My paternal grandmother, Pearl Reed Cleage was born 135 years ago in Lebanon, Kentucky, the youngest of Annie Reed’s 8 children. She married Dr. Albert B. Cleage in Indianapolis, IN in 1910 and they had seven amazing children, including my father, who they raised in Detroit, MI.
She was a small woman who looked sweet as pie and had a backbone of steel. She didn’t begin to run down until she broke her hip in her 80s. In 1982, my grandmother Pearl died of congestive heart failure in Idlewild, Michigan.
My Great Great Grandfather, Frank Cleage, was born around 1816 into slavery in North Carolina. By 1834, Frank was enslaved on the plantation of Samuel Cleage in McMinn County, TN. Samuel Cleage and his traveling group of family and slaves passed through North Carolina moving from Virginia to Tennessee in the 1820s. Perhaps he picked up Frank as payment for one of the fine brick houses he sold along the way. After Samuel’s death, Frank went to his son, Alexander Cleage, as part of the estate. The photographs of the slave owners came from my cousin. I do not know their original source. I do not have a picture of Frank Cleage and have no stories about him. I decided to use a photograph of my Grandfather Albert B. Cleage Sr and his siblings – the first generation of black Cleages to be born free, next to some of the bricks from a Cleage building, built during savery, in McMinn County as the header for this story.
The earliest mention I have of Frank is in a work agreement between Samuel Cleage and his overseer in – “Article of Agreement – 1834“. It includes the paragraph below which mentions Frank. Click on any of the images below to enlarge. Click on links to see full document.
“… to keep the hands his Cleage’s negroes (sic) employed and make them work as would be right to correct them when they deserve but not to be cruel or abuse them but make them do their duty and not suffer them to run about from the farm at nights. The hands or negroes are Bill, Henry, Joe, Frank, Lea, Fannie, two little boys and Peter. Bill is not to be a hand until his master Cleage directs as he is stiller and is to remain in the still house which Cleage carrys (sic) on stilling. …”
My Great Great Grandmother Juda is first mentioned in the Will of Jemima Hurst Cleage’s father, Elijah Hurst. He gave her 4 slaves, including Juda. Alexander Cleage and Jemima Hurst married November 22, 1832. Juda and Jemima would both have been about 19 years old. Although I have found no record proof at this time, I believe that Juda and the other slaves were part of Jemima’s dowery.
“Dec. 2, 1844
… 7th I will and bequeath to my daughter Jemima Cleage and her heirs forever the four negroes (sic) she has had possession of Big Anny, Judi, Jane, and Matilda together with all the other property I have given her …”
Frank is mentioned again in the 1852 Bill of Sale after the death of Samuel Cleage and the division of his slaves and property between his children and wife. David Cleage, Walter Nutter and Elizabeth Cleage Nutter sold Frank to their brother, Alexander Cleage.
“Know all men by these presents that one David Cleage and Walter Nutter and his wife Elizaeth H. Nutter, have this day bargained and sold to Alexander Cleage and his heirs and assigns forever, Joe forty four years of age, Tom Eighteen, Lynd eleven, Frank thirty nine, Phillip forty, Lewis twenty six, Sam two, Martha twenty one, Lea thirty four, Julian forty three, Patey five.
For five thousand two hundred and fifty dollars being his distribution share out of the proceeds of the slaves of Samuel Cleage deceased, We warrant said negroes (sic) to be slaves for life and that we as the heirs, at law of Samuel Cleage have a right to convey them.
Given under our hands and seals this 20th day of March 1852.”
In 1860, Alexander Cleage wrote his Will. He leaves to his wife, Jemima Hurst Cleage, 13 slaves. Frank and his wife Juda and 5 of their children are in that group. Because he didn’t die until 1875, all of them were free before the will was executed.
“Second; I give and devise to my beloved wife Jemima Cleage for and during her natural life the following described negro slaves – to wit: Amy and her child a boy called Jeff, Juda and her five children to wit: Charles, Angelen, Lewis, Laura and Frank, Jane and her child Adaline and a negro man called Tom, they all being negroes that came to my said wife from her father and from her father’s estae and the increase of each negroes as she received from her father and from his estate. Also I give and devise to my wife Jemima Cleage for and during her natural life my home farm upon which I now live containing about eleven hundred and twenty five acres in addition to the negros above given to my wife for life. I also give and bequeath to her for her natural life a negro man called Frank the husband of Juda and another negro man called Tom known as Tom Lane, I also give to my said wife all my household and kitchen furniture, farming tools and farming implements, all of my livestock and provisions which may be on hand …”
The Commercial has a special dispatch from Nashville, which says:
“The Tennessee State Convention have unanimously passed a resolution declaring slavery forever abolished, and prohibiting it throughout the State.
The convention also pasted a resolution prohibiting the Legislature from recognizing property in man, and forbidding it from requiring compensation to be made to the owners of slaves.”
In 1866, soon after the end of the Civil War, Frank and Judy Cleage were legally married in Athens, TN.
In the 1870 Census Frank was living with his wife, Juda and six children, including my great grandfather, in Athens, Tennessee. I had been looking for my grandfather’s father, Lewis Cleage and found this census record on Ancestry.com. Although this Lewis was the right age, and there were no other Lewis Cleages anywhere in the right age range, I had no name for his father and relationships are not specified in the 1870 census. He could have been living with his uncle and aunt, I didn’t know.
Frank, age 54, worked as a laborer, was born in N. Carolina and nobody in the household could read or write. Juda, age 56, was keeping house. Their personal estate was worth $300. Juda and all the children were born in Tennessee. The children were Adaline 14, Lewis 16, Laura 11, Phillip 9 and Andy 7. There was no Charles or Frank mentioned, although there was a Charles Cleage living elsewhere in Athens, TN, I don’t know for sure if he was the Charles mentioned as one of Juda’s children in Alexander’s Will. Aside from Lewis Cleage, I cannot find family members again after this census. Did they change their names? Die in one of the several epidemics of cholara and yellow fever that swept the county during the 1870s? Believe me, I’ve tried every permutation of “Cleage” and searched page by page the McMinn County 1880 Census and the one for Louden county, where I find Lewis and Celia and their children living in 1880.
After searching a variety of spellings of Cleage, I was able to track Lewis/Louis Cleage from job to job and location to location up through the 1910 Census. I could find no death certificate for him. I finally found him living at the same address as his daughter, Josie Cleage and her family in Indianapolis, IN in 1918, while researching at the Indianapolis Library where I could check each Directory, year by year, on microfich. Frank Cleage’s name appears on my great grandfather, Louis Cleage’s death certificate. Jacob Cleage, my grandfather’s older brother was the informant. He did not remember Louis’ mother Juda’s name or where his grandparents were born. This, along with the Will of Alexander Cleage of 1860, documented the names of my Great Great Grandparents, Frank and Juda Cleage.
I was quite surprised to find this news item awhile ago while searching for information about Jacob Cleage. It would have been interesting to find that my grandfather and his brother were involved in a knife fight, however there are several things in this clipping I know to be untrue.
R.C. Cleage is unknown to me. Jacob was my grandfather’s older brother’s name. My grandfather, A. B. Cleage, was the only medical student name of Cleage in Indianapolis during that time. He did work on the excursion boats out of Detroit during the summer of 1909. However, he graduated in June of 1910 and did not work on the boats in 1910.
My grandfather was married with a baby (my father) in September 1911. My grandmother did receive several postcards from Detroit dated July, 1911. I could find no record of legal happenings and no further news articles about it.
July 12, 1911 (Mrs. Pearl Cleage) Just got back to Detroit, Hope you all are well and happy. Will feel better when I hear from you. Albert.
7/12/11 to Master A. B. Cleage Jr. Did not forget you were 4 weeks old yesterday and tomorrow you will be 1 month. My, but you are getting old fast. Papa
7/21/11 to Mrs. Pearl Cleage Dear Pearl – I am lonesome for you and baby. Want to see you all awful bad. Hope you are well and happy. Albert
Today I am previewing my paternal grandparent’s, Albert and Pearl Cleage’s, household in 1950.
In 1950 the Cleage household consisted of Albert B. Cleage, his wife Pearl and five of their seven children. Albert was a Physician. He was 66 years old and had retired from his medical practice, my Aunt Gladys remembers. He was born in Tennessee and both of his parents were born in the United States. He had completed over 5 years of college. He and his wife had been married for 40 years. This was the only marriage for both.
Pearl D. Cleage was 64 years old. She had given birth to seven children. She was born in Kentucky and had completed 12 years of school. She kept house and had not worked or sought work outside of the home during the past year. Her parents were born in the US.
Louis Cleage, their son, was 36 years old and also a physician in a private practice. He had completed over 5 years of college and never been married. He worked 52 weeks. Henry Cleage, a son, was 34 years old. He had worked 52 weeks as an attorney in private practice. He had been married once and divorced about 6 years. Hugh Cleage, a son was 32 years old. He had never been married. He worked 52 weeks as a postal worker at the US post office. Not sure of his salary yet. He had completed 2 years of college. None of them had been in the military.
Barbara Cleage, a daughter, was 30 years old. She had worked the previous year as receptionist her brother’s doctor’s office. She had never been married and had no children. She had completed a year of college. Anna Cleage was the youngest daughter at 26 years old. She had completed over 5 years of college and had worked the previous year as a pharmacist in hr brother’s doctor’s office. She had never been married and had no children. All of the children were born in Michigan. Everybody in the household was identified as Neg(ro).
By 1950 the Cleages had moved from their house on Scotten Avenue to 2270 Atkinson. This three story brick home with full basement was built in 1919. Because it was bought only 2 years before, in 1948, I believe there was a mortgage.
There were two full and two partial bathrooms. There were four bedrooms on the second floor and two in the attic. On the first floor there was a kitchen; a breakfast room; a dining room; a living room; a library and a sun room, adding another six rooms and making twelve rooms in total.
The house was heated by steam heat, with radiators in every room. The house was fully electrified, had hot and cold running water and indoor plumbing. There were two bathtubs and 4 flush toilets in the various bathrooms. In the kitchen there was an electric refrigerator. The stove was gas. The sinks all had hot and cold running water. There was a radio and probably a television. A friend who lived across the street from my grandparents says that his parents bought their house for $15,000 in 1952. My cousin Jan found papers about 2270 Atkinson. When my grandparents bought it early in 1949, the cost was $12,600.
The other day I was thinking about when the next census would released – 2022. I enjoyed finding my family and placing them in context in the 1940 Census. I thought that I know much of the information that would be asked on the 1950 Census. Why wait? I Googled a blank form for the 1950 Census. This is the first of a series based on all of the unpublished censuses – 1950, 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2010. I was there!
The 1950 Census is the first one in which I make an appearance. I was three years old. We lived at 643 Union Street in Springfield, Massachusetts. This was the parsonage/ community house located next to the church.
My father, Albert B. Cleage, was the “head” of the household. He was 38 years old and had worked for 52 weeks as the pastor of St. John’s Congregational Church. I do not know how much he earned the previous year, but I’m sure it was on the low side of the $2,992 average wage. He was born in Indiana and both of his parents were born in the United States. He had completed at least 1 year of post degree college work.
My mother, Doris G. Cleage, was my father’s wife. She was 27 years old and was born in Michigan. Both of her parents were also born in the U.S.A. She had completed four years of college and had not worked outside of the home the previous year. She had given birth to two children, both of them still alive. Three year old Kristin and one year old Pearl had both been born in Massachusetts. My parents had been married 6 years. Everybody in the house was identified as “Neg(ro)”. My mother took education classes at Springfield College in 1950 but I’m not sure if it was before or after April, when the census was taken.
Some things that I know about my family at that time that aren’t listed include that we did not own a car and that my father hoped to eventually find a church in Detroit so they could move back home. This happened the following year, 1951.
Anna Cecelia Cleage was born on January 29, 1925. The youngest of the seven children of Albert and Pearl Cleage, she was named after her paternal grandmother, Anna Celia Rice Cleage Sherman. Anna was born at home in the house on Scotten, as were all the Cleage girls,.
Trouble in Detroit the year that Anna was born
By 1925 Detroit’s total population was growing faster than any other Metropolitan area in the United States, the black population was over 82,000. Housing segregation was widespread, although there were neighborhoods such as the East Side neighborhood where the Grahams lived that black and white lived together without friction. Unfortunately that was not the story citywide as people began to try and move out of the designated black areas into the other neighborhoods. Families moving into homes they had purchased were met by violent mobs that numbered from the hundreds into the thousands. This happened in 1925 during April, June, twice in July and in September.
Ossian Sweet was physician in Detroit. He is most notable for his self-defense in 1925 of his newly purchased home in a white neighborhood against a mob attempting to force him out of the neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan, and the subsequent acquittal by an all-white jury of murder charges against him, his family, and friends who helped defend his home, in what came to be known as the Sweet Trials.In the years after the trial in Detroit, his daughter Iva, wife Gladys, and brother Henry all died of tuberculosis. Ossian Sweet himself eventually committed suicide
What better “X” word than “X-ray”? I googled X-ray and 1920 and found the following video about x-rays being used in shoe stores at that time. They show a shoe that they said cramps the toes. I found a similar pair of shoes on my Aunt Ola Cleage in the photo above.
Three of my grandmother Pearl Reed Cleage’s sisters lived in Benton Harbor with their families. My grandmother lived in Detroit. This situation called for regular visits between Detroit and Benton Harbor, Michigan.
My uncle Henry shared some of his memories of Mr. Mullins in the 1990s. “Mullins was always referred to that way. He was a very stern, hardy type. Admired the Irish. Had the long Irish upper lip himself. A very ‘Indian’ looking fellow. They lived in Benton Harbor and later moved to Detroit.
‘Sir Walter Lipton’, that’s the only kind of tea he’d drink. Rather, whatever kind he drank was that. He’d be talking about only drinking ‘Sir Walter Lipton’, and when he finished, Minnie would tell him, “Oh, Mullin, hush up! You know that’s Salada Tea.” When he moved to Detroit with his family the last time they figured he was 90 something years old. He died one day walking from Tireman all the way downtown. I think he just fell out. Like the old one horse shay, he just give out.“
Henry continued, “Aunt Minnie would talk a lot of trash. She said he’d sit down with a bottle of wine and eat all the food, talking a lot of trash about he was a working man, he needed his strength and the rest of them were all starving to death. All that was Aunt Minnie’s talk. We never heard his side of it. They lied on him and he never defended himself. They never made fun of him because he’d a beat everybody’s brains out. He never found it necessary to say anything. I think Aunt Minnie embellished the truth because I know we went there and tore up his lawn, his pride and joy, and he didn’t say anything much. He had a grape arbor. We (Me, Hugh, Bill and Harold), had a tent out there. We’d get to wrestling and tear up the tent and the grapes and he didn’t say anything. Probably crippled Bill and Harold after we left because they should have known better, we were just kids.”
I found quite a number of short news items mentioning the family trips. They were not nearly as entertaining as Henry’s stories.
Dr. and Mrs. A. B. Cleage Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Cleage, Henry Cleage and Miss Helen Mullins, of Detroit, Miss Virginia Lane and Mrs. Josie Cleage of Indianapolis, Ind. and Clarence Reed of Chicago, who have been guest of Mrs. Minnie Mullins, of Broadway, have returned home. The News-Palladium (Benton Harbor, Michigan) – 13 Jul 1923, Fri – Page 4
It sounds like they had a real family party.
Dr. and Mrs. A.B. Cleage – my grandparents Mrs. Jacob Cleage, wife of my grandfather’s brother Jacob. Henry Cleage – my grandfather’s brother. Miss Helen Mullins – my grandmother’s sister Minnie’s oldest daughter. Miss Virginia Lane – not a family member. Clarence Reed – my grandmother’s brother. Mrs. Jossie Cleage – my grandfather’s sister who married a Cleage from another branch. Mrs. Minnie Mullins – my grandmother’s sister
Mrs. Minnie Mullins and small son, John of Broadway, have gone to Detroit to visit the former’s sister, Ms. A. B. Cleage, who is ill. The News-Palladium (Benton Harbor, Michigan) – 14 Jan 1925, Wed – Page 4
Dr. A. B. Cleage and family, of Detroit, have returned home following a week’s visit with Mr. and Mrs. James Mullins, of Broadway. The News-Palladium (Benton Harbor, Michigan) – 6 Sep 1927, Tue – Page 4
Dr. Albert B. Cleage and family of Detroit, have returned home after a weeks visit with Mr. and Mrs. James Mullins on Broadway. The News-Palladium (Benton Harbor, Michigan) – 30 Aug 1928, Thu – Page 4
The Cleage family moved from 24th street to 6429 Scotten Ave. in 1920, between January and July 10. I visited this house once when I was about 22 months old. My parents and I traveled by train to Detroit for a visit. At that time my father was pastor of St. John’s Congregational Church in Springfield, Massachusetts. I remember nothing about that visit, unfortunately. I never asked my father or my aunts and uncles to describe the house for me. Luckily someone took a front and side view of the house and there were some photographs taken inside the house, not necessarily in the 1920s.
In 1930 the house was worth $10,500, according to the census. By 1940, it was only worth $5,000. Perhaps because they were just coming out of the depression in 1940? It was a large brick house and I’m sure they filled it up with seven children, two parents and a couple of dogs. I think that the boy’s rooms were in the attic. I will share some photographs of the house over the years. They lived there until 1948 when they moved to Atkinson Street.