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A-Z Challenge 2020 Cleages Detroit

A – Albert B. Cleage Jr. in 1920s

The photographs used in this series are from my personal collection. Please do not use without my express permission.

This year for the A to Z Challenge, I am going back a hundred years to the 1920s and writing about what happened to my family during that decade. My grandparents had settled down to marriage and family and my parents and their siblings were too young to participate in any “roaring” that was going on. I start with my father, Albert B. Cleage Jr.

Albert B. Cleage Jr., the oldest of the seven children of Albert B. Cleage Sr and Pearl (Reed) Cleage, was eight years old when the 1920s began. When the decade ended, he was nineteen. During that decade he attended Wingert Elementary School through the 8th grade. He graduated from Northwestern High School in 1929 and went on to the College of the City of Detroit, as Wayne State University was known then.

Strange, but I don’t remember my father telling us any stories about growing up.

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Below are some memories of my father’s childhood taken from a biography by Hiley Ward written in 1969.

“I want to say to you, there was nothing funny when he was a small boy,” said Mrs. Cleage. “He was a serious little boy. He wore little white blouses and trousers, and was always with a book. The others were excavating the backyard, or wiring the back porch, or Louis would be greasing up something, and Albert reading. He was never happy-go-lucky.”

Why? “That’s the way God made him.” and for another reason, she suggested, “It might be that at a tender age when he should be happy, he saw practices concerning colored children and it took all the jolliness out of him.” His sister Barbara, who had come into the room, noted that experiences of seating in the predominantly white schools “were shattering, because they were usually asked to sit in the back of the room,” as Cleage himself recalls, and said Barbara “there were the lynching pictures in Crisis magazine – all had an effect on him.” They noted that Louis was a great builder and Albert, in “his white shirt and tie, and book under his arm, was good at art.”

Oscar Hand, the multi-faceted church official who is custodian for the Birney Annex school and tries his hand occasionally in politics on a school or county ballot, unsuccessfully, knew the Cleages since 1920…

Recalling their childhood (they lived two blocks apart, the Cleages at Scotten and Moore Place and the Hands at Hartford and Stanford), Toddy (my father’s nickname) never played, never engaged in sport activity with us. Henry was the athlete. I don’t remember Toddy participating in the games we did. There was never a reason why he didn’t play games – he was probably just not interested; he was always reading and always making plans for something for us to do.

“In the backyard we used to have a carnival, and all the Cleage brothers took part in it. Dr. (Louis) Cleage had a penny matching machine then; you paid to see how much shock you could take when you held on to a certain part of the car.” Then there was a marbles game. “If you grabbed the right marble, you won a pair of ice skates. Nobody would win; the marble was in the pocket. One big white boy wanted to win so badly he substituted one just like it as he pulled his hand out of the jar. We just about had a fight on the corner.” Cleage, who was lighter in weight than Oscar (Cleage is now 5 feet, 10 1/2 inches, 185 pounds, adding some weight after giving up smoking), used to challenge Oscar to a race and “he’d run faster, then sit on the porch to porch a point.”

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You can find more posts and photos about my father during the 1920s below:

Albert B. Cleage Jr., 8th Grader
Detroit School Boys about 1920
A Short Story – 1928
Northwestern High School – in the Band

34 replies on “A – Albert B. Cleage Jr. in 1920s”

Love the pictures and the stories! Another great post. I can’t wait to see who or what we get next learn about next. 💞👏🏼

Wonderful! Funny to think of him as a serious little boy…and as a brother – having many siblings of my own I have some idea what that that’s like and I never thought of him co-hosting backyard carnivals with Louis, Henry and Hugh…what a group! How much charge you could take holding the car! Makes running across old Elizabeth’s pen with her hot behind us seem tame 😂

I think his childhood was pretty happy, in spite of the way the quotes make it sound. He also had a wry sense of humor and was not always serious and somber. Being the oldest of 7, spaced 2 years apart, he took being the oldest very seriously.

My uncle Louis was always doing experiments and projects. He wanted to be an engineer but decided become a doctor and go into practice with his father. I wonder how strong those jolts were??

Not surprised he was serious. One can’t expect a child to be happy go lucky when there are lynching pics around him and he’s being asked to sit at the back of the class.

Great photos! You’re so lucky to have them!

Really delightful, Kris. Really delightful. And well done, as usual. Yet again, you’re showing the rest of us how such family histories SHOULD be done! Hey, Tulani and Jilo!

Don’t know why my comment is listed as “Anonymous.” It’s your loving little brother, Paul Lee!

Now your name is showing up! I had no idea it was you, but thank you for reading and posting and the kudos!! Hope all is well out there.

I love your blog and of course your beautiful photos. We lived on the corner of Hartford and Cobb. My step grandfather Clarence Beasley was the city’s tip landscaper. Seeing photos of Rev. Cleage brings back so many great memories. Like him, I always carry a book because I am constantly learning. I imagine he felt the same. I knew him, your Uncle was our family doctor and your sister Pearl was my mentor at Northwestern. You come from such a great Detroit family! Thank you for the photo of Wingert. Great school. I started your A-Z Challenge today and a few of my family and friends have joined in.

I don’t think it was all gloom and doom. He wasn’t that way when he was grown. Not that racism isn’t enough to bring anyone down, I just don’t think it was the whole of his childhood.

Kristin, your blog is going to be my rock this month. The 2020s aren’t starting off so well–think I’ll take refuge in the 1920s! Some children are just serious. I thought of myself as serious when I was a child, too, and had my nose in a book most of the time. So I never learned those useful skills like giving electric shocks to trouble-making friends. Good if that marble-game cheat had gotten a shock too!
Looking forward to this.

LoL. I was a serious child too. I could have used an older brother who wired up cars for shocks. It sounded like the game was fixed so nobody would every win those skates!

What terrific photos you have! Your grandfather had a big class – must have been a city boy. My grandparents all went to one room schools and there weren’t that many students in the whole school, 1st through 8th grade!

A serious little boy grew into a reflective man and an impressive one. I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like to live with the knowledge of lynchings because of colour.

Still going on here today – the murdering people because they are black. Two men just shot a black man in Brunswick, GA who was out jogging because? And then made a video. It is so stressful.

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