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
This is my tenth A to Z Challenge. My first was in 2013, but I missed 2021. This April I am going through the alphabet using snippets about my family through the generations.
Rev. Horace White was the pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church from 1936 until his death in 1958. Both of my parents were members and met at Plymouth. My father credited Rev. White with turning him to the ministry. I decided to look for information about him and the article below is one that I found. It reminded me of some of my father’s writings.
The Facts in Our News
By Horace White
The Michigan Chronicle
Detroit, Michigan · Saturday, November 03, 1945
It ain’t yet – The Negroes have jumped overboard because one Negro has been assigned to get ready to play baseball in the white organized baseball fraternity. We always jump overboard at the least provocation in such matters. We make too much out of such events in our news. Of course it is an achievement to get such an assignment. But it is not any great step forward yet. The assignment of the young Negro ballplayer has in it only the fact that he is a very promising player.
Negroes are not accepted yet on the basis of their merit. It will be a long time comparatively speaking before we will be so accepted. It is no fault of the Negro players that such is the case – our American race prejudice causes this particular situation as race prejudice causes many other un-American acts on the part of Americans.
It is nothing short of pathetic to see a race of people so eager for acceptance that the least little crumb dropped to them causes so much excitement. Maybe that is the way it has to be. There is one thing sure, about giving so much importance to the ordinary and common place events of our lives, we set our sights lower than we ordinarily would. Young people accept little achievement in terms of something really important. You and I have seen how easily a whole race gets vicarious pleasure and a sense of achievement from the fact that one Negro has been given some ordinary job or position.
Many times young people are given the wrong evaluation of achievement when they see their parents making such a fuss over small things. When small things are assigned to us as a race let’s be big enough with ourselves to accept small things as small things. It is nothing short of weakness on our part when we get and give so much publicity to any little incident of acceptance.
How can we get over this seeking of approval from the majority at almost any cost? This is no easy task. We have been denied and we have looked for our satisfactions from the people who have denied us so very long. We feel sometime that approval from the majority group is worth any effort that we may make.
Of course we can understand why we seek so much approval. The reasons are not far to seek. Any people living as a minority group in all ways. The majority group does its domination through education, social mores and economic controls.
The minority groups usually succumb to these controls of the majority group. One way of succumbing to the controls of the majority is to bite for every sop that the majority group hands out. The assigning of a Negro to a berth in organized baseball is an example of what is meant here. The Negro population has been led to believe that Negroes have gained something by the very fact that the young man has been assigned to play with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Still, nothing has been gained.
The boy is good. It is good business for the team to sign him to play. More than this fact we should as Negroes take the position that the recognition of the abilities of Negro players is long overdue. Therefore, Negroes should not express so much joy over the fact that the very fine young man has been signed. We are glad for him and that is all.
This unusually overrated incident is no different than the “hell” that some Negroes are “raising” over the fact that Jane White is taking the lead in “Strange Fruit.” The protest of Negroes is so silly to say the least. Yes, it is possible for a Negro woman who has gone to college to fall in love with a no-good white man. Negro women who have gone to college fall in love with no-good Negroes. “Strange Fruit” is a real novel.
The protest over a Negro woman playing “Nonnie” in “Strange Fruit” is a sign of our total insecurity. We cannot face a situation without “tears” of wishful thinking. We always try to put our best “foot” forward even to the point of being ridiculous.
Our family life must provide the way for us to escape the basic need for acceptance. Young people must learn how to find inner emotional strength within themselves. Our families must provide a real basis for Negroes to free themselves from a need to seek acceptance from the majority group. We must seek brotherhood. Brotherhood means giving of selves equally. Anything else is subjugation.
This is my tenth A to Z Challenge. My first was in 2013, but I missed 2021. This April I am going through the alphabet using snippets about my family through the generations.
My 2X great grandmother Eliza Williams Allen was born into slavery on the plantation of Col. Edmund Harrison and his wife Jane Starke Irvin Harrison. Her mother was Ann Williams, a seamstress on the plantation. Who her father was is not known. When the youngest daughter of the Harrison’s, Martha James, married Milton Saffold in 1851, Eliza went with her as a wedding gift. Martha was 18 when she married. Eliza was about 12.
Martha gave birth to three sons before she died in 1856. At 16, Eliza gave birth to Saffold’s daughter in 1856. In 1857, Saffold married Georgia Whiting. Eliza was 17 when Saffold freed her and Mary. In 1860 I found them living, free, on a small farm with Nancy Wiggins and her daughters. I haven’t found a connection between Nancy and Eliza.
Later that year she met Dock Allen when he hid in the barn while escaping from a master known for cruelty and keeping vicious dogs to hunt escapees. Dock and Eliza married. They had 13 children. Eight lived to adulthood. After Freedom, Eliza’s mother, Annie Williams lived with the family until she died in 1898.
Eliza was a seamstress and Dock was a carpenter. Although neither of them were literate, they sent all of the children to school, the oldest through elementary school and the youngest completed two years of college. The family owned their own home in Montgomery’sCentennial Hill Community.
Eliza died on June 22, 1917 at 77 years of age and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Montgomery.
Dock Allen was my 2X great grandfather. He was my maternal grandmother’s maternal grandfather. He was born into slavery about 1839 in Georgia to 19 year old enslaved Matilda Brewster. Eventually he was taken to Alabama. I do not know what happened to his mother.
It had been a wet spring, that 1860 in Dallas County, Alabama. Dock Allen was 21 years old and already a good carpenter. He was a white man’s son, but the man who then held him in slavery was not his father. His owner was known as a cruel man who kept vicious dogs to instill fear in his slaves. He wanted them to be afraid to run. When Dock made up his mind to escape, he had a plan to throw the dogs off of his track. There was a swampy area where wild ramps grew. He rubbed himself with them, poured the water on himself and rolled around in the field so the strong onion odor would hide his own human smell.
He had been running and running. He was bone tired. He could hear the dogs tracking him in the distance when he came to a small farm near Carlowville. He couldn’t go any further. He climbed up into the hay loft, covered himself with hay and lay there barely breathing. The dogs came into the hay room. He could feel their breath as they walked over him, but they didn’t smell him because of the ramps. Eventually they left.
This was the same place where Eliza and her small daughter Mary, lived. Eliza had been freed several years before. She lived on the farm of Nancy Morgan. Did Eliza hear the dogs and see Dock stumble into the yard? Did she silently direct him to hide in the hay?
For unknown reasons Dock decided to give himself up. Nancy sent a message to his master. It wasn’t long before he came to the house. He said that no one had ever out smarted his dogs and that any man who was smart enough to do that deserved to be free and he freed Dock. Dock stayed on that place and he and Eliza married. They stayed together until he died in 1909 at age70.
Reconstruction and After
Dock Allen registered to vote in Montgomery, Alabama in 1867. In 1870 the family appears in the same household with a wealthy white cotton broker and his family. I cannot find the house in the Sanborn Fire Maps so I don’t know if there were two houses on the lot. In 1875 he was again among the voters. Unfortunately Reconstruction came to an end in 1877 when the Union soldiers left the South and black people were once again without a vote for a hundred years.
The Montgomery City Directory starts with 1880, so I am not sure when the family moved into their own house, but from 1880 – 1904 Dock Allen and his growing family owned the house on the corner of Clay and Holt. Dock and Eliza raised nine of the thirteen children born to them to adulthood. There were six girls and three boys. All of them attended State Normal school through the elementary grades and were literate. The youngest daughter completed high school and two additional years there.
In 1882 the oldest boy Henry drowned in the Alabama River, which was about a block from their home. The third son, Dock Allen Jr. drowned in August 1891 trying to walk the moonlit path from a boat.
After her husband was killed at a barbecue in June 1891, my great grandmother Jennie Virginia moved back to her parent’s house with her two young daughters. My grandmother Jennie was four years old and her younger sister Daisy was two.
His daughter Abbie married a river boat gambler and had two sons. Earl was born in 1896 and Alphonso was born two years later. I don’t know if she ever left home.
1900 Census, she and her two young sons were living in her parents home. Beulah, the youngest child, was still at home. In 1900 there were the four grandchildren (ages 11, 7, 5 & 3), three daughters, Eliza and Dock living in the house at 237 Clay Street. The women were all seamstresses and Doc was a carpenter. Oldest daughter Mary lived next door with her husband and five children. Daughter Anna had moved to Chicago where she was passing for white.
My mother Doris Graham Cleage wrote the following about her mother’s growing up years:
… I know very little about their childhood except that they spent most of it in their Grandfather Allen’s house (which was in Montgomery) because their father died when Mother was about four and Jennie T. had to work to support them. It was a big house, Mother said, with a big porch around two sides and pecan trees in the big backyard. She never used the words “happy” or “unhappy” to describe her childhood and I have the feeling that it was happy on the whole. She told several incidents:
Their Grandfather took care of them while Jennie T. worked and when they were bad, he told Jennie T., who would sometimes spank them. Mother said she told Daisy to cry loudly when Jennie T. spanked them and so make the spanking short and not too hard. She said this worked! (This always surprised me because I never thought of Mother as a person who ever consciously manipulated people. Whenever she told this…and she didn’t mention it until she was in her eighties…she looked very pleased with herself.)
Everyday her Grandfather swept the backyard “smooth as silk” (it was dirt) and told Mother and Daisy not to set foot on it. (I hope this was just part of the yard and they had some space left for play, but I don’t know.) They got spanked with the flat of his saw if they made footprints on it. Mother said they would play on it when he dozed off, not realizing their footprints would give them away.
On Sundays they could do absolutely no work at all. Dinner had to be cooked the day before and could be warmed up. They couldn’t even sew a button on. They all went to the Congregational Church (black, of course) every Sunday morning. In the afternoons, Mother had to read the Bible to her Grandfather who would often doze off during the reading. Mother would get up and play and watch and run back if he seemed to be waking up. I don’t know if he still did carpenter work at this time. Mother said he was a good cabinetmaker and would make furniture for people. I don’t know if this is all he did or if he also built houses or what. But I do know he made cabinets, tables, chairs, beds and whatever.
Changes in 1904
James Edward McCall is the oldest son of Ed McCall, for twenty-three years a cook at the Montgomery police station and one of the best known and most respected negroes (sic) in Montgmery. Ed McCall was owned by W.T. McCall of Lowndes County. His aged master is still living on the old plantation and he has no truer friend or more devoted servant than Ed McCall. The mother of the young poet was Mary Allen, daughter of Doc Allen, for many years a well to do negro (sic) carpenter of Montgomery. She was owned before the war by the late colonel Edmund Harrison of this county.”
Beulah married in 1901. In 1904 Dock Allen and the family moved to 444 S. Ripley street. Jennie married the following year. She lived several blocks from the house on Ripley street.
Dock lived there for five years before he died on March 29, 1909 of “inflammatory bowels” after an illness of several weeks. His mother is listed as Matilda Brewster on his death certificate. No father is listed. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Montgomery.
I would like to find information about a runaway matching his description in the Dallas/Lowndes county area around 1860.
I found this information in records on Ancestry and elsewhere, newspaper articles in the Montgomery Advertiser, Sanborn Maps and oral history from family members.
My grandfather Mershell C. Graham was born in Coosada Station, Elmore County around 1886. He was not given a middle name. He picked “Cunningham” as an adult. His father farmed. He had a sister and several brothers. At some point the brothers all left for the city, leaving their sister Annie, who stayed in Elmore County for her whole life.
The two older brothers, William and Crawford disappeared into the unknown after the 1880 Census. My grandfather left for nearby Montgomery and from there to Detroit. Jacob died young. Abraham moved first to Nashville, Tennessee and then to Cleveland Ohio, where he died in 1948 of tuberculosis.
Click all images to enlarge in a new window.
The 1910 Unitd States Census is the first census that my grandfather Mershell (Shell) Graham appears in. Twenty-two year old Shell worked at a railroad repair shop in Waycross Georgia. He was boarding with Irwin and Mary Warren and their three daughters. The Warrens owned their home free of mortgage. Irwin Warren worked as a car inspector for the railroad. Mary Warren did not work outside the home. She had birthed four children and three were living. The daughters, ages 18,15 and 7, attended school. Everyone in the household was literate and identified as black. Below is the household with Mershell Graham at the bottom as a border.
“Waycross began as a crossroads for southeastern travel. We were first a hub for stagecoach traffic, and then became a center for the railroad when it laid its tracks in the mid 1800’s. As the Plant System Railroad started to grow, so did the town surrounding it.” Waycross Facts
Mershell was close friend with Cliffton John Graham, who was not a blood relative. He lived with the family for five or six years before migrating to Detroit. My grandmother referred to Mary Graham, Cliff’s mother as her mother-in-law. Cliff came to Detroit at around the same time as my grandfather
Death of friend Cliff’s father Joseph L Graham(1853–1910) December 28 1909. Montgomery, Alabama, USA
Age 24 — In 1912 Mershell Graham lived at 715 Union Street. This was his close friend, John Clifton Graham’s family’s home. My grandfather was a waiter and Cliff was a bartender. Also living in the house were Cliff’s widowed mother Mary and his sister Mattie.
The asterisk in front of a name meant that they were black. The dots were added by me. (m) means married. (wid) means widow. The letter “h” before the address means “house”. The letter “b” before the address means boards. The Grahams that are not marked, are not in the household with my grandfather Mershell.
My grandfather Shell’s brother Jacob was three years younger. Jacob died from TB at age 21, on June 30, 1913 in Montgomery County at the Fresh Air Camp. The Fresh Air Camp was set up to try and give health to those with TB.
In 1914 my grandfather was 26. The Graham’s had moved from Union street to 224 Tuscalousa. Mary Grham was working as a cook. Clifton and Mershell were both bartending. Mattie was a teacher.
Age 27 – Residence 1915 • Montgomery, 224 Tuscaloosa bartender
In 1916 my grandfather was living with the Grahams at 224 Tuscalousa. His employment is listed as “Farmer.” Clifton is now a funeral dirrector, Mary is a widow and Mattie is no longer in the home, she was studying nursing in Kansas City.
By late 1916, early 1917 my grandfather had made the move to Detroit. He received a letter dated February 16, 1917 from Seligman & Marx at 293 Catherine Street. Catherine Street was located in Detroit’s Black Bottom.
Other posts about Mershell C Graham going to Detroit
“It’s as if somehow a groundwork has already been laid and is continually being laid, and all that we have to do is share information with one another and then the connexions would be revealed.” Paul Lee June 8, 2009
I have found this to be so true while building my family history. Three of the photographs below were from my collection. The rest are from cousins in various branches of my extended family. I met them through sharing information on my Ancestry tree; my DNA; Facebook and this blog. Along with photos, I also received information that helped build the family story.
For more information about the people in the photographs, follow these links
I recently received some family information from one of my granddaughters. I’ve been using the information to see what I can find out. I have not done any research in New Orleans, LA before.
“My great grandmother was born on 2/26/24. Her mother whose first name was Agnes passed away at 18 or 19 due to Tuberculosis. At the time her mother passed, my great grandmother was only four months old. Her fathers name was Joseph Robinson and he passed away when she was twelve or thirteen. She had an older sister whose name was Irene who was approximately thirteen months older. Their mother, Agnes and their father, Joseph married when Agnes was 16 and Joseph was 21.”
I found two marriage records for Grace Robinson. In both, her parent’s were given as father, Joseph Robinson and mother, Agnes McGee. Grace’s birthdate was given as about 1922 in one and about 1924 in the other.
Next, I looked for a marriage license for Agnes McGee and Joseph Robinson. I found their marriage license on Family Search. The actual document was available for viewing and that was great because there is information on it that wasn’t available in the index on Ancestry.
In addition to finding that Joseph Robinson married Agnes on Dec. 11, 1922 in New Orleans, I also found that Agnes maiden name was McGhee and that she was born in New Orleans. Joseph Robinson was born in Jefferson, LA. His occupation was mail service. Was he working as a postman or a delivery man? Both sets of parent’s names were listed, taking the known information back a generation. All of the parents were dead by this date and guardians give permission for their marriage. Agnes’ guardian was Walter Prentiss, her mother’s brother and Agnes’ uncle. I have not found a relationship for Charles J. Sylvester.
Avalon Pierce was the granddaughter of Abram and Amanda Cleag. Her mother was their daughter, Sarah Idena Cleag Pierce. After her parents troubled marriage ended in divorce, Avalon was raised by her grandparents. She attended school and was literate. She signed her grandmother’s pension application because Amanda could not write.
Six months after her grandfather’s death, Avalon died of Pulmonary tuberculosis, on a Tuesday morning at home. She was about fifteen years old.
Avalon is buried next to her grandfather Abram.
In 2019 the Historical Society of Long Beach, CA, Avalon Pierce, granddaughter of Abram and Amanda Cleag, was brought to life by Tori-Ann Hampton. Above she tells her story as found in various records, newspaper articles and speculations.
Amanda’s sister Liddie helped her during her injury, hospitalization and handled the burial details. She wrote to the government to be reimbursed for the money she had spent. She did receive it.
Application for Reimbursement
State of Tennessee County of Shelby
On this 18 day of Oct 1921
Liddie Glass, age 67 years, a resident of Memphis county of
Shelby, state of Tennessee, who, being duly sworn according to law, makes the
following declaration in order to obtain reimbursement from the accrued pension
for expenses paid (or obligation incurred) in the last sickness and burial of
Amanda Cleag, who was a pensioner of the United States by certificate No.
686390 on account of the service of Abram Cleag private in Co. I 1 Reg U. S. Col
vol H. A.
That pension was last paid to May 4, 1921 Was in hospital on August, 4 not at home and couldn’t return it.
1. What was the full name of deceased pensioner? Amanda
2. In what capacity was deceased pension? Widow
3 If deceasent was pensioned as an invalid soldier or sailor
a. Was s/he ever married? yes b. How many times and to whom? Abram Cleag. Once. c. If married, did his wife survive him? Yes
4. Was there insurance? No
14. Did the deceased
pensioner leave any money, real estate or personal property? No.
18. Did pensioner leave an unendorsed pension check? No
19. What was your relation to the deceased pensioner? Sister
20. Are you married? Yes
21 What was the cause of pensioner’s death? Fracture of left
22. When did the pensioner’s last sickness begin? 7/22 – 1921
26. Where did the pensioner live during last sickness?
Collins Chapel Hospital
27. Where did the pensioner die? At the hospital
28. When did the pensioner die? August the 9, 1921
29. Where was the pensioner buried? Mount Zion Cemetery
30. Has there been paid, or will application be made for
payment to you or any other person, any part of the expenses of the pensioner’s
las sickness and burial by any State, County, or municipal corporation? No
31. State below expenses
W.S. Martin physician – not paid $112.50 Medicine none Nursing care none McCoy & Joyner Undertaker – not paid $74.00 Livery none Cemetery $12.00 Other expenses none
Total $198. 50
32. Is the above a complete list of all the expenses of the
last sickness and burial of the deceased pensioner? Yes
Sallie Bradd Fannie Scruggs Liddie (her X mark) Glass Statement of doctor Reimbursement Claimant Liddie Glass Pensioner Amanda Cleag Widow Rate $30. Last paid to June 4, 1921 at $30 Last illness commenced July 22, 1921 Date of death August 9, 1921 Accrued pension $66 Physicians bill $112.50 Undertakers bill $74.00 Total $186.00