The Afram River and Freedom School – 1964

Black star line of Ghana in Rotterdam 22nd March 1980.    Afram River <- click to see original photo.


The articles below originally appeared in the official organ of the Group on Advanced Leadership (GOAL), Now! News of Detroit and the World.  It was published by Imari Obadeli, known as Richard Henry, at the time. It was printed at Cleage Printers, my uncle Hugh’s and Henry’s printing shop.  The first article was written by my aunt Barbara Cleage Martin, who was Barbara Smith in 1964.

The only think I really remember about the Freedom School, which I attended between high school graduation and entering college, is the visit to the ship, the Afram River and the gift certificate to Vaughn’s Bookstore that my sister and I received for being #1 students. I don’t know what we did that made us outstanding.


freedom_school_2afreedom_school_3Unfortunately, I don’t have the rest of the article, but I know that Marcus Garvey organized the first Black Star Line. You can read more about it here – The Black Star Line.

Freedom School posed photograph 1964.
Freedom School posed photograph 1964.

I don’t have a photograph of myself with the Afram River. What were they thinking? We should have all been lined up next to the ship and photographed.  It would have been a great photograph. This is the only photograph I have of myself that summer. I am seated on the left, front. Next to me is my cousin Dale Evans. The other seated person on the right is the twin of the young man standing next to my father on the right. Their sister is behind the seated twin. I can’t remember their names or the name of the other youth on that side. On the other side of my father (reading the book and then known as Rev. Albert B. Cleage, JR) is my cousin, Ernie. Next to him is my sister Pearl. I can’t remember the name of the person behind me on the end but I know she became an actor for at least awhile.


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41 thoughts on “The Afram River and Freedom School – 1964

  1. Your family must have been very brave, quite progressive and at the forefront of change in the US back in the 60s or 70s – the Nation of Islam, Kwame Nkrumah were dangerous radicals even over here in liberal UK. I was a Party member over here at that time and only suffered a bit of abuse. You must have experienced much worse – beating, shootings, denial of rights etc.

    1. Mike, they were at the forefront but we were in Detroit and, although there were beatings, shootings and other violence, my immediate family did not suffer any of it personally. The worst that happened to us were threats and my uncles got ticketed repeatedly when they left the printing plant late at night for going through a stop sign or speeding etc., even if they didn’t do it.

  2. You certainly do have a huge archive of family-related material. Minister Wilfred X looks as though he could have been Malcolm X’s brother 😉

    1. Minister Wilfred X was Malcolm X’s brother. Muhammad’s Mosque #1 was down the same street, Linwood, that my father’s church was on. In between was Aretha Franklin’s father’s, C. L. Franklin’s church – New Bethel Baptist Church.

      1. Brother as in ‘Brother’ or just brother, if you know what I mean? Here in the local NZ vernacular it’s shortened to ‘Bro.’

  3. Did you resent having to go to school between high school and college? I just bludged around for about eight weeks so I’m feeling a bit guilty 🙂

    1. I didn’t. It wasn’t like regular school and if I hadn’t been there for those 6 weeks, I would have been working somewhere. It was also only half a day, 3 days a week and the classes were black literature, black history and … I think I will add the flyer. Anyway, it was interesting and different.

  4. Kristin, this is very interesting. I am so glad that you posted it; this was an important time in history that we should all be reminded of, and I appreciate your first-hand account.

    Barbara Smith did a great job on her newsletter; I like her writing style. As she described everybody going on the field trip, boarding the ship and the ride back home, I felt as if I were there watching.

    Congratulations for winning the award, and I enjoyed the picture of you with your classmates.

    Kathy M.

  5. I enjoyed reading the articles and the events that took place during this time period. I was 10 years old and living on Dexter and Richton. I would go into the Vaughn Bookstore all the time when they were located on Dexter. In 1969, we moved to the University District and the bookstore moved to Livernois and I frequent the store reading books about slavery until they eventually closed. I also enjoyed the photos.

  6. Fantastic post. What an important time in history you and your family were part of. Thank you for sharing your memories with us!

    1. Sometimes I feel like I need to go back and rewrite my post to include all the information that comes out in the comments!

  7. Interesting history. The original Black Star Line (described on the page you linked to) was such a disaster and I am wondering how it was related to the one in the 1960s.

    1. The original Black Star Line ended in disaster but it was an inspiration to many black people because of the grandness of the idea, a black man was buying big ships with a plan. The Ghanian line was named after Marcus Garvey’s failed Black Star Line.

  8. I appreciate your personal account of your family’s involvement in the Civil Rights movement. Your photos and stories are so interesting and the variety of “things” you have amazes me. You definitely inherited Barbara’s writing gene.

  9. I continue to be amazed at the things your family has saved. Photos are expected but old newsletters are are rare. The history of the Black Star Line was really interesting. Despite its failure I can see how the idea remained an inspiration. And even a field trip to a ship named Afram River can still inspire good stories too.

    1. I have a complete file of the newsletter my family published and I saved a lot of things along the way. The pages of the newsletter above with the story of the freedom school and Afram River were most recently in a binder with years 1946 – 1965. Before that they must have been in a box of stuff. If we hadn’t moved so much I’m sure there would be more.

  10. A very amazing and detailed post, and I thought I had a cool field trip taking the train to Chicago from Lansing, Michigan in 6th grade! Thank you for sharing this, you certainly had a strong and dedicated family, it’s always very interesting how you can always tie them into the themes!

    1. I was looking for an old family photo of a freighter on the Detroit River when I remembered this and thought it would be more interesting. So far, so good on tying in. I take it as a challenge 🙂

  11. A fascinating insight into the times. What a coincidence to read your article because someone mentioned the Ghana football team are called the Black Stars on a World Football programme here which of course is a later entity but it led to a discussion of the meaning of the black star on the Ghana flag and the line.

  12. Like Mr Mike, I too continue to be amazed at the the things your family have saved, but am also grateful that they did. This is such an interesting post Kristin. And how wonderful to be surrounded by ‘enthused pupils’ – that’ s all I ever wanted as a teacher.

    1. My daughter teaches third grade and she would LOVE to be surrounded by some enthused pupils. Of course these werea small group of students that came from families that thought these subjects were important so they were more prone to be interested.

  13. Hi Kristin,
    What a great post. So interesting. Your aunt was a really wonderful writer. So descriptive. Did she do any other writing besides the newsletter?

  14. Powerful Stuff Kristin.Important times:important Occasion. Marcus Garvey ‘s name still inspires hushed respect from my West Indian friends in Yorkshire.

  15. I’ve mentioned before that I worked on the Marcus Garvey Papers for years so the Black Star Line is very familiar. I didn’t know that the Black Star Line lived on in any shape or form.

  16. I watched a Marcus Garvey documentary “Look for me in the Whirlwind” on his life and one aspect that caught my interest was the million membership files around the world and how detailed the applications were, according to the documentary. Well as a genea junkie, I couldn’t help but Imagine having access to that information, thoughts came to mind, who owns the information, is it accessible. What a gold mine. I went on line and as a result Nada, Nothing.
    Great Post!

  17. You and your sis seemed lucky at winning prizes…
    I certainly didn’t expect this twist on the theme.
    But I can count on you to spin any theme your way.
    Great post!!

  18. I suspect you both got #1 because you were just normally clever. What wonderful history …I can see that book on the horizon and it will give you the chance to add-in for all those comments.

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