Category Archives: A-Z Challenge 2022

The Land of Hope

My grandfather Mershell “Shell” Graham.

The Land of Hope

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

The Montgomery Advertiser 12 Oct 1916, Thu • Page 10 Click to enlarge.

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.

All three of the houses that Shell lived in during his first years in Detroit were two story frame houses with upper and lower porches in the back. It would be useful as a fire escape.
  1. 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. 
The house is labeled. Click to enlarge.

“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.

Detroit & Cleveland Navigation Company
Mershell Graham’s name appears on the list. Detroit Free Press 25 Jul 1917, Wed  •  Page 14
House labeled. Click to enlarge

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

To Be Continued.

Related Posts

Letters from home
The Steamer “Eastern States” – 1917
The Migration Part 3 – Those Left Behind

Bound for the Promised Land

“The Reason,” by Albert A. Smith. The Crisis, (March, 1920)

From Florida’s stormy banks I go;
I’ve bid the South “Good by”;
No longer shall they treat me so,
And knock me in the eye.
The northern states is where I’m bound.
My cross if more than double –
If the chief executive can be found.
I’ll tell him all my trouble.

Thousands have gone on there before,
And enjoyed their northern live;
Nothing there they can deplore,
So they wrote back for their wives.
Thousands more now wait to go
To join the glorious sop.
The recruiters failed to take one more
Because the “Crackers” made ‘em stop.

Arise! ye Darkies now a-slave
Your chance at last has come;
Hold up your head with courage brave,
‘Cause times are changing some,
God is punctual to his word,
Faithful to his dating;
Humble prayers is what he heard,
After years of faithful waiting.
All before this change was made
They took me for a tool.
No respect to me was paid –
They classed me for a fool.
For centuries I was knocked and cuffed,
And imposed upon by southern “whites”;
For fifty years they had me bluffed
And robbed me of my “right.” . . .

Hasten on, my dark brother,
Duck the “Jim Crow” laws.
No “Crackers” north to slap your mother
Or knock you in the jaw.
No “Crackers” there to seduce your sister,
Nor hang you to a limb,
And you’re not obliged to call them mister,
Nor show your teeth at them.

Now, why should I remain longer south,
to be kicked and dogged around?
“Crackers” to knock me in the mouth
And shoot my brother down.
No, I won’t. I’m leaving today,
No longer can I wait.
If the recruiters fail to take me ‘way,
I’m bound to catch a freight.

by Mr. Ward
originally published in the Chicago Defender, November 11, 1916

In 1916 the word was everywhere – move north, you have a better chance. Friends and neighbors who had made the journey sent back word. The Chicago Defender sent newspapers all over the countries with articles about lynchings and poems like the above. There were articles about a better life in the north. Jobs that paid a living wage. About being able to vote. Pullman porters distributed the Defender throughout the south, even though the white authorities tried to prevent.

Heading of the Chicago Defender

The newspaper was read extensively in the South. Black Pullman porters and entertainers were used to distribute the paper across the Mason/Dixon line. The paper was smuggled into the south because white distributors refused to circulate The Defender and many groups such as the Klu Klux Klan tried to confiscate it or threatened its readers. The Defender was passed from person to person, and read aloud in barbershops and churches. It is estimated that at its height each paper sold was read by four to five African Americans, putting its readership at over 500,000 people each week. The Chicago Defender was the first black newspaper to have a circulation over 100,000, the first to have a health column, and the first to have a full page of comic strips.

“During World War I The Chicago Defender waged its most aggressive (and successful) campaign in support of “The Great Migration” movement. This movement resulted in over one and a half million southern blacks migrating to the North between 1915-1925. The Defender spoke of the hazards of remaining in the overtly segregated south and lauded life in the North. Job listings and train schedules were posted to facilitate the relocation. The Defender also used editorials, cartoons, and articles with blazing headlines to attract attention to the movement, and even went so far as to declare May 15, 1917 the date of the “Great Northern Drive.” The Defender’s support of the movement, caused southern readers to migrate to the North in record numbers. At least 110,000 came to Chicago alone between 1916-1918, nearly tripling the city’s black population.

NPR “The Chicago Defender”

Mershell on the railing, Mary Graham in the chair and Clifton on the steps of 224 Tuscaloosa Street in Montgomery, AL

My maternal grandfather, Mershell C. Graham was one of those who listened and decided to leave Montgomery and head to Detroit.

In the 1916 Montgomery City Directory, my grandfather was was living with Clifton and Mary Graham. They were his “adopted family” and as far as I know not blood relations.

From the 1916 Polk Montgomery Directory

On February 14, 1917. he sent a letter from Detroit to Montgomery to ask for a recommendation from Seligman & Marx, Wholesale Grocers. Which means he had relocated to Detroit sometime before February 14. And to make that trip he took the train.

“Separate but equal” was a legal doctrine in United States constitutional law, according to which racial segregation did not necessarily violate the Fourteenth Amendment.

There was no food served to black people either on the train or at stops below the Mason-Dixon line. He would have bought a box with food for the journey, fried chicken, sandwiches, perhaps fruit, biscuits, and cake. Maybe enough to share with a fellow passenger who hadn’t brought food.

Although the price was the same for both black and white passengers, the accommodations were anything but equal. Below is a description. There are several other links at the end of this post to information about segregated travel.

A Way of Travel
“From the 1830s through the 1950s, people traveled in trains pulled by steam locomotives. Cars in these trains were almost always arranged in a particular order—an order that reflected social hierarchy. Coal-burning steam engines spewed smoke and cinders into the air, so the most privileged passengers sat as far away from the locomotive as possible. The first passenger cars—the coaches—were separated from the locomotive by the mail and baggage cars. In the South in the first half of the 20th century, the first coaches were “Jim Crow cars,” designated for black riders only. Passenger coaches for whites then followed. Long-distance trains had a dining car, located between the coaches and any sleeping cars. Overnight trains included sleeping cars—toward the back because travelers in these higher-priced cars wanted to be far away from the locomotive’s smoke. A parlor or observation car usually brought up the rear

Jim Crow Journeys: An Excerpt from Traveling Black
The 1880s railroads and segregation
From Jim Crow to Now: On the Realities of Traveling While Black

A to Z Reflections 2022

My sister Pearl and me with our “mashies” 1950
Click for other reflection posts.

This was my 9th completed A to Z Challenge. I had all of my posts finished before April 1, except for those needing the 1950 Census. Even with those I had chosen the photographs and Little Golden Books and had the post set up so I just needed to add the census. It made for a much less stressful month! All of my A to Z posts are listed here A to Z Challenge 2022.

I also did National Poetry Writing Month, so I wrote a poem a day. They were quick poems, which I posted on my Ruff Draft poetry blog.

This gave me more time to visit and comment on other posts. I found myself reading daily and commenting regularly on the following blogs, listed alphabetically.

Anne’s Family History
Backsies Is What There Is Not
Black & White
The Curry Apple Orchard
The Dreamgirl Writes
Everyone Has a Story
Family history across the seas
Flash Mob
Jayashree Writes
The Multicolored Diary
The Old Shelter
My Take Doses of Wild YAM
The Pensive
Women’s Legacy Project

I’m thinking about next year’s A to Z Challenge. I plan to do it and to have the posts written up before hand. No idea what the topic will be.

In the coming year I’ll write up more family members found in the 1950 Census. So far I have my Aunt Gladys Cleage Evans, my husband James E Williams and my great aunt Annie Graham, all found and waiting.

The big project – I want to get back to work on the Edelweiss women, those that I was going to write about last year for the A to Z but didn’t. They’ve been on the back burner for the last year. So many interesting stories! I’ve got to write them up.

Z – Zoo

This is my ninth year of blogging the A to Z Challenge. Everyday I will share something about my family’s life during 1950. This was a year that the USA federal census was taken and the first one that I appear in. At the end of each post I will share a book from my childhood collection.

Springfield Forest Park Zoo

I don’t remember going to the zoo in Springfield. In fact I wasn’t sure if they had one. They do. It was founded in 1894 and is still open.

Dr. Seuss lived in Springfield as a child and his father worked at the Zoo when he was a boy. According to this post, he was inspired by spending time there to draw some of his bizarre animals.

“Located in the heart of the city’s largest park is the Forest Park Zoo. After Prohibition closed the family brewery, Ted’s (note: Ted was Dr. Seuss) father took a job as Superintendent of the Zoo. Ted’s childhood home was just a short distance from the zoo and he must have spent many an hour watching the exotic animals there since many of his zany creatures in his books bear a striking resemblance to animals he saw in Forest Park. Forest Park Zoo/Seuss in Springfield

We had our own zoo of stuffed animals and dolls.

After we moved to Detroit we used to go to the zoo once a year with my maternal grandparents and our cousins.

Good Morning/Good Night.

Some of the pages from Good Morning/Good Night, Little Golden Book

Y – Youth & a Mop

This is my ninth year of blogging the A to Z Challenge. Everyday I will share something about my family’s life during 1950. This was a year that the USA federal census was taken and the first one that I appear in. At the end of each post I will share a book from my childhood collection.

Youth with a mop. Sunday school? My birthday? August 1950.

Why were we all sitting on the stairs in our dresses? I have no idea. It was during my cousin’s August visit from Detroit. Maybe it was my birthday and I had turned four.

Why didn’t the photographer notice that mop propped against the wall and move it? I understand that. I’ve taken many photos and never noticed the distracting bottles on the table.

I do recognize about half of the children. Taking the front row from left to right – unknown girl with purse, Sherrie Johnson looking mad, unknown girl with a doll, Pearl eating something. Second row: unknown smiling girl, my cousin Dee Dee looking peeved, my cousin Barbara looking worried, me saying something to Barbara “Don’t worry Barbara.” On the top step, unknown girl looking at the camera and Lynn Johnson (Sherrie’s sister), also eating something.

The Springfield Union February 7, 1950
My mother – Doris Graham Cleage
Mrs. Cleage Speaker

“When the St. Paul’s Youth Fellowship gathers in the parish house Sunday evening at 7, it will hear from Mrs. Albert Cleage, Jr., of Springfield on the subject “What it means to be a Negro”

Mrs. Cleage is the wife of the minister of St. John’s Congregational Church, Springfield. A graduate of Wayne University, Detroit. Mrs. Cleage has done social work for the American Red Cross in Detroit and Los Angeles”

The Springfield Union February 7, 1950

A Poem From Today’s Youth

After posting this, I found that my thirteen year old great niece Bailey Tucker, had written a poem that could have used the same title as my mother’s talk, except we don’t use “Negro” today. I am adding it to the post. I know my mother must be smiling to have her great granddaughter following in her footsteps.

Black by Bailey Tucker. Transcribed below.


It’s not fair we get shot at.
It’s not fair we get pulled off a bike at 8.
It’s not fair they yell because our skin tone.
It’s not fair they’re mad because our hair.
It’s not fair they call us ghetto because our voice.
It’s not fair we can’t walk with our hoods on.
It’s not fair we can’t walk with our head down.
It’s not fair they call us thugs for having tattoos.
It’s not fair we get stared at.
It’s not fair they call us fatherless.
It’s not fair we are treated different.



Little Galoshes

Unfortunately they don’t share the pictures in the book, they just read it. You can see some of the illustrations here -> Vintage Kids’ Books My Kid Loves

X – Xmas 1950

This is my ninth year of blogging the A to Z Challenge. Everyday I will share something about my family’s life during 1950. This was a year that the USA federal census was taken and the first one that I appear in. At the end of each post I will share a book from my childhood collection.

Kristin and Pearl with Christmas dolls.

This was our last Christmas in Springfield. In the fall of 1951, we moved to Detroit. I remember the metal dollhouse I received. It was like the one in the ad below but didn’t have the garage and patio.

Pearl received this ferris wheel. A very colorful metal toy that wound up and went around. I remember that ferris wheel was around long after the dolls and the dollhouse bit the dust. Eventually it wouldn’t wind up any more, but we manually turned it.

Pearl also received this musical rocking chair. She still has it. You see my grandson Matthew standing next to the chair on the left. This chair has a bad habit of flipping over if it was rocked too hard. I remember it being taken back and exchanged. The replacement chair was no better. You had to rock gently. Pearl remembers our mother disconnecting the music box after awhile.

Kristin and Pearl on Christmas day 1950.
Christmas in the Country


I’m also participating in the Genealogy Blog 1950s Blog Party hosted by Elizabeth Swanay O’Neal, “The Genealogy Blog Party: Back to the 1950s,” Heart of the Family™

U -Union Street

This is my ninth year of blogging the A to Z Challenge. Everyday I will share something about my family’s life during 1950. This was a year that the USA federal census was taken and the first one that I appear in. At the end of each post I will share a book from my childhood collection.

Present day photo of the parsonage

This information is quoted from the application for Historical Designation of the St. John’s Parsonage/Parish Home for Working Girls. I can no longer find it online but have a PDF. It was accepted on June 28, 2016 and entered into the National Park Registration.

St. John’s Parsonage/Parish Home for Working Girls
“This large, 2 story, domestic building resembles the many two-family houses that characterize the neighborhood, but it was consciously designed to house the pastor as well as board working girls and women

Property Name St. John’s Congregational Church & Parsonage/Parish Home for Working Girls Reference Number 16000140 State Massachusetts County Hampden Town Springfield Street Address 69 Hancock Street Multiple Property Submission Name N/A Status listed 6/28/2016 Areas of Significance Architecture, Ethnic Heritage, Religion, Social History

” Planned with 26 rooms, all accessible off of central halls on four levels with staircases front and rear, the first floor contained the pastor’s living quarters, a parlor for boarders, and church offices. A guest chamber, thirteen dormitory rooms, and lavatories were arranged on the second floor and in the attic . Bath facilities were provided on each floor. The basement contained a kitchen, dining room, sewing room, and laundry. “

A rough layout of the first floor as I remember it.

“Windows in the front bay are part of a reception room on the first floor, and a boarder’s room on the second. Three vertically aligned windows in the next bay indicate the location of the front stairs leading from the first story to the attic. A large, one-story bay window is contained in the pastor’s office behind the stairs. Rooms in the pastor’s residence are represented by windows on the first story, as well as in a one-story wing appended to the southeast corner of the building. Second-story and attic windows were for boarders’ rooms. The rear stairs are contained in a second extension in the center of the rear wall. A porch formerly spanned the remaining section of the rear wall at the southwest corner of the house, where a doorway exited the pastor’s kitchen.”

Kristin and Pearl on the front porch with Sherrie Ann Johnson.

The only book I had in those days with a main character who wasn’t white or an animal. In fact, there were not even any minor characters of color. And she preferred her own little homemade black doll to the fancy doll the sailor gave her.


Memories of Union Street

T – The Thief of Baghdad & A Waltz

This is my ninth year of blogging the A to Z Challenge. Everyday I will share something about my family’s life during 1950. This was a year that the USA federal census was taken and the first one that I appear in. At the end of each post I will share a book from my childhood collection.

I remember wandering into the movie below one afternoon when I was three or four.  We lived in St. John’s Congregational Church parsonage/community house in Springfield, Massachusetts where my father was pastor. I woke up from my nap and going down the hall to a big room where the movie was being shown.  There I saw a larger then life, green genie coming horrifyingly out of a bottle. For years I could not remember the title of the film. After watching some youtube clips, I can see it had to be “The Thief of Bagdad“. It was released in 1940 and by 1950 it would have been available for showing in darkened rooms full of folding chairs to church groups.  I did not stick around after the Genie started coming out of the bottle.

In the backyard

One of the few songs I remember from those years.

Lucky Mrs. Ticklefeather

S – Segregated Housing

This is my ninth year of blogging the A to Z Challenge. Everyday I will share something about my family’s life during 1950. This was a year that the USA federal census was taken and the first one that I appear in. At the end of each post I will share a book from my childhood collection.

Rev. Albert B. Cleage Jr

Claims Hit By NAACP here

Committee Disputes Robinson Statement No Prejudice in Projects

Click to enlarge

Taking vigorous exception to statements made by Springfield Housing Authority Chairman John J. Robinson, that there is no segregation in Riverview or Reed Village, Rev. Albert B. Cleage Jr., chairman of the housing committee of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said last night that the NAACP will take legal action if the segregation “pattern” continues. Such action will result in a test case which would receive national attention, he said.

His statement follows in brief:

“The NAACP has been engaged in investigating the tenant selection and placement policies of the Springfield Housing Authority for more than two years and our preliminary findings indicate the existence of a definite and deliberate policy of racial segregation in tenant placement in both the Riverview and Reed Village apartments,” said Rev. Cleage.

“The Springfield Housing Authority seems to subscribe to exactly the same racial theories as those advanced by some of the residents of Amore Village who stated that they were not prejudiced, but felt that Negroes should live to themselves. The Springfield Housing Authority seems to believe that Negroes and whites living in the same projects must be segregated in separate Negro and white units. The fact that this discriminatory policy existed at Riverview first prompted an NAACP investigation and eventually a conference with the Springfield Housing Authority.

Click to enlarge

“The NAACP Housing Committee reported its findings back to the Executive Committee and was unanimously authorized to continue its investigation until the Reed Village segregation pattern had been definitely established, and if such a pattern was continued, to proceed in co-operation with the organization’s Legal Redress Committee to take legal action against the Housing Authority. The NAACP case against segregation in Public Housing will receive full support and cooperation from the National Legal Staff of the NAACP. When and if legal action is taken, Thurgood Marshall of New York, who has already been consulted regarding developments, will be asked to handle the case. Such a development will receive national attention as a test case and for that reason the Housing Committee is proceeding with understandable care in preparing its case.

“The case will again test the principle that separate but equal is an actual impossibility already established by the NAACP on many legal fronts. The NAACP contends that a pattern of segregation as practiced by the Springfield Housing Authority contradicts the non-discriminatory provisions of both the state and national Housing Acts from which the Springfield Housing Authority derives its powers. The Springfield Branch of the NAACP in no way endorses or condones the policies of the Springfield Housing Authority.”
From The Springfield Union November 1, 1950

Meanwhile Pearl and I were eating snacks.
Scuffy the Tugboat


’m also participating in the Genealogy Blog 1950s Blog Party hosted by Elizabeth Swanay O’Neal, “The Genealogy Blog Party: Back to the 1950s,” Heart of the Family™

R – Rev. Albert B. Cleage Jr.

This is my ninth year of blogging the A to Z Challenge. Everyday I will share something about my family’s life during 1950. This was a year that the USA federal census was taken and the first one that I appear in. At the end of each post I will share a book from my childhood collection.

Taking photographs.

My father turned 39 on his birthday, June 13, 1950.

In the final assessment of the “Years of Transition and Trial.” the History of St. John’s Congregational Church says:

“In the five years that Mr. Cleage was at St. John’s he increased the church membership and the value of the church property, and enlarged and expanded the community service activities by establishing the St. John’s Community House at 643 Union Street with a completely equipped settlement house plant.

While in Springfield, Mr. Cleage was active in civic affairs, serving on the Executive Committee, the Legal Redress Committee, and the Housing Committee of the NAACP, and participating in the Round Table of the Conference of Christians and Jews, the YMCA, and the American Red Cross. He inaugurated Sunday Cultural Vesper Services and programs. At one of these, Langston Hughes was presented. Mr. Cleage was also a popular speaker and lecturer on New England college campuses.

With the death of Dr. DeBerry and the departure of Mr. Cleage a turbulent perirod in the history of St. John’s Church came to an end, and once again the church set about the task of finding a new minister, one who, perhaps, could close the breach that still divided the congregation.”

From Prophet of the Black Nation by Hiley H. Ward ©1969 United Church Press, pg 66.

Kristin (me) and father photographer in mirror

Although much of his time was taken up with the church and community activities, my father found time to make an excellent photographic record of his two daughters time in Springfield. He took so many photographs of my sister and me during our years in Springfield. Before we were born he took many photographs of our mother, Doris Graham Cleage. Afterwards she only appears in a few along with us. Perhaps she didn’t have the time to pose any more. Perhaps we were just so interesting. As I put this series together, I wondered what her thoughts were about it.

This shot was taken in our living room in the parsonage of St. John’s Congregational Church in Springfield, Mass. For years I never noticed my father reflected in the mirror. I looked everywhere for that teapot in later years but it was lost in one of the various moves. It was blue with a gold design over it. The couch was with us for many years. By Christmas of 1950, the cushions had been replaced or recovered with red leather like fabric which is how they were until the couch disappeared from my life. I remember that table, which was also around for a long time. And those little plastic records my sister and I used to play on our parents’ record player and then on our own little phonograph.

My father’s life in photos. Done for his 100 birth anniversary.
Bertram and the Ticklish Rhinoceros

Click this link Bertram and the Ticklish Rhinoceros to find some of the pages and illustrations from the book.