He scans the world with calm and fearless eyes, Conscious within of powers long since forgot; At every step, new man-made barriers rise To bar his progress—but he heeds them not. He stands erect, though tempests round him crash, Though thunder bursts and billows surge and roll; He laughs and forges on, while lightnings flash Along the rocky pathway to his goal. Impassive as a Sphinx, he stares ahead— Foresees new empires rise and old ones fall; While caste-mad nations lust for blood to shed, He sees God’s finger writing on the wall. With soul awakened, wise and strong he stands, Holding his destiny within his hands.
From Caroling Dusk (Harper & Brothers, 1927), edited by Countee Cullen. This poem is in the public domain.
Below other posts about the poet, James Edward McCall, my maternal grandmother’s first cousin. Their mother’s were sisters, daughters of Eliza for whom this blog is named.
We called my maternal grandfather, Mershell C. Graham, “Poppy”. My grandmother, Nanny, and his friends called him “Shell”. His co-workers called him “Bill”.
In the summer of 1953 my mother, sister and I stayed with my grandparents while my father was organizing a new church and parsonage across town. He stayed with his parents. We didn’t have a car and each morning we walked our mother around the corner to the bus stop where she caught the bus to Wayne State University. She was taking classes to get her teaching certification.
I was almost seven and my sister Pearl was four. I remember spending most of the summer playing in the backyard. My grandmother would be doing what she did in the house, my great aunt Abbie mostly stayed up in her room looking out of the window. After 35 years, my grandfather was working his last months at Ford Motor Company. He retired on December 31.
My grandparent’s house and yard was surrounded by an alley on two sides. On the third side was the Jordan’s house next door and on the other side of them was the third arm of the alley. You can see on the map below that the long arms of the alley went through from Theodore to Warren Ave, which is where the bus stop was. My grandfather did have a car, but he didn’t use it to go to work. He caught a streetcar and it took him right to the River Rouge Plant. He had built a little ramp against the back fence against the wooden fence. We could see him coming home through the alley carrying his lunch box.
My grandfather began work at Ford’s Highland Park Plant on May 10, 1918, as a machinist. He was 30 years old and single. During that time Ford’s was paying five dollars a day, to qualifying workers, for a forty hour week. There were no benefits.
He returned to Montgomery and married my grandmother, Fannie Mae Turner, in 1919, they returned to Detroit the same day. In the 1920 census his occupation was an “auto inspector”. He was transferred from the Highland Park plant to Rouge plant on March 14, 1930 and went to work as an electrical stock clerk, which is the position he held until his retirement in 1953.
He was at the Rouge Plant during the May 26, 1937: Battle of the Overpass and the unionizing of the auto plants. My mother told me that after he joined the union, he carried a gun to work for protection. Unfortunately, I never heard my grandfather talk about any of this.
In September 1949 the UAW won a $100-a-month pension, including Social Security benefits , averaging $32.50 a month, for those age 65 with 30 years of employment with Ford’s. My grandfather was among the earliest workers to receive the pension when he retired at age 65 after working there for 35 years. His Social Security benefit was $85 a month. My grandmother received $42.50 as his homemaking wife.
A few years ago one of my cousins sent me the above photograph. They didn’t know anything about it. Unfortunately my aunt Gladys Cleage Evans, who was an art teacher from 1944 to 1948 is no longer with us to identify. I’m assuming that this was one of her classes during that time. She taught at Norvell elementary school on Detroit’s East side in the old Black Bottom neighborhood, since urban renewed out of existence.
My maternal grandfather lived in Black Bottom when he first arrived in Detroit from Montgomery, Alabama in 1917. It was the ghetto where the vast majority of black people in Detroit lived and where all the people he knew that had gone to Detroit from Montgomery before him, lived. Anyway, back to the photo.
Then I remembered that my cousin Dee Dee on my mother’s side had lived in the Norvell neighborhood at that time and I wondered if she had attended Norvell. She didn’t, she attended Smith Elementary, a few blocks away in a different direction. On the map below you can see both schools, plus where Dee Dee lived. Gladys lived with her parents over on the Old West Side of Detroit.
Students Set Fine Example in Goodwill
Oscoda Fliers Will Get 450 Box Presents
The children of the Norvell school are attempting something rather unique this year as a Christmas project. They decided that it would be a nice thing and entirely in keeping with the Christian spirit of the Yuletide season to devote their entire efforts to packing Christmas boxes for the fliers of the Oscoda Air Base.
David Blair, captain of the Safety Patrol and Sophie Smith, captain of the Service Girls’ club, head a committee of fifteen students who are doing all of the work within the school. It is planned that 450 boxes or, one for each two children in the school, will be the result of this project.
The children are writing up their own publicity, drawing posters to be displayed in the halls and conducting speaking programs in the various rooms to stimulate interest in this activity.
It is hoped that officiers from the Oscoda Air Base will visit the school while the project is in being, and give the children first-hand information about life in the United States Army Air Corp.
A board of directors has been selected to supervise the buying of materials for the Christmas boxes, and generally oversee the project. This board is composed of: Miss Carolyn Dunbar, teacher, Norvell school; Mrs. Fannie Goodgame, director, Nursery School, Gleiss Memorial Center; Mrs. Laura Ford, a parent, 2916 Jos. Campau; Owen F. Stemmelen, principal, Norvell school.
The philosophy of the staff at the Norvell school is molded around the theory that, the enthusiasm and activity of children, if guided into well directed channels, will furnish much needed power, and that busy hands have no time for mischief.
The students who are working on the committee with Sophie and David are: James Finley, Elbert Foster, Herman Parks, Helen Johnson, Betty Matthews, Mildren Remsing, Albert Grimaldi. Charles Hollins, Eileen Brown, Helen Taylor, Frank Lauria, Mary Bologna, Delores Berry, Calvin Montgomery, Leroy Dennard, Robert Ketelhut, Alphonse Stafford, Joan McAlpin and Dora Davis.
I stumbled across Quizdown while investigating the Smith and Norvell schools. Quizdown was held every Saturday morning at Detroit Institute of Arts and broadcast on the radio. Sponsored by The Detroit Free Press and featured teams from two local schools competing against each other by answering general knowledge questions provided by other Detroit area students. Various famous people appeared on the show and interacted with the students.
The first job my grandfather got when he came to Detroit was as a steward on the Detroit and Cleveland fleet. His friend Cliff Graham worked as a waiter on the same fleet.
Traffic on D. & C. Route Increases
Two Boats on Cleveland Run Handle Larger Business Than at Start Last Year.
Yearly season Passenger traffic between and Cleveland this year have been somewhat in excess of the business carried on during the similar period a year ago, according to officials of the Detroit & Cleveland Navigation company.
The two boats of the line covering the route, the Easter States and the Western States, have been in operation since April 2. Besides an increase in passenger business the line has handled large shipments of automobiles and trucks in addition to the usual amount of package freight.
“W are now carrying about 50 more passengers on a trip than we did last year.” says A. A. Schants, vice-president and general manager. “To meet the increased operating costs we must do more business this year than ever before. With the larger boats in operation early in the season our costs are higher, but we feel that the prospects for a large passenger and freight business have justified this policy.
Passenger Boat Rams Freighter
On her way down the Detroit river bound for Cleveland, the Eastern States of the D. & C. fleet collided with an upbound freighter opposite Ecorse about midnight.
The freighter, formerly the Pioneer, now the Natironco, was damaged to such an extent that she was put on the bottom.
The bow of the eastern States was considerably damaged and she was brought back to Detroit, arriving a out 2 a. m.
People on the Eastern States made the assertion that the freighter was seemingly improperly lighted, her lights not showing clearly.
Part of the crew of the Natironco were taken aboard the Eastern States by Captain Lee C. C. Nike. The others made their way ashore in the steamer’s yawl.
On May 10, 1918, my grandfather started work at the Ford Motor Company.
I’ve watched the trains as they disappeared Behind the clouds of smoke, Carrying the crowds of working men To the land of hope, Working hard on southern soil, Someone softly spoke; “Toil and toil, and toil and toil, And yet I’m always broke.” On the farms I’ve labored hard, And never missed a day; With wife and children by my side We journeyed on our way. But now the year is passed and gone, And every penny spent, And all my little food supplies Were taken ‘way for rent. Yes, we are going to the north! I don’t care to what state, Just as long as I cross the Dixon Line, From this land of southern hate, Lynched and burned and shot and hung, And not a word is said. No law whatever to protect- It’s just a “nigger” dead. Go on, dear brother; you’ll ne’er regret; Just trust in God; pray for the best, And in the end you’re sure to find “Happiness will be thine.” William Crosse’s poem appeared in the Chicago Defender, c 1920
When my grandfather, Mershell C. Graham arrived in Detroit he already knew people there who had come up from Montgomery earlier. At that time they all lived in Black Bottom and Paradise Valley. These were segregated, crowded and thriving black neighborhoods. That is where my grandfather found lodging with friends from home.
I found the names in letters he wrote and received from friend back in Montgomery. Using City directories and other records, I found out where he lived and who owned the houses and who lived in the area.
Charles Whyman was in Detroit in 1903 working as a waiter. In 1915 he owned a restaurant on St. Antoine. Lowndes Adams asked about him in a letter in 1917.
Moses Walker, Mershell’s future wife’s cousin’s brother-in-law, was in Detroit in 1915. He worked as a deputy collector with the United States Customs office. After their marriage, my grandparents roomed with his family.
Frank McMurray and his wife were mentioned in several letters that my grandfather received in 1917. They appear in the Montgomery directory in 1915 as grocers. In the 1919 Detroit directory he is listed as a carpenter. They also took in roomers at their residence, 379 Orleans Street.
My grandfather’s play brother, Clifton Graham was worked on the D & C Line as a waiter according to the 1917 Detroit Directory. Letters from Montgomery ask about him that same year.
Arthur Chisholm was mentioned in Lowndes letter as having gotten away without his knowing. On his 1917 draft card, his address is 379 Orleans St. Detroit, the same place my grandfather was living.
Feb 16, 1917: weather. “At Detroit the weather was fair during the day with the temp at 18 at 8 AM rising to 23 at 11 AM and falling again to 22 at 8 pm. Cloudy Friday and Saturday probably snow flurries” Free Press.
in February 1917, my grandfather lived at 293 Catherine Street between Dequindre & St. Aubin. It was in Black Bottom. It was a two story wooden house with a two story back porch and a small side porch where the entry door was. In the back of the lot there was another dwelling house, smaller than the one in front, also two stories, with a one story kitchen on the side.
“Women Likely to be Given Ballot,” a headline in Lansing’s local newspaper read on March 13, 1917. “Unless something unforeseen happens a bill giving the women of Michigan the right to vote for presidential electors will be passed by the Michigan legislature, and a constitutional amendment to be submitted at the general election in 1918 providing for universal suffrage will also be ratified,” The State Journal reported.
Apr 4 US Senate agrees (82-6) to participate in WWI
Apr 6, 1917, US declares war on Germany, enters World War I
On June 4, 1917, according to his WW 1 draft registration card my grandfather, Mershell Graham was single, responsible for his father, living in Detroit and working as a steward for the Detroit & Cleveland Navigation Company on the Lakes and living at 2021 Orleans, a boarding house owned by the McMurrays. Formerly of Montgomery, AL.
2. In May 1917, Shell was living at 379 Orleans, half a block from Maple. This was a two story frame flat with a wooden shingle roof. The alley was on the right side. There was a 1 story porch across the front and a one story kitchen in the back. McMurry and wife, who are mentioned in several letters, lived here and ran a boarding house. This house was also in Black Bottom.
May 27, 1917 Race riot in East St Louis Illinois, 1 black man killed Jun 26 1st US troops arrive in France during World War I
There seem to have been at least two photographers taking pictures of the event. Louis Cleage, laying on the ground in the background, is seen taking photos at one point. Someone was also taking them from the front. Who that was, I don’t know. Maybe Henry.
Click on any image to enlarge in a different window.
Memories of the Meadows from my Aunt Gladys via FB message and her daughter Jan in 2010: “Albert Senior and a bunch of fellow doctors bought it. It was to be a place where everyone could get away and the kids could meet and play.. big house on the property with a porch that wrapped around 2/3 of the house… (Plum Nelly was the conscientious objector farm) … dances on the porches… near Capac Michigan… Apparently they sold it later. she kind of remembers parties on the porch… a get-a-way other than the Boule or Idlewild. Mom remembers the boys spending a couple weeks at the meadows during the summer and Louis packing the provisions.”
In the 1950 Census Eddie and Gladys (Cleage) Evans and their one year old son Warren, were living in Tuskegee, Alabama on the campus of the Tuskegee Institute. The U.S. Army Air Corps had established a training program at Tuskegee in 1941. That is where the Tuskegee Airmen were trained.
All three were identified as Negro. Eddie and Gladys were both 27 years old. Eddie Evans had been born in Alabama and had worked 70 hours the previous week as a resident doctor of internal medicine at the Tuskegee Veterans Administration Hospital. This hospital opened in 1923 and was the first and only staffed by Black professionals.
Glady Cleage Evans was born in Michigan. She had not worked outside of the home in the past weeks and was listed as “H” – being home. Her hours of work in the home were not counted. She was also listed as having an occupation as an art teacher in an elementary school, even though she was not at present engaged in it.
There was a note concerning their address, which was given as “8th house on right”. The note said: 2) Line 28, items 3, 8th House on right from Lincoln Gates on Franklin Road was omitted to meet schedule given the serial number 47. It was later discovered this house had 5 dwellings units. These units were given the lowest unused serial number beginning with 58 to 61 inclusive, with no. 62 given to unit 50 – last available no.
Lincoln Gate is the main gate into Tuskegee Institute. Franklin road goes around the edge.
Warren Cleage Evans was one of the numbers that were enlarged upon at the bottom of the page. Unfortunately, since he was only one year old, he did not really have any information to enlarge upon.
My grandfather Mershell C Graham was the son of Mary Jackson Graham who we saw scheduled to be auctioned off with her family after the death of slave holder Crawford Motley Jackson in 1860. We move forward 70 years to to see what was happening with the Graham family in 1931,
Click on any image to enlarge in another window. Click on any link to open relevant information in another window.
These two photos of my mother, Doris (wearing the dress with scarf) and her family were taken in the backyard of their Detroit home in 1931. Doris was eight, her sister Mary Virginia was eleven. Baby brother Howard was two years old.
Maybe they had just come from church, or were on their way. I wonder if my grandfather was pointing to one of the airplanes that were just beginning to become more common.
Mershell was 44. My grandmother Fannie was 42. They kept chickens, had a large garden and several fruit trees. The girls attended Barber Elementary school several blocks away. My grandfather rode the streetcar to work and they took the streetcar to church. They didn’t have a car until 1934.
From my grandfather's little pocket notebook. This was the only entry from 1931.
"Transferred from HP (Highland Park) plant to Rouge plant Mar. 14, 1930Went to work in Elect(rical) Stacks Mr. J.H. Arthiston foreman"
Below are some 1931 comments from Howard’s baby book, written by my grandmother.
Saw his first circus – 2 1/2 years old – and what a thrill. July 1931 On Oct 23 1931 – Howard came into bathroom while Dad was trimming my hair. Where have you been I asked? Answer …In the children’s room. Question—What doing? Answer – “Lecturing on common-sense.” The above is true – Believe it or not. Had more sense then any child his age we’ve ever seen.
In my grandmother Fannie’s scrapbook, I found two library cards made by my mother, Doris and her older sister, Mary Virginia in 1931. My mother was 7 and Mary Virginia was 11. There is no book listed on my mother’s card but Mary Virginia names “The Children’s Story Hour” on hers. I wonder what other books they borrowed and lent or if this was a one time happening. I notice that Mary Virginia returned her book on time.
As far as I know my ancestors did not have cats, although many had dogs. We had some cats in Mississippi, they lived in the barn and were sort of wild. Where did they originally come from? I cannot remember.
We moved to Idlewild, Michigan in the fall of 1986 and brought our cat Taffy with us. She had been gifted to us by our neighbors in Excelsior Springs, Missouri. Taffy founded a dynasty that lasted over 20 years. We spayed and neutered the last batch. Most of the cats eventually wandered off and never returned, but one named Panther stayed for over 17 years and moved to Atlanta with us where he soon died, never adjusting to city life at all.
James: Wow. Mumia enjoyed the photo of me and the cat. Me: Do you remember that? Or the cat on your shoulder. James: When I saw it I was like “Aaaaaargh – Why do I have the cat all up in my face like that!!!” I remember the hat and know where I must have been standing on the deck. But I don’t remember the actual picture. I first asked Mumia if he recognized anyone in the picture, he thought it was his friend Levon. We were trying to figure out how old I was. That cat looks pretty big. I was thinking sixish? Me: It was our first winter in Idlewild, 1986/87. You were about 4/5.
In Mississippi I remember a lady who bought our goat milk and wanted one of the wild barn cats. They were a variety of colors, but she only wanted a white cat. His name was Peter Pan and he bit my husband’s hand while he was trying to catch him. He was finally caught and handed over.
Ife: I remember dropping kittens over the railing at the house in Mississippi to see if they would land on their feet. Me: I remember telling you all to stop dropping them. James: Did you ever try it after clipping their whiskers? Ife: No. We didn’t strap buttered bread on their backs either. James: I remember the results of an experiment we did involving falling cats – with and without whiskers. but I don’t remember doing the actual experiment.
Sydney: those dandelions are huge Me: They must be dandelions big sister. James: Or the children are tiny Me: They weren’t that tiny
Ife: I just saw some of those and asked the person whose garden they were in because I remembered these pictures. They are wild onion/garlic (alums). They are purple before they go to seed.
Tulani: Memories of cats?! I have plenty… I remember when cutie pie climbed up your leg trying to get to what you were cooking on the table, and that the second taffy used to be able to pull open my bedroom door….I remember bottle feeding kittens… Plenty more…I’m sure…
James: I remember the kittens being found in the pile of wood over by the rabbits. Also, I remember Cabral naming one of the kittens Cutie Pie…I have that sad memory about the cat and mailbox.
Me: I remember one mother cat who was hidden in the car and chewed Cabral’s bottle . I put her out at Head Start and she was gone forever. Never made it home. Her kittens must be the ones Tulani remembers bottle feeding.
We did this experiment as part of our home school science class. We buttered a piece of bread and tied it onto the back of a cat. When dropped from the height of a picnic table, the cat landed on it’s feet. I think to be a real test of the sayings – bread always lands buttered side down and a cat always lands on it’s feet – we would have had to have a piece of bread the same size as the cat, which we didn’t.
My sister Pearl’s memories of her cat, Scatter
That was Scatter. Here he is. A great cat. He came to our door one day when he was tiny. I tried to shoo him away but when Zeke walked up behind me, he let out a loud cat wail and leaped up on the screen like he was finding his long lost friend. Zeke gave him some water. Then some milk. Then some tuna. Then he moved in! Lol. For almost 20 years!!
We had to stop letting him out because we live on such a busy corner. He used to hunt when he could go out. He’d bring home a dead chipmunk and eat it on the porch! Yuck! He was fast. He ran from our porch across our street one day and pounced on a blue jay in a tree across the street!
Only cat we ever had. He was very cool. He’s buried in the backyard.
Memorial Day in 1922 was on a Sunday. The temperatures were in the 70s. My paternal grandparents with their five children joined the extended Cleage family at a picnic. There are several photographs from the day. Unfortunately both group photos are damaged – the one above has pieces missing and the one below is very blurry. Both group photos are hard to identify because people are so jumbled up instead of standing in easy to see straight lines.
Starting from the left of the first photograph from the outing are two headless women and I don’t know who they are, although the second one is wearing an identical coat (click link to see it) to the one Uncle Henry’s wife wore the next year. The little girl is my Aunt Barbara, next to her is my Uncle Hugh, Uncle Louis, Uncle Henry, Theodore Page (who looks like he has a double). My great uncle Henry’s little daughter, Ruth, who is holding the same ball the catcher is holding in the action shot. Behind her is my grandfather Albert B. Cleage Sr., with a cigar and a flag stuck in the ground in front of him. In back of them are, an unknown man, my great grandmother Celia Rice Cleage Sherman, her son Jacob, my father Albert “Toddy”, three people I don’t know them.
Above is a very blurry group photo. My grandmother Pearl on the far left. Looking over her shoulder is Aunt Gertrude (Theodore’s aunt). Next to my grandmother is a woman I don’t know, next is my great uncle Jake (Gertrude’s husband.)
with little Barbara in front of her. , Hugh is next to Barbara, My father is in the front row center, next to him is my great grandmother, Celia Rice Cleage Sherman, a little kid, probably my uncle Louis is next. Behind Louis we see Theodore Page. My grandfather is on the end holding a flag.
My father’s cousin, Theodore Page, is ready at the bat while my father, “Toddy” seems oblivious to the fact that he could have his head knocked off when Theodore goes to hit the ball.
My uncle Henry loved baseball and often described the game in terms that made it seem like a work of art or a piece of music. My mother’s mother used to listen to games on the radio. I never liked playing the game – I could not hit the ball. I didn’t like watching it, compared to basketball, baseball games seem so long and slow moving.
More about Theodore Page, the batter above, from The Church Calendar in 1960
Mr. Theodore Page was a charter member of Central Congregational Church. He was Deacon-Trustee of the church from it’s organization until the time of his death. He was a member of the Men’s Club, the Usher Board, Area Group III and was co-chairman of the Stewardship Committee. He accomplished an effective job in evangelism.
Mr. Page loved three things, his church, Masonic Lodge and his music. He was a very active Mason, a musician and a conscientious church worker.
(unreadable) minister, one of four children and born in Helena, Arkansas, Aug. 24, 1902. At the time of his death, he was working as a Final Inspector in the Automotive Department for the U. S. Government. His wife and daughter, Ann, will always remember him as a dedicated husband and father. Mr. Page succumbed May 22, 1959.
Meanwhile, my mother’s family was celebrating at Brighton Gardens, a black resort about 45 minutes from Detroit. My mother wasn’t born until the following year.