Seven In A Boat

in the boat
Far left back, shadowy Henry Cleage, Louis Cleage, cousin Helen Mullins holding baby Hugh Cleage. In front Evelyn Douglas, Cornelius Henderson, “Toddy” (Albert B. Cleage jr)  in the boat. About 1919.

Looking at this photograph, I wondered about the lives of the children in the boat. Here are their lives in a paragraph.

Evelyn Douglas, seated on the left in the first row, was born in 1910 in Detroit. She was the only child of Dr. Edward and Louise Douglas. Her father was a dentist.  Her mother was a dressmaker before Evelyn was born. Evelyn graduated from the University of Michigan and earned a graduate degree in education. She married Charles E. Beatty, Sr., a pioneering educator, in 1935. He was the first black principal of Perry Elementary School in Ypsilanti, MI which later housed HighScope Perry Preschool program. She taught for 30 years in the Detroit Public Schools.  Evelyn was the mother of three children. She died at age 93 in 2003 in Detroit.

Cornelius Langston Henderson, who sits in the middle of the first row, was born in 1915 in Detroit, Michigan. He was an only child and grew up several blocks from the Cleages on Detroit’s Old West Side. Cornelius was named after his father, Cornelius L Henderson Sr., also born in Detroit. Like his father, Cornelius Jr became an engineer. His mother, Gertrude, born in Virginia and taught in the Washington DC public schools before she married. The younger Cornelius graduated from Howard University in Washington DC with a degree in civil engineering. He later took postgraduate classes at the University of Michigan. He worked for the City of Detroit as a civil engineer for over 30 years, where he helped design sewer systems.  He was married and raised two sons and a stepdaughter. He died in November of 1993 in Detroit and is buried in Detroit Memorial Park.

Albert B Cleage, Jr, my father, seated on the right end of the first row, was the oldest of the seven children of Dr. Albert B. Cleage Sr and Pearl Reed Cleage. He grew up to be a black nationalist minister and organizer around political and civil rights issues. He founded Central Congregational Church which became Central United Church of Christ and finally the Shrine of the Black Madonna.  He had two daughter, my sister and me. He died in 2000.

Directly behind my father is his first cousin Helen Mullins. Born in 1899 in Indianapolis, Indiana, she was the oldest of the 12 children of James and Minnie (who was my grandmother Pearl Cleage’s sister) Mullins. James Mullins held various jobs through the years, including that of fireman, carpenter and  laborer. Helen completed highschool. She married Otto Mitchell. They raised four children. In the 1940 census Helen was a telegraph operator for Western Union while Otto worked on the assemble line of an automobile factory in Detroit. They owned their own home. Helen died in 1982.

Helen is holding Barbara Cleage, my aunt. Barbara was the 5th child and first daughter of Dr. Albert and Pearl Cleage. She completed a year at Wayne State. She married Ernest Martin and had one son. Unfortunately the marriage didn’t work out and she returned to Detroit. Barbara worked as a receptionist in her father’s doctor’s office, at Cleage Printers doing layout and finally her true talent came to the fore and she organized and managed the bookstores and cultural centers for the Shrine of the Black Madonna. She was amazing at it. Barbara is 96 and lives in South Carolina.

Next, in the back row middle, we have my uncle Louis Cleage. Born in 1913 he was the 2nd of the seven children. He followed in his father’s footsteps and became a medical doctor, sharing an office with him for some years. Besides having a medical practice on Lovett Ave. in Detroit for many years, he was active in the Movement. He wrote Smoke Rings for the Illustrated News and ran for office on the Freedom Now Party ticket in 1964. He maintained a cottage in Idlewild where the family spent many happy summers. Louis died in 1994.

Last we have a partial, ghostly image of my uncle Henry Cleage. He was the third child born in 1915. He graduated from Wayne State in Detroit and became a lawyer. During WW2 he and his brother Hugh farmed as a conscientious objectors. (Where was Hugh when this picture was taken? Click to read) Henry later left the law and started Cleage Printers where he and Hugh printed far into the night putting out flyers for grocery stores, books of poetry and radical newsletters. He ran for Prosecuting Attorney on the Freedom Now ticket in 1964.  After the 1967 Detroit riot, Henry returned to the law and worked for Neighborhood Legal Services until he retired to Idlewild, MI where he fine tuned his Status Theory. He died in 1996.

The photograph in the boat was taken the day of this picnic, summer of 1919.

picnic cleage

I used news articles, census and other records from to fill in the lives of Evelyn Douglas and Cornelius L. Henderson, who are not related to me.

Speedwell Cavern Postcard
For more Sepia Saturday offerings, CLICK!

28 thoughts on “Seven In A Boat

  1. You’ve got eight in that boat, not seven…the lucky dog in the bow! (I’m pleased to say that I’m beginning to recognize various members of your family when I see them…)

  2. I am always so impressed how you know and can tell the stories of your family’s lives. It brings them into today as real people. I only have statistics for most of my genealogy. Great link of 7 in the boat to SS!

    1. I had to look up the two that were not in my family and check some particulars for cousin Helen Mullins, but I knew my father and his siblings very well.

  3. The Shrine bookstore was one of my father’s favorite haunts. There was always informed conversation about what was going on in the city with Barbara and her staff. He bought dozens of books there and made sure I made a visit to do the same every time I visited Detroit. Dad (Dr. Horace F. Bradfield) a resident as early as 1918, knew the Cleage family very well.

    It is a great joy to read your recollections about the Detroit I knew and loved.

    1. Unfortunately I don’t know. There is lots of water around Detroit. I thought maybe Idlewild, but that is 4 hours away from Detroit and that’s a long way to go for a picnic. Then I thought the Meadows – which was an old farm some doctors bought to have somewhere to go out of the city but I don’t think there was a lake there, just a river. Doesn’t look like Bell Isle, an island park in the Detroit River. Too small for one of the great lakes.

      I just went back and read some old posts. In one my Aunt Gladys said that some doctors bought the Meadows to have somewhere to go besides Idlewild and the Boule. Unfortunately I didn’t ask her what property the Boule had available, but I know that I have seen several Boule events that are taking place outside in the country somewhere. It makes sense that they had a place out there, not too far from Detroit, where they could meet and have these events. I wish I knew more!

  4. I thought this picture was at Idlewild but who really knows. Love the history though.

    1. I thought so too the first time I saw it. And it may be. Just seemed so far for all those Detroit people but maybe they all went for the week or something.

  5. Kristin,
    Nice history! I am always impressed by the generations of such accomplished and educated people in your family. Education must have been something that was prioritized through the years! Thanks for sharing.

    1. The dog was unschooled and ran free. I don’t know who his/her parents were either. There is another photo of him running through the woods on the shore.

  6. A lovely photograph, and great that you can identify and tell us about everyone in the boat and their life achievements in a nutshell, bar the dog.

  7. Hello Kristin – Tell cousin Barbara I said Hello. 96 years old! We should all be so fortunate. Nice to see my Aunt Helen. The dog appears to be a “good dog” – liked being with the kids.

    1. Gladys just died last month at 92. I think Barbara is the last of that generation who is still with us. Sometimes it seems pretty hard to be that old.

      Looking at the old photos and seeing everybody so young, enough to make you stop and think.

      I think the dog was a good dog and what more needs to be said about him?

  8. How interesting – & great – to be able to look at that picture & know what successes those children grew up to become!

    1. Of course I knew what happened to the members of my family but it was interesting to find out who the other two were, that they weren’t just a couple of nameless little urchins being given a good time in a row boat.

  9. That’s a lot of folks to fit in one boat! Would make me nervous. Lovely pictures. I like how you put this post together using the picture as a launching point for summarizing the lives of the people featured in it.

  10. I am really loving your post. An older cousin of mine says she knows most of the people that you mentioned in your blog. I think she should talk to you.

  11. First off I love picnic shots and this one is great. People always look a bit less formal when sharing good food. And the photo in the boat is now so rich thanks to you providing a brief history of each child. You never know looking at a child which path they might take. These all turned out quite special.

  12. Hello Kristin – I did read about cousin Gladys’ passing last month. I was surprised she still resided in the Detroit area.

  13. I want to see Aunt Barbara! WoW! Still living in the South! She was a mighty force in her day. I’m still amazed at a photo from 1919. Daddy was born in 1918. So I can’t ever assume that there just aren’t any photos from his immediate family during that time period. It seemed such a luxury but with the resources your family had being in Print they had some pretty good access to what you needed the most. I’m so glad you have these photos. It’s rare to me. I hardly ever see any from this time period. Lovely piece. I love the title!

    1. Thanks True. My family really was into photography so there are quite a few photos through the years.

      True, you can see some more about my aunt Barbara at these links: – Celebrating her 90th birthday. – Person of the Month – My aunt Barbara Colorized. – a facebook album of my aunts visit to Detroit in 2009

Comments are closed.