenner, Betty Grable) English class 7-9. Haven’t book yet.
February 22 spent all day driving Mama and trying to get hawks for Toddy’s gig. Went to show – ‘Crusades – ???? (Ginger Rogers)
February 23 Sunday. Washed my hair. Hugh took all my Vaseline. After dinner I took car for a little ride. Got ice cream. Took Margaret, Marian, Elaine to store too in car.
February 24 Wore my gray suit today – the first time in quite awhile. Toddy’s racial inventory test is on display at school. Was warm, relatively – water, water, everywhere.
February 25 I skipped hygiene today. continued warm. I have forgotten to write. Went to Oscars. Am sick, oh so sick, going to bed early. Woe! My head.
February 26 Awoke to find it had snowed – but not cold – after my 10:30 class it began to rain – hard. So fellow who used to be in my chem class said that one had to have 90 hours, no D’s to get in law school under combined curricula – woe is me. I thought it was 60 hours and a 1.3 average. Maybe he was talking about University of Michigan Law School (I’m speaking about Detroit City Law School) Rebellion in Tikoo(?) militarist tried to coup d’etat. Don’t know whether successful.
February 27 Only two classes at school today – stayed down in lobby and talked from 11:30 until 2:30. I had, by the hardest, managed to save a dime, to help go to the show with tomorrow – I lost it at Carne’s store across the street.
February 28 Wasn’t called on at history quiz today – borrowed a quarter from Ed Carson to go to the show – I ate today at Vinion Lunch Room. Nice. I bought sandwiches and ordered coffee. They serve sandwiches and pie etc. too. Saw “The Bride Came Home” and “Dangerous” at Madison. Went back to school for my 7-9 class at 5:45. (Mistook times at show)
February 29 (leap Yr) Sat – nothing happened.
March 1 Went to spinn meeting this evening in V8 had to leave before meeting was over to get the car home at 3:30. Pres etc. stated that some action is going to take action against those who don’t pay assessments (me). took car for rides.
March 2 Snowed, went to school – I am not studying. nothing to study (I think) I’ll get a jolt when my first test comes. I must remember that I have got to get all A’s this semester – well, not all A’s, but good marks at least – accounting lab tomorrow.
March 3 Went to school to find that my hygiene field trip was scheduled for today – borrowed 10 cents from Brewer. (I collected fares for my bus. Went to library with Margaret (she’s writing something about the social securities act) a big fuss at home. Tonight I went to the hockey game Wayne vs Michigan. Michigan 7-1. Not as bad as it sounds – after game a fight. Had Michigan players piled up like a pyramid – good night.
March 5 I didn’t write this time (mar. 5)
March 5 Been all day trying to do my accounting problems. I’ve done 4 of 6 and one doesn’t balance – I have history quiz tomorrow. I shall try to get up early tomorrow and study. Fire next door to Mary Jones house tonight.
March 6 Handed 4 of the 6 assigned problems in acct. Miss Armstrong copied 3 of mine and I balanced my first one by hers. I didn’t go to the show after 3:30. No money. found a dollar at Oscar’s. Nobody knew who’s it was – I think I’ll take it back tomorrow. It isn’t mine. Daddy met me waiting for street car at 9:00 – saw “Night at the Opera” 4 Marx brothers.
March 7 I gave Oscar the dollar back today – he said they were three dollars short. Took out the ashes. Nothing much to write.
March 8 I have worked all day on 1 accounting prob – however I don’t think the other two will be so hard – due Wed. Nothing else. I wish I had a car. I would like to ride out into the country now.
March 9 School – home – did an accounting problem this makes two due done- borrowed 25 cents from Hugh to go to a show. Toddy had gone but I didn’t know which one to go to, so I stayed home.
Today I am posting writings from my grandmother Fannie Mae Turner Graham’s scrapbook/journal, along with some of the notes she made about her son’s deaths. Entries were made from 1927 – 1946. I thought this was fitting for a Sentimental Sunday.
My Scrap book – started 1932 after Howard’s death to keep my mind off the tragic death of our Mershell Jr (6 years old), Nov 1 1927 and our Baby Howard (3 years) March 4, 1932 – Fannie Turner Graham – Maybe Dad and our girls will look over this book and see how some of “mothers” spare time was spent…. I get a kick out of this book myself. Fan
From the envelope holding Mershell’s school books:
“In Memorium 11/10/17 by his mother
Our only little boy – Mershell – was struck by an auto truck on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 1927, just opposite Thomas School to which he was returning from lunch with his sister – at 12:40 P.M. His little skull was fractured, neck broken, shoulders fractured and he was rushed to St. Joseph’s Mercy Hospital by the man (Jno Merlo) who struck him and a foreign woman who picked him up before I could reach the scene. He never regained consciousness, and died at 12:20AM Wednesday, Nov. 2nd, 1927. Funeral services held from house on Friday Nov. 4th 1927. Re Laviscount officiating. Mr. Greenlaw sang “When he cometh” and Mrs Spaulding accompained him.
Our hearts are all but broken and only time can heal the wounds caused from shock and loss but God knows best and we still trust him and asking him to keep us realize “Thy will be done”
Truck owned by Charles Marimanti Bros. On West Grand Blvd.
(Inserted: Our hearts are bleeding still – but we know he’s safe with Jesus. Loyalty of friends and floral offerings never been equaled.)
Other side of envelope: Something has gone out of our hearts but I get comfort from the following song which I’ve so often heard my mother sing: as best I remember it
“Go bury thy sorrow
Go hide it with care,
Go bury it deeply,
The world has it’s share.
Go tell it to Jesus,
He **** will hear
His is the best solace
He always is near.”
God be with us, strengthen and comfort us in these, the saddest hours we’ve ever known, and prepare us to meet our darling boy in heaven
9/27/28 Howard came in place of Mershell, we thought. He was such a beautiful darling. Stayed with us 3 1/2 years, then God took him…
8/25/1929 We went to cemetery for first time today.
Now we go to cemetery weekly.
From an index card stuck in Howard’s baby book:
Give us strength and courage to bear whatever
is in store for us.
In Jesus name
We ask it
3/1/32 I believe my baby Howard is dying.
From the ‘Little Book’
Feb. 5, 1940
Dear God and Little Book: the mail has just brought us the long looked for letter from Wayne University and the Board of Education that Doris has received the yearly scholarship to Wayne… I shed tears of joy… for more reasons than one or even two and the main reason is she deserves it for being such a sweet little “trick”…even if we do say so ourselves.
February 12 – Doris’s birthday – 17 today. We had a nice dinner, cake, ice cream and gifts for her from all.
March 12, my birthday, among all a purchase certificate from JL Hudson’s from our daughters and dad
April 3 – Mary Virginia is 20 today. We had nice dinner cake and ice cream and gifts from us all – also Aunt Daisy never forgets with money.
Dad celebrates Christmas day.
June 7, 1940 Doris received $100 scholarship from the Deltas today… Isn’t that grand! It served 2 years.
June 10 — Mary Virginia has just gotten (through Jim and May) a good job at the County Bldg — God is so good to us. and today our Mershell Jr would have been 19 if he had lived – but we still say – God knows best.
Remember he was killed by auto – Nov. 1, 1927 and 10 months later Sept 7, 1928 our baby Howard came and on March 4, 1932 we buried him.
11/9/41 MV and Bud married.
9/7/43 Doris Diane born to them
11/17/43 Doris and Toddy married ( divorced!)
8-30-46 Kris arrives
Dear God bless our dear children and their seed forever, for they’ve been good to our teachings and lost house for a good husband and father. Amen
Wednesday March 12, 1941
Dear little Book: – This is my birthday and as I waked up feeling fine for a change and as happy about it as any mortal could be I am now thrilled almost to pieces. The house wished me a “Happy Day” Maus and girls called up at 7:30 AM and Maus says they sang the whole verse “Happy Birthday to You” the sweetest song I’ve heard this year and the girls came down to breakfast with the most beautiful BD card $1 enclosed and I figured that was aplenty – but JL Hudson has just sent a beautiful toaster with a “Happy BD card” from my own Dad and girls” who wouldn’t be proud and cheerful for such a grand family – so bless them.
June 15, 1942
Our wedding anniversary. Having washed all day (it being Monday) it slipped my mind, when Dad came home with a lovely #2 box of Sanders’ chocolates and the most beautiful card to “The sweetest girl in the world, my wife.” I wouldn’t take a million for it.
June 23 – Doris marks just came and we’re so proud. she got 5 A’s and 2 B’s and in the fall will be a senior at Wayne. All marks so good that scholarship was extended another year – graduated with Distinction in June 1944 and was publicly acknowledged as a high honor student at honor convocation at the Horace Rackham building… so proud.
M.V. won high honor in her business Institute for typing and short hand.
“Know all men by these presents that I, Pleasant W. Lane of the County of McMinn and the State of Tennessee for and in consideration of the sum of four hundred dollars to me in hand paid the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged have bargained sold and delivered unto David Cleage of the county and state aforesaid a negro Boy named Jerry of bright mulatto colour aged about ten years. Said boy I warrant sound and healthy both in body and mind and free from any defect whatever and slave for life and covenant the title is clear of any encumbernance whatever. And I will warrant and defend by these presents forever. Given under my hand and seal this twelfth day of November One thousand and eight hundred and forty one.”
Another document from the Cleage plantation in Athens, TN, thanks to the woman who gave copies to my cousin Elbert and to Elbert for sharing them with me. It is very hard to get documentation of ancestors who lived before freedom so it’s always wonderful when someone who has papers shares them. Not wonderful to read about a ten year old being “a slave forever” but wonderful to see something that places your people in time and place.
The Rest of the Story
Jerry was about 35 when freedom came. In the 1870 and 1880 census he is described as a laborer. He had married Charlotte Bridgeman, who had been a slave of David Cleage’s wife. They had a large family. One of Jerry’s sons, James, married my grandfather’s sister, Josephine. Her father, Lewis Cleage and grandfather, Frank Cleage came off of the same plantation. Frank was mentioned in the note to the overseer I posted earlier.
In the 1910 census Jerry was described as a mulatto, in his 80’s, widowed and a delivery man for a grocery store. Jerry Cleage died March 28, 1919 at about age 92 of arterio schlerosis and pulmonary endema. Occupation before death, Drayman. Parents Joe and Leah Cleage. His daughter Nellie was the informant, that is she gave the information that is on the death certificate. Jerry lived his whole life in Athens Tennessee and died free. He was not a slave for life.
Mother must have been about 18 or so when she graduated and went to work as a clerk in her Uncle Victor’s store. She eventually became manager and worked there until she married in 1919 at 31. From all she ever said she loved working in the store. She enjoyed working with the clerks and the “drummers”, (salesmen). She and Uncle Victor got along just fine. He was involved in many things and was happy to have someone to manage the store. She loved ordering the right things in the right amounts and having the books come out right to the penny. One of her favorite stories was about some of the drummers who came to get orders.
“They would call me Fannie,” she would say, “and when they did, if they were looking north, I looked north, too. if they were looking south, I looked south and I never answered them. They usually caught on pretty quickly. When they called me MISS Fannie, I suddenly saw them and heard them and we could do business.”
She always held her head up very straight when she told this story. She really enjoyed business and could do arithmetic a mile a minute. I remember her suggesting to Daddy that she could serve or make and sell lunches to the men at the factory across the street. But he said no wife of his would ever work, that he could provide for his family. He thought it would be a reflection on him if his wife worked. I’m sure he didn’t realize what it would have/might have meant to her. I think she found housework a bore, although she never said so.
When I first said I was going to get married she looked rather sad and thoughtful and said, “Why don’t you wait a year or two. You’re just finishing college and could have a life of your own for awhile.” That’s all she said and of course being in the firm, grip of Mother Nature I didn’t even consider it. But I’ve often thought about it since. You know she never had a “life of her own”. She lived with her family and helped to support them until she married. She married in June of 1919. M. Vee was born in April of 1920. She had a taste being on her own because at least she had the experience at Uncle Victor’s of making it in the outside world, so she had no fears on that score. She must have thought many times of leaving home, especially after Jennie T. married Alice’s father. But I guess she stayed because he was a weak reed for Jennie T. to lean on. By this time Daisy must have been teaching and she always (all her life) lived at home, so I don’t know why Mother didn’t leave.
Anyway, when she decided to leave, she left for love, judging by the letters she wrote Daddy and the ones he wrote her. There is a playful, relaxed, familiar quality to her letters to him that I don’t remember seeing in her any other time. She told me once that she loved only one other man and he wanted to marry her, but she felt he would not be a good husband and father so she turned him down. I think he is one of the rakish looking handsome dudes in the album, but I don’t really know. She said she was right about him, that he made the girl he married most unhappy. I think she and Daddy loved each other dearly for all the 54 years they lived together. Did I ever tell you the following story?
You know Daddy had very mild diabetes. Medication was not necessary. He controlled it by eating no more than three slices of bread a day and sweets no more than once a day. Sometimes he didn’t get enough carbohydrates and would get ‘high’ on a lack of sugar. One day in 1972 Alice called upstairs to say Daddy was “sitting on the floor and wouldn’t get up”. I went down and sure enough there he was, sitting on the floor in the bedroom singing and waving his arms and having a good time. I had never encountered a lack of sugar “high” and he really seemed to be drunk, which I knew was impossible. I called Louis who said give him some orange or pineapple juice with a spoon or two of sugar in it and he would be all right. Alice went to fix the juice while I persuaded Daddy to get up and into bed. He kept looking around, saying, “Where’s my girl” She is the sweetest girl in the world. Where is she?” The he would see Mother and cry loudly like he was making the happiest announcement in the world, “There she is! The sweetest girl in the world and she’s MY girl!” Then he would look around at us like am I not the luckiest man in the world? This when both were 84 and had been married 53 years. Well, anyway he drank the juice and in a few minutes was himself.
Henry was there with me and Daddy asked us to come into the breakfast with him away from the others. He looked all worried and asked us what he had said when he was “high”. He couldn’t remember it at all except that he felt dizzy and sat down.
“Did I say any bad words?” he asked. I have never heard him use a bad word in my life… not even a “darn”!! Mother used to say darn sometimes, like when we were especially worrisome, she’d say, “Darn your time!” She even said damn on occasion but never to us. But I didn’t know Daddy even knew any bad words. We told him what he had said and he was relieved. Such a testament to love I’ve never seen the like of.
Back to Mother. I think she thought marriage would be all the good things in the world like all the rest of us. Like me anyway. Her first year must have been Hell. They married in Montgomery, went to Detroit and roomed with good friends from home, Aunt Jean and Uncle Mose Walker (not really related). A favorite way to pay for your house was to take in roomers from home and it was a good way for them to accumulate a down payment on their own house.
You remember Uncle Cliff was Daddy’s adopted brother and I think at one time they both liked Aunt Gwen. She chose Cliff, the dashing devil and rued it the rest of her life. Both she and Mother became pregnant that year. She had a cute pregnancy, Mother was miserable. Aunt Jean was an arrogant, self-important person who was considered by all, including and especially herself, one of the great cooks of all time. Mother could not cook. M.Vee was born in this house. It was a very difficult delivery, labor was several days long. The doctor, whose name was Ames, was a big time black society doctor, who poured too much ether on the gauze over Mother’s face when the time for delivery came. Mother’s face was so badly burned that everyone, including the doctor, thought she would be terribly scared over at least half of it. But she worked with it and prayed over it and all traces of it went away. M. Vee’s foot was turned inward. I don’t know if this was the fault of the doctor or not, but she wore a brace for years.
Finally that year ended and the two couples bought a flat together. Mother never did like Aunt Gwen and I’m sure she didn’t want to, but it was undoubtedly better than living with both Jean and Gwen. Mother got pregnant again very soon. Mershell Jr. was born within a year, the next year anyway, 1921. Meanwhile Aunt Gwen and Daddy sashayed off to Plymouth every Sunday while Uncle Cliff baby-sat with little Clifton Jr. and Mother?? I can imagine how she must have felt. She had never kept house, never cooked and never really had someone who told her what to do since she had worked at eighteen. She had never taken care of little children (Jennie T. looked after Alice) or babies. On top of it all, Aunt Gwen would come home from church, all dressed up and laughing and no big stomach, to say
“Guess what, Fan, everyone thinks I’m Shell’s wife because we’re always together at church.” She was a hateful person… still is! Mother must have been ready to murder. Meanwhile I guess Daddy was enjoying being the man of the house, treasurer and trustee at Plymouth, with a good job, a good wife and money accumulating in the bank for a home of his own someday. Mother should have had a sign on the wall. Life is what’s happening while you’re making other plans. Mershell Jr. was born in 1921 at Dunbar Hospital with a different doctor.
When he was a year old, I was on the way. The flat was too small. Jennie T. was consulted, sold the house in Montgomery and moved to Detroit. She and Daddy and Mother bought the Theodore house together in 1923. I was born in Women’s hospital and came home to that house where I lived for twenty years until I married. Mother and Daddy lived in it for 45 years. It was a bit crowded with five adults and three children for three bedrooms. I’m sure Mother was happy when Grandmother, Daisy and Alice got enough money to buy a house of their own. Ours was a quiet, orderly house. Everything happened on schedule. Everything was planned. There were very few ups and downs. When Daddy lost his job during the depression and when my brothers died, it was Mother who stayed steady and encouraging and took each day as it came. Daddy would be very depressed and Mother must have been too but she never let on. I do remember one day when I was about seven and Howard had just died, I came into the kitchen to get a drink of water, She was at the sink peeling potatoes for dinner and tears were running down her cheeks. I don’t remember what I said or did but she said, “I will be alright, but you go and keep your father company.” I did, and I’m sure her saying that and my constant companionship with my father influenced my life profoundly. She was thinking of him in the midst of what was, I think the most unhappy time in her life. How could God send them a second son and then take him, too?”
Boy children are very important to some people and they were both pleased to have a son. When Mershell Jr. was killed, run over by a truck on his way to school in 1927, it was a great unhappiness for them. I remember standing beside Mother at the front door and a big white policeman stood on the front porch and told her about her child. She did not scream, cry or faint. Daddy was at work. She could not reach him. She put on her hat and coat and went to the hospital. I never saw her helpless. She always did what had to be done.
Howard was born the next year. They both rejoiced for here God had sent a son to replace the one they had lost. He died of scarlet fever at three. When you read carefully the things she wrote, you’ll know what this meant to her. (Do you remember the poem she wrote about Howard?) But she never took refuge in guilt feelings or hysterics or depressions. She lived everyday as best she could. I never heard her complain.
She used to play games with us… catch and keep-away and checkers. And when we had friends to the house she would ask them to dinner or it was evening make a pile of sandwiches and a pitcher of punch (fruit juice and Kool-Aid). She let us roll back the rug and dance to our phonograph records. And she carried on a running battle with Daddy so she could do all this. He remembered that she could not got anywhere, not even to young people’s meeting at church, or entertain at home without a chaperon present. I don’t know how old she was before this stopped. Besides he knew all those boys were up to no good. I think she saw what Jennie T. had done to Daisy and Alice and almost to her with this attitude and she didn’t think it was so good.
After we married and left home she developed arthritis and went to church or to visit friends less and less often. In 1967 (I remember because it was the year of the riot) she began to stop eating and gradually to stop cooking. Louis could find nothing wrong so she took iron and vitamins and cod liver oil to improve her appetite but nothing helped. Then Louis said she had to stay upstairs and not cook or do anything until she gained some weight. She had had the flu and lost more weight. (Incidentally this was the first time in her life she had penicillin… in fact, the only time.) She seemed to just give up. She hated to have Alice cooking and taking care of her house and I think she felt completely useless and helpless. She gradually acted more and more withdrawn and displaced. But I don’t believe she was senile. Read the letter she wrote to Daddy when he was in the hospital in 1973. She wrote it all by herself. I think she would have been different in old age if she could have been surrounded by children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren like in the old days. She would always have had something to do then.
Fannie with great grandaughter Jilo 1971
She used to like to draw when we were small.. and to play the piano..and sing…and read. But she stopped them all except the singing. She used to sing to herself and with me even in the nursing home. She had a very sweet alto. I don’t know why she stopped drawing and playing the piano. But she stopped reading because some optometrist told her she had “hardening of the crystalline lenses” and should read as little as possible. I never could get her to go to an ophthalmologist and I think she wore those same glasses for thirty or forty years and could read with them until she died. I tried my best to get her interested in something after we lived together on Fairfield but I failed. It wasn’t interests she needed. I don’t know what she needed, except maybe all her people around her. Do you know that in the nursing home she started to eat? The food was very ordinary but there were lots of aides around all the time (all black) and they liked her. She liked them and they liked her. She would ask them about their children and their boyfriend. They would give her extra back rubs and brush her hair and tie it in pretty ribbons. She would give them candy and talk about how good they were to her… and they were. I have come in to visit and found three or four sitting and leaning on her bed talking to her and to each other and her face would be alive as she listened and talked. I don’t know why I couldn’t do that for her. I just wasn’t there. (All of this is very hard to write, you know, that’s why it has been so long coming. I stop here to cry and I think I’ll cook dinner and try again later.)
The day she had her first stroke, I came home from school to find Alice, Browning and Mother sitting at the card table in the living room playing bingo. Mother was not really playing. They were playing her card for her. She was acting like she didn’t know what was going on. I sat and talked awhile and somewhere (as a body will do!) mentioned white folks and how they mess over black children. She sat up, straightened her back and made the above speech with variations. She cussed them good and ended with her favorite story about the drummers in the store and how she forced them to address her as Miss Fannie or Miss Turner. I think she loved to repeat this story because it gave her a feeling of power. She demanded respect from our white neighbors, too, but in a less dramatic, less direct way. She kept them at their distance by never being familiar or warm or relaxed with them. Friendly, generous, kind, polite…she was all these. But she never had a cup of coffee with them and never went into their houses.
In the south when she was out in public she worried about being mistaken for white. She got on the bus once, sat in the ‘colored section’, and was told by the driver to move and sit in the right place. She told him she was in the right place and he told her not make trouble and go sit in the white section. She did, ashamed at what her friends would think of her (passing) and frightened at what white folks might do to her.
One day she and a friend who was equally light went for a day to shop in Wetumka. They were in a carriage and when it stopped for them to alight, a “courtly’ white elderly gentleman hastened to take one on each arm and escort them to the curb where he raised his hat to them and gave a deep bow. Mother was horrified. She knew they could be lynched or worse if someone who knew they were black told the man and he had to defend his “honor”. Her friend thought it was all very amusing.
Mother often spoke of friends in Montgomery but I never knew her to have a close friend. She was friendly with everyone, especially the Deaconesses with whom she worked at church. She was basically very reserved and what people call today a “very private Person”. I don’t remember ever hearing her say “I want” for herself. Oh, she often said, “I want the best for my girls” or “I want you to be good girls” but I never heard her say “I want a new dress.. or a day off… or a chocolate bar..” and I never heard her say “I feel this way or that” except Sometimes she said, “Oh, I feel so unnecessary.”
She was a great one for duty, for doing what was called for and not complaining. You could tell she was displeased by the expression on her face. Whenever she corrected us, she always explained why, so we came pretty early to know what was expected of us and when we erred the displeased expression was all we needed. She didn’t nag either. No second and third warnings. Yet I don’t remember ever being spanked by either parent. If either one said, “Did you hear what I said?”, that did it. We never talked back to them. We did things we knew we weren’t supposed to do like all children, but we were careful not to get caught. When we did get caught, we were horrified. I never felt confined and resentful, but M. Vee did.
Mother never took a day off, never went on a vacation, never had us cook dinner. Her days off came only when she had a “sick headache”, a terrible headache with upset stomach which kept her in bed usually for a day. I think she demanded a great deal of herself and could only let her “duty” slide if she were ill. The headaches only happened two or three times a year.
Mother had some of the same reserve with us that she had with strangers. We rarely talked about feelings, good or bad. She and Daddy tried to keep things as even and calm as possible all the time. So everybody cried alone although you always knew they would do anything for you because they did. You didn’t bring your problems home and share them. You came home and found the strength to deal with those problems. At least I did. If you needed help, you asked for it, but first you did everything you could. I don’t think they ever said no to either of us when we asked for help and that extended to grandchildren too.
Somehow after all these pages I don’t think I’ve really told about Mother. Maybe it’s because I am too involved in my feelings about her. Anyway, it’s the best I can do now. I’ll try again whenever I think of something.
My great grandmother, Jennie Virginia Allen Turner, her daughter Daisy Turner, my grandmother, Fannie Turner Graham, my aunt Mary Virginia Graham Elkins, my mother Doris Graham Cleage. Car in the background – Lizzie. Taken in the alley outside the fence of my grandparents house on Theodore St. Detroit. 1937.
My great grandmother, Celia Rice Cleage holding her granddaughter Barbara Cleage about 1922 in Detroit, MI. Celia was born into slavery about 1855 in Tennessee. She died about 1932 in Detroit. Since I am trying to do wordless Wednesday I will tell more of Celia’s story another time.