I recently received this obituary for my great grandfather Louis Cleage. I noticed several things. First, he was not taken to Athens for burial. He is buried in an unmarked grave in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis pictured here. He lived in Indianapolis for two years before his death. And I wondered, who was Rev. John Brice? Had he been pastor at Witherspoon United Presbyterian, the Cleages church? Was he from their hometown, Athens, Tennessee? Here is what I learned.
John Brice was born in 1878 in Knox County Tennessee the 7th of the nine children of Hampton and Harriett Brice. Exceptional for these times they owned their own land. Although they were illiterate, all of their children attended school and learned to read and write. John attended Knoxville College Normal, graduating in 1899. He finished the Baccalaureate program in 1904 and graduated from Knoxville Seminary in 1909. He met his wife Ella Hawkins there. My grandfather, Albert B. Cleage Sr. attended Knoxville College during this same time, graduating in 1906.
In 1910 Rev. John Brice was pastor of First United Presbyterian Church in Athens, Tennessee. He roomed one house over from my great grandmother Celia Rice Cleage Sherman and her family, which included her second husband Roger Sherman (who is listed as an architect for First United Presbyterian Church), son Edward and his wife and two children, along with eight year old grandson Richard. My grandfather, his two other brothers and his sister and her family were already living in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Brice wasn’t pastor in Athens very long. By 1912 he was married and pastor of Witherspoon United Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. My grandparents and my grandfather’s brothers were some of the founders of Witherspoon. Brice’s three youngest children were born in Indianapolis.
He served as a chaplain in France during WW 1. Following the war he taught and pastored in Alcoa, Tennessee. Alcoa was a company town set up by Alcoa Aluminum. They used cheap southern labor, black and white. When things fell apart as far as the vision that some of the professional black people on staff had hoped to implement, Brice moved to North Carolina to teach and work at the Palmer Memorial Institute, founded and run by his wife’s niece, Charlotte Hawkins.
Charlotte Hawkins Brown & Palmer Memorial Institute: What One Young African Could Do By Charles Weldon Wadelington, Richard F. Knapp
Rev. Brice died around 1960. A long time family friend and DNA relative has alerted me to John Brice’s death certificate on Ancestry.com. It also turns out that my dna cousin is related to John Brice’s grandson, Guion Stewart Bluford Jr.
Of his four children, three had careers in music. The youngest, Carol Brice had a career in opera. Johnathan and Eugene often accompanied her on the piano and also had careers of their own. Daughter Lolita Brice was an educator and married engineer Guion Stewart Bluford Sr. Their youngest son was Guion Stewart Bluford Jr, who was the first black astronaut, in spite of his high school counselor in the 1960s advising him to take up a trade because he wasn’t college material.