Clifton Graham

This year I am going through an alphabet of news items taken from The Emancipator newspaper, published  between 1917 and 1920 in Montgomery, Alabama.  Most are about my grandparent’s circle of friends. Each item is transcribed directly below the clipping.  Click on any image to enlarge.


Clifton Graham was the best man at my grandparent’s wedding.

The Emancipator, Saturday, Jun 22, 1918

“Mr. Clif Graham, who has been residing in Detroit, Mich., for the the past year or more, is visiting relatives and friends in the city.”

Clifton Graham and his family were always referred to as my grandfather Mershell Graham’s adopted family.  He wasn’t raised by them and we all knew his birth family was in Coosada, Alabama. I never asked why he had adopted them as his family. I always assumed it was because he was friends with Clifton and they shared the name of “Graham”. Now everybody I could have asked is gone.

My grandfather is on the railing, Cliff is on the steps and mother Mary Graham is seated on the porch of the Graham home. 

Clifton Graham was born July 13, 1889 in Montgomery, Alabama. He was the fifth of the five children of Joseph and Mary (Rutledge) Graham – Callie, William, Joseph, Mattie and John Clifton. Four of the children survived to adulthood.

Callie married when she was 18 and remained in Perry County when the family relocated to Montgomery in the late 1880s. William disappeared after the 1880 census and never reappears. Joseph, Mattie and John moved with their parents to Montgomery.

Both Clifton and his older sister Mattie attended college for several years. He was drafted in July of 1918, married Gwendolyn Lewis the following month and was released from the army in March 1919. While Clifton was in the army and before their son was born, Gwendolyn taught school. Their first son, John Clifton Jr. was born in Montgomery. They moved to Detroit and the second son, Lewis, was born there. In the 1930 Census Clifton Graham worked as a prohibition agent. Later he continued to work for the government.

Clifton’s sister and mother also moved to Detroit. Gwendolyn’s brother, Lafayette Billingsly Lewis moved with their mother to Chicago around the same time.


I found this information on in Census Records, Directories, Death Records, Military Records and Marriage Records. News items were found on I also use Google Maps. The photograph is from my family photos.

16 thoughts on “Clifton Graham

    1. Sometimes the answer will come from a different direction, eventually. But questions like this, I will never know.

  1. Isn’t that kind of neat, how they would announce in the paper that someone was visiting? An early form of Facebook, no doubt, lol. 🙂

    1. It’s so helpful! They tell when people went to visit other places too and then they have items that share the news of people in other cities who used to live there.

    1. Sometimes the larger white newspapers had columns titled “News of the Colored Folk” or something like that, where they would share these items, but it’s really helpful if there is a black newspaper that focuses on the black community, they cover so much more. They even have items of people coming to visit from the town next door.

  2. I wonder if it is possible that Clifton and your grandfather were distant cousins who also became friends. Perhaps the shared surname is not a coincidence.
    I have found lots of announcements about visitors, holidays, and so on – they are most interesting to stumble across and would have been useful to read at the time so you could make sure you caught up with a visitor while he or she was in town.

    1. I don’t think so because the counties where they were born and where their parents lived were so far apart. The both ended up in Montgomery but started out in Perry and Elmore county, which aren’t contiguous. Of course it’s possible that at one point one or the other of their parents were on the same plantation, but moved away. I have not looked into who the enslavers were for Cliff’s parents. Maybe one day a descendant of Cliff will match me as a dna cousin. I will have to keep an eye out.

  3. I’m amazed about the way the newspaper kept everyone informed. I never saw anything like it. It kind of reminds me of how church ladies’ groups would share all the gossip (which is what I was taught to call it) but it was also the important news about families, relationships, problems, visitors, children etc. Since my family looked down on that sharing, I never indulged in learning and talking about neighbors as much as other women do. I miss a lot, don’t I?

    1. You may have missed some, but sometimes gossip can be more mean spirited than just sharing news. Which is probably why your family frowned on it. It can be interesting though when people who remember what happened way back tell you about it 🙂

  4. What wonderful stories! I love that you can give the background and more details to each of the news clippings. Learning about the history and background of your family and hometown is addicting!

  5. I’d love to have a porch like that to have coffee in the morning or relax after dinner in the evenings.
    Some papers also give lists of who is staying at the hotels, and I found my 2x great grandmother staying at the hotel in Tombstone after her daughter died in Bisbee. Probably waiting to take a train back to Montreal in the morning.

  6. Lovely porch, for sure! Too bad you’ll never know exactly why your grandfather “adopted” this family, but I think you can be sure there was a lot of affection there.

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