As I was transcribing my grandmother Fannie Turner Graham’s records of her children’s births and deaths, I began to wonder about the lives of Dr. Ames and Dr. Turner (no relation) who attended these events. As I read about their lives in various online sources I also learned about Detroit race relations, some of which I knew but I had not put them together with the lives of my family and those they knew. I also realized some tie-ins with my paternal Cleage side of the family. They all get mixed up in this post.
On April 3, 1920 Mary V(irginia) Graham was born at home with Dr. Ames attending. My mother, Doris Graham Cleage did not remember him fondly. “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. Mary V’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.”
Dr. James Ames came to Detroit in 1894 after graduating from Straight University in New Orleans and Howard University Medical School in Washington D.C. He was elected to the Michigan State House of Representatives from Wayne County’s 1st district for a two year term, 1901-1902.
In 1900 the total population of Detroit was about 285,704. When my paternal grandparents, Albert B. and Pearl Cleage, moved their family to Detroit in 1915 the black population was about 7,000. By the time my maternal grandfather, Mershell C. Graham, arrived in 1917 the black population had soared to over 30,000.
Black doctors were routinely denied admitting privileges at white hospitals. This meant their patients had to be admitted to the hospital by a white doctor. They were sometimes also denied the right to treat their patients once they were admitted. Often hospitals had segregated wards and once they were full, black patients had to find another hospital. In 1918, 30 black doctors came together and founded Dunbar Hospital. Dr. Ames was Medical Director and Dr. Alexander Turner was Chief of Surgery. My grandfather Dr. Albert B. Cleage was one of the doctors. Dr. Ames is first row second from left in the photo of the Dunbar staff above. My grandfather is first row, last one to the far right.
Fannie Graham’s second child, Mershell C. Graham Jr, was born June 10, 1921 at Dunbar Hospital with Dr. Turner in attendance. In that same year, membership in the Ku Klux Klan in Detroit totaled 3,000. The third child, my mother, Doris J. Graham, was born February 12, 1923 at Women’s Hospital with Dr. Turner attending. By that time membership in the KKK in Detroit was 22,000. In November of that year between 25,000 and 50,000 Klan members attended a rally in Dearborn township, which is contiguous with Detroit’s west side.
By 1925 Detroit’s total population was growing faster than any other Metropolitan area in the United States, the black population was over 82,000. Housing segregation was widespread, although there were neighborhoods such as the East Side neighborhood where the Grahams lived that black and white lived together without friction. Perhaps the area wasn’t posh enough to invite trouble. Maybe the large number of immigrants accounts for it. Unfortunately that was not the story citywide as people began to try and move out of the designated black areas into the other neighborhoods. Families moving into homes they had purchased were met by violent mobs that numbered from the hundreds into the thousands. This happened in 1925 during April, June, twice in July and in September.
RoNeisha Mullen and Dale Rich The Detroit News
While writing this I realized that in 1925, my father, Albert B. Cleage Junior, was 14 and attending Northwestern High school with the children of the families that forced Dr. Turner out of his home. The elementary schools for both communities fed into Northwestern High School, which my father and his siblings attended. No wonder my grandmother Pearl Cleage is famous for going up to the school and fighting segregated seating and other inequalities practiced at the time. Ironically, in the ’60s when my sister and I were living on Oregon Street, several blocks from where Dr. Turner tried to move in, and attending Northwestern High School, the community was 99 percent black.
On November 1, 1927 Mershell C. Graham Jr was killed when he was hit by a truck on the way back to school after lunch. He was taken to St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, a Catholic Hospital on Detroit’s East side. Dr. Turner was there with him when he died.
On September 9, 1928 Howard Alexander Graham was born at Woman’s Hospital with Dr. Alexander Turner attending. By 1930 Detroit’s population was 1,568,662. On March 4, 1932, Howard Graham died. I know that his first name was that of Fannie’s father. I wonder if his middle name, Alexander was for Dr. Alexander Turner.
Some links you might find interesting:
Part 1 – Births, Deaths, Doctors and Detroit – Grandmother Fannie’s Notes
The Sweet Trials: An Account
Click For other Sepia Saturday Posts