Oddly enough, I do not have any personal photographs of buses. I do have an ancient journal entry chronicling a very bizarre bus ride I took in Detroit down Joy Road on the Clairmount bus in 1969. I had just graduated from Wayne State in December of 1968 and I was enjoying my freedom. I was living in my own apartment and working at the Black Star Clothing Factory. My cousin Barbara was living in New York City, the East Village. at the time and I was plotting and planning a visit with her. I did make it later that summer. I turned 23 that August.
I didn’t capitalize anything in the journal so I just left it like that.
June 25, 1969
I don’t know what is going on, it isn’t good though. i was leaving friday for new york, but i don’t think so soon. i need a bit more time (for what?) i been listening to new leonard cohen record. two days over and over at first it was tired, but now i really like it, after the old revolution, i liked best the partisan song about coming out the shadows. i am so sleepy .
everybody is mad/crazy, and i really don’t understand at all. i need pearl’s youth card so that I can leave, go to NYC.
yesterday on the way to a photo show, I was on the clairmont bus on joy rd. the driver was crazy, he acted like he was taking a pregnant woman to the hospital, he was weaving the bus in and out between cars. that was bad enough – old ladies rocking, weaving and falling, when suddenly a red light backs up traffic, or just stops it. he pulls belligerently into the lane of oncoming traffic (which lucky for us was empty at the time) and raced two blocks in the wrong lane to pull and bully his way in front of some poor car when the light changed. I was cracking up. the people weren’t, just me. I couldn’t control myself laughing, mouth open etc. they probably thought I was crazy or something. so ridiculous, can’t even imagine a regular car doing that shit. I just don’t know, I really don’t. some lunatic jehovah’s witness knocked on the door to give me a bible study tract. says god’s kingdom is eminent. we should be so lucky.
Earlier this year my daughter shared this photograph of Susan Richardson Abbott and her obituary from a newspaper in 1909. I decided to see what I could learn about her in addition to the stereotypical “good old mammy” obituary. This is what I found.
SUDDEN DEATH OF OLD SERVANT—For Many Years a Faithful Servant in Family of Judge Crovatt. There will be genuine sorrow expressed by a very large number of white people when they learn of the death of “Mammy Sue,” who has been faithful servant in the family of Judge A.J. Crovatt for the past thirty years. Everybody knew “Mammy Sue”; she had been so identified with the family of “her people” as to be one of them. Born in Charleston, a slave, Susan Abbot [sic], as she was known, was brought to St. Simons Island and was the servant of the Hazzard family there. At the close of the war, Susan became a member of the family of Col. C.L. Schlatter, the father of Mrs. A.J. Crovatt. After the marriage of Miss Mary Lee Schlatter to Mr. A.J. Crovatt, “Mammy Sue” went with her young mistress and was the nurse of three children of Judge and Mrs. Crovatt. As the widow of a soldier in the Federal Army during the war, Mammy Sue was awarded a pension by the government. Though her husband fought on the Federal side, Mammy Sue staid [sic] with her “own people.” Famous as a cook, devoted to the interests of those with whom she had been so many years, the death of Mammy Sue removes another of the rare ante-bellum negroes. Her illness was of only a few hours duration; the young daughter of the house, Mary Lee Crovatt, had gone to see the old woman at ten o’clock to give her a cup of tea; Mammy did not complain of being ill, and had been about her usual duties all day yesterday. Though eighty years of age, Mammy Sue was remarkably active, and was in full control of all her faculties. At one o’clock another of the servants heard the old woman calling, and Miss Crovatt and her brother went to the room in the servant’s house. When the door was opened, Mammy Sue was unconscious and died with(in) a few minutes. Four children survive, Thomas and Joseph Abbot and Eliza Cuyler, all of whom live on St. Simons. Another son, Randolph Abbot, being in Charleston (note: no Randolph found). The body will be carried to St. Simons where it will be interred tomorrow.
FUNERAL OF MAMMY SUE HELD ON ST. SIMONS The body of Susan Abbott, or “Mammy Sue” the aged servant of Judge A.J. Crovatt, was carried to St. Simons this morning for interment. Services were held last night in the First African Baptist Church, of which church, Mammy Sue had long been a member. The Brunswick Journal; Tuesday 19 January 1909; pg. 1
Almost two hundred years ago Susan Richardson Abbot was born into slavery on the plantation of Thomas Boone in Charleston, SC. After Boone died 28 October, 1831, his wife began selling off land and people.
On 13 December, 1831, Mary Boone sold eleven people, including Susan, her mother Chloe and her brother Richard, from her husband’s estate in Charleston S. C. to William W. & Mary Hazzard.
State of South Carolina
KNOW ALL MENby these Presents, that Mary S Boone executrix of Thomas Boone for and in consideration of the sum of three thousand three hundred and eighty dollars to me in hand paid, at and before the sealing and delivery of these Presents by John Halsett & Corro B Lining trustees of Wm W Hazard & Mary Blake Hazard his wife (the receipt whereof do hereby acknowledge) have bargained and sold and by these Presents, do bargain, sell and deliver to the said Mr. Hazlett and Corro B Lining trustees aforesaid the following negro slaves – viz Sue – Chloe, Richard, Sue, Margaret, Maria, Hannah, Limas, Celia, Cyrus, Abe, Mily & Venus
TO HAVE AND TO HOLD, THE SAID above named negro slaves with the future issue and increase of the said females-unto the said John Haslett & Corro B Lining trustees aforesaid them…
In Witness thereof, have herunto set my Hand and Seal Dated at Charleston – on the twenty sixth day of February in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty three and in the fifty seventh year of the Independence of the United States of America.
Signed, sealed and delivered in the presence of J. H. Peters, South Carolina
Mary J Boone executrix of Thomas Boone by her atty H A Devaussure
Recorded 26 Feb 1833.
William Wigg Hazzard was one of fourteen large slave holders on St. Simons Island. The much prized Sea Island Cotton, was grown on their plantations. Long staple-cotton had a different culture than the cotton grown inland. It required more hand work. In 1810 Hazzard enslaved 53 people. By 1860, he enslaved 93. They were housed in 16 slave dwellings, making a little over 5 people per dwelling.
The housing was built using tabby, composed of the lime from burned oyster shells mixed with sand, water, ash, and other shells. The buildings, about 18 ft x 18 ft, consisted of one room. A fireplace at one end, was used for cooking and heat in cool weather.
Furnishings would have been minimal. Blankets were given out once every few years. Food and clothing rations were sparingly distributed. They may have been supplemented by gardening, hunting and fishing in the time not taken up by work.
Susan Richardson Abbott’s husband, Randolph Abbott, was enslaved on the plantation of Captain Charles Stephens, located next to the Hazzard’s plantations. Stevens made his money through shipping.
Randolph and Susan’s oldest child, was born in 1855, She was named Betsy. Over the next eight years five more children were born. Daughter Eliza was born in 1857. Son Bristol was born in 1858. Son Lewis was born in 1859. Son Thomas in 1861.
Susan Abbott and her husband were probably among the founders of the First African Baptist Church which was organized by enslaved people in their quarters below is the description From the church website.
The First African Baptist Church was organized at Pike’s Bluff Plantation in the year 1859. Members of this African American congregation traveled from all around the island to attend worship services every Sunday. The early pioneers worshiped in a little tabby church located near their quarters at West Point Plantation…
In December 1862, Susan Abbot’s husband, Randolph Abbott, joined the United States Colored Troops on St. Simon’s Island. At that time she was pregnant with the sixth child. Joseph, who was born in January of 1863, the same month his father was mustered into the USCT. He served for three years. On January 31, 1866 he was mustered out in Charleston, SC.
Civil War and Beyond
from the New Georgia Encyclopedia.
The outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 put a sudden end to St. Simons’s lucrative plantation era. In January of that year, Confederate troops were stationed at the south end of the island to guard the entrance to Brunswick Harbor. Slaves from Retreat Plantation, owned by Thomas Butler King, built earthworks and batteries. Plantation residents were scattered—the men joined the Confederate army and their families moved to the mainland. Cannon fire was heard on the island in December 1861, and Confederate troops retreated in February 1862, after dynamiting the lighthouse to keep its beacon from aiding Union troops. Soon thereafter, Union troops occupied the island, which was used as a camp for the formerly enslaved. By August 1862 more than 500 former slaves lived on St. Simons, including Susie King Taylor, who organized a school for freed slave children. But in November the ex-slaves were taken to Hilton Head, South Carolina, and Fernandina, Florida, leaving the island abandoned. After the Civil War the island never returned to its status as an agricultural community. The plantations lay dormant because there were no slaves to work the fields. After Union general William T. Sherman’s January 1865 Special Field Order No. 15 —a demand that former plantations be divided and distributed to former slaves—was overturned by U.S. president Andrew Johnson less than a year later, freedmen and women were forced to work as sharecroppers on the small farms that dotted the land previously occupied by the sprawling plantations.
Tulani, Ayanna and James , soon after we started homeschooling. Tulani was 11, Ayanna was 13 and James was 7 when we began. This is the story as I wrote it for a newsletter I once published. Click on the pages below to enlarge.
I was born with a head full of black hair that could be pulled up into a little top pony tail. It soon fell out leaving me practically bald with a bit of blond hair. It slowly grew in sandy and kinky like my father’s and grandfather’s rather than wavy/straight like my mother’s and grandmother’s.
From a letter written to her in-laws by my mother, written March 18, 1947.
Kris (with her 2 teeth) says any time for you all laughing at her bald head – I fear it’ll be covered all too soon with first one thing and then another.
When Pearl and I were little, my mother didn’t wash our hair often. Once every two weeks? Once a month? Not very often. She used Breck shampoo, put a little olive oil in the sink full of warm water and poured it over for the final rinse. After and between washings she’d part our hair and put “Three Flowers” grease on our scalp. I remember that sometimes, when I was in elementary school, she would roll it up on kleenix curlers and let me wear it “down” for one day after she washed it. I enjoyed the change from braids but it wasn’t really “down”.
Aunt Abbie, my maternal great grandmother’s sister, lived with my grandparents. She assured my mother that is was all right that Pearl and I didn’t have “good” hair because we had blue eyes. She assured my Aunt Mary V. it was okay her daughter’s didn’t have light hair or eyes because they had “good” hair. The sister’s shook their heads about it.
When I was in sixth grade, a classmate asked me during art class if I had ever had my hair straightened. I had not. She hadn’t either. Ironically, that afternoon after school, my sister and I went to the beauty shop on 12th street near Calvert recommended by Aunt Mary V. and had our hair straightened for the first time. We got pony tails in back and a pony tail down the side. Going to the beauty shop always gave me a headache. I remember listening to my beautician talking to the other women about how hot it was and how her husband was going to have to sleep on the couch because it was too hot to be all up in the bed with another hot, sweaty body.
Eventually I stopped going to the beauty shop, although my sister continued for years. There were the beauty shop headaches and I started taking swimming in junior high and high school. Those horrible bathing caps didn’t keep out the water and my hair soon took back it’s natural form.
My mother still straightened my hair for special occasions. She heated the comb on the stove and there were the inevitable burnings of the ear. Other times I wore my hair in what a classmate described as a “shredded wheat biscuit”. Sometimes I borrowed some of my father’s Murray’s Pomade and after brushing the stiff, yellowish stuff in, it did lay down and had small waves.
During the summers when I was about nine to thirteen, I spent a week at the mostly white Camp Talahi. Some of the girl campers would ask me “Why is your hair like that?”. At first I would say because that’s the way it grows. Eventually I just responded with “Why is your hair like that?” They would look puzzled.
My last semester of high school I didn’t take swimming and discovered that if I rolled my hair up on those hard, pink curlers I could wear it in a sort of curly side wave on the side and pull the back into a barrette for a low pony tail. Sometimes I even wore it down, somewhat like those hairdos in elementary school. Once Pearl and I braided it all up into lots and lots of little braids, which reminded us of the paintings in Egyptian tombs. We thought it was great, and I would have been way ahead of the times, however my father hated it and I never wore it like that anywhere.
While visiting Pearl at Howard for Thanksgiving of 1966, I let one of her roommates straighten my hair. My mother complimented me and thought it looked lovely. When I went down to Wayne, I met Jim in the Montieth Center. He was aghast that I had straightened my hair. I went into the restroom and washed it out in the sink and that was the last time I straightened my hair. I was 20.
At one point in our lives, Pearl and I complained to each other that we had inherited our father’s kinky hair instead of our mother’s wavy hair. We reasoned that boys were supposed to get their mother’s hair so if he had gotten his mother’s wavy hair, we would have inherited that because girls (in our theory) inherited their father’s hair. Later, when natural hair came in we were so glad we had the hair we did. We didn’t have to do anything but wash and wear to have afros.
The next summer, 1967, we had the Detroit riot/rebellion. My cousins, Janis and Greta, came to visit us for the first time from Athens, TN. They were the same age as Pearl and I. Somehow, it came up that I wanted to cut my hair for an afro. Greta volunteered to do it for me and she did. It was great! I loved it. The only scary part was going to my Grandmother Cleages for the first time afterwards. We were afraid she might say something negative or even mention it during mealtime prayers, but she didn’t. I was one of the first to wear an afro on Wayne’s campus. That fall, in Miriam’s Jeffries project student apartment, I cut several people’s hair for their first afros. I remember Kathy Gamble was sad to see her long hair fall on the floor. I cut Martha Prescod’s and can’t remember who else. I hadn’t cut anybody’s hair before, although I cut my own when it got too long.
I wore an afro until about 1988 when I decided to let my hair grow out and see what happened. I let it grow until 2004 or so when I cut it all off again and have kept it cut ever since.
Until 2014 when I decided to let it grow out. It was more trouble to trim it than it would be to grow it out and have it longer.
“Reverend and Mrs. Albert Cleage (Toddy and Doris) and their little daughter are back home again in Springfield, Mass after a three week sojourn here with their parents Dr. and Mrs. Albert and Mr. and Mrs. M.C. Graham. During their stay in Detroit, a triple christening took place at Plymouth Congregational church when their 22 month old daughter was christened, along with the five months old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Elkins, and the two children of Mr. and Mrs Henry Roberts All four children are cousins.”
I never knew that my cousin Barbara Elkins and two of her cousins were baptized on the same day that I was until I was going through the archives of the Detroit Tribune recently. It was published by my grandmother Fannie’s first cousin, James McCall and there were lots of little family mentions that were never mentioned in the white papers of the day.
We should have known that. As my sister Pearl said, it gave us a special bond, Baptism Sisters. Barbara and I did have a special bond. I didn’t see the other girls enough to develop a bond. They were Barbara’s cousins on her father’s side while we were cousins on our mother’s side.
From 1976 to 1984 I lived in Mississippi and raised some goats, children and chickens. These are four of the goats. They needed their hoofs trimmed. I could talk their language. Recently I realized that it would have been a lot less trouble to go buy a couple of gallons of milk instead of milking all those goats twice a day, buying their feed and trying to keep them confined before I gave that up and just let them wander the area, losing garden after garden as they figured out how to break in and eat it. However, it was an experience for the whole family that would not have been replicated by buying milk.
You can read more about those years in these posts:
My sister Pearl interviewed me in 2010 about my interest and findings in family history research. I talked about some of the stories I’ve blogged about – Dock Allen’s Escape, finding Eliza in the 1860 census and slave documents. I have found more information since the time of this interview – court records about the land case between the Turners, newspaper articles, and several Wills from slave holders who owned my Cleages and Turners.
It gives you a chance to hear my voice and my thoughts about how to start your research. I highly recommend being interviewed. I am enjoying listening to myself talk, for one thing. If you can’t find anyone to interview you, interview yourself! I think it makes a great addition to the legacy we are leaving for those following us.
2010 Story Corps interview with my sister Pearl asking me about my research and findings.
The first time I met Gypsies was the summer of 1964. I was 17, wearing a patterned skirt, my hair was long then, pulled back in a clip. I had on gold hoop earrings. My sister Pearl and I were walking down West Grand Blvd. to the Main Library. We passed a house like the one pictured above. Three little girls ran off the porch and began to walk down the street with us.
“Are you Gypsy?” they asked me. I wasn’t, I told them. My sister assured them that we weren’t. They weren’t talking to her, they said. Was I sure? I was sure. When we got to the first cross street, they turned and ran back to their house.
Several months later, an article came out in the Sunday Detroit Free Press Parade Magazine. There was a picture of the three little girls. It was all about being a modern Gypsy in Detroit. The man was their grandfather, identified as the head of their family’s clan.
In 1968 I was an art student at Wayne State. I had been to the Utrecht art supply store on Woodward. As I was on my way back to Campus, some women were sitting on the porch of a large house. They were wearing long skirts and of various ages.
“Want your fortune told?” One of them called out. What if it was a bad one? I thought. No, I called back and kept moving. I sometimes wonder what they would have told me was coming up if I had stopped.
In the early 1980s I was living in Mississippi. One summer afternoon, I was visiting my friend Carrie Ann, when a woman about my age came by in a pickup selling sets of hand made wooden porch furniture. She had an incomplete set at a reduced rate and I bought it. She drove them down the road to my house and said I reminded her of her cousin. She reminded me of my cousin Barbara, I told her.
No caravans of any kind were involved, but this is what I remembered when I saw the Sepia Saturday prompt for this week.
My maternal grandmother, Fannie Mae Turner Graham, was born 129 years ago on March 12, 1888, in Lowndes County, Alabama. She died on August 13, 1974 in Detroit, Michigan. You can read more about my grandmother in this post Fannie Mae Turner Part 1.
I am the same age as my grandmother was when we posed together on her back steps. Looking at the photograph below of me and my granddaughter made me think about the endless circle and the passage of time.