Northern Congregationalists went south to Montgomery, Alabama after the Civil War. First Congregational Christian Church was founded in 1872. They also supported a school nearby. My grandmother, Fannie Turner, attended both the school and the church. She met her husband, Mershell Graham, in the church.
When Mershell Graham, my grandfather, migrated north to Detroit in 1918 many of his friends, who were also members of First Congregational Church, were also leaving segregated Montgomery. In 1919 a group of nine gathered together to form Plymouth Congregational Church. They first met in member’s houses and in borrowed space until they were able to purchase their own building, a former Synagogue, in 1927. They moved in, in May 15, 1927.
Plymouth had been in the building a little over a year when this photo was taken. My grandfather, Mershell C. Graham, is standing behind his daughters, Mary V. and Doris (my mother). Their cousin, Margaret McCall, is standing between them. They are in the front row, towards the left side of center. The minister, Rev. Laviscount, is standing behind Mary V. My grandmother, Fannie, had just given birth to their youngest son, Howard, so she was not able to be there.
Mary Virginia born April 3rd 1920 at 5:10 a.m. on Saturday. Detroit Mich at 1031 St. Jean Ave., 7 #
On April 3, 1920 Mary V. Graham was born at home with Dr. Ames attending. My mother, Doris Graham Cleage did not remember him fondly when she wrote her family memories in the 1970s. “It was a very difficult delivery, labor was several days long. The doctor, whose name was Ames, was a big time black society doctor, who poured too much ether on the gauze over Mother’s face when the time for delivery came. Mother’s face was so badly burned that everyone, including the doctor, thought she would be terribly scared over at least half of it. But she worked with it and prayed over it and all traces of it went away. Mary V’s foot was turned inward. I don’t know if this was the fault of the doctor or not, but she wore a brace for years.”
Mary Virginia Graham Elkins Remembers Her childhood
What do I remember about Mom & Dad’s early years? Well, I know they used to speak about when they first came up here in 1919 after they got married and stayed out on Mack Ave (which was real country then) for awhile – then roomed with Aunt Jean and Uncle Mose (who were my godparents) at 4513 St. Jean Ave (the house is still standing) Also Dad’s (adopted) brother, Cliff and his bride Gwen, roomed there too. I (Mary V) was born at the house April 3, 1920 and Aunt Gwen had Lewis the following May, 1920.
Aunt Jean became the first colored policewoman here. Uncle Mose worked for the government. They were both very fair.
Daddy got a job at Fords and they finally moved out (to Theodore, I think) He bought that house. Uncle Cliff and Aunt Gwen bought a house also, right down the street from where they were staying. In fact, Aunt Gwen is still living and must be 90 plus and still in the same house. My cousin, Lewis, is retired from the Post Office, I think. He should because he turned 71 in May, and lives with his Mom. Never married. A confirmed batch. I also know that Daddy worked through the big depression in the 30’s and we always had something on the table, clean clothes, etc. and Mama never worked a day in her life after she married. Dad wouldn’t let her. Said no wife of his was going to work, but stay home and keep his house and raise his children. Typical in those days. They got along and I am sure Doris and I had a happy childhood.
I can remember Poppy waiting till Xmas Eve to go and get our tree. We (Doris and I) usually went with him…and bringing it home to decorate. He had a stand that he made himself. We went up to the attic to haul down boxes of decorations that had been carefully put away. Some very old. I can remember one little fat Santa that Mom always put in the window, he had a pipe in his mouth.
Doris and I shared a bedroom which had the door to the attic in it. When we were at the “believe in Santa Claus stage” we thought that once we went to sleep he would tip down the attic stairs and put our toys, etc, under said tree. I think I laid awake waiting for the old boy to show up. Of course I never saw him ’cause I went to sleep, but the stuff was always under the tree. Mom was always busy in the kitchen getting stuff together for Xmas dinner and the house would be full of wonderful odors. If Xmas fell on a Sunday, we would go to church. And we used to have lots of snow.
Although we came up during the depression, we always had something to eat and something under the ole tree even if it wasn’t what we asked for. It was a tradition that Xmas dinner was at our house and Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma Turner’s. Daddy cooked the ole turkey and made the most delicious stuffing. He could cook. Mom learned from him. She couldn’t boil water when they got married. Dad taught her cause he had worked in restaurants as a young man.
Reprinted from family newsletter – Ruff Draft 1990s.
Howard Alexander Graham was my mother’s youngest brother. He was named after my grandmother Fannie’s father, Howard Turner. Howard was born September 7, 1928, in the year following his older brother Mershell’s death by trauma after being run over by a truck on the way back to school. My grandparents felt that Howard had been sent to fill the space left by Mershell. Unfortunately he died of Scarlet Fever, exacerbated by Diabetes in 1932.
A babyHoward A(lexander) Grahamwas born toMershell C. and Fannie Turner Graham – Woman’s Hospital.
On the7thday ofSeptember 1928at 5:10 o’clock P.M. Address6638 Theodore Street. Autograph of MotherFannie T. Graham Autograph of FatherMershell C. Graham Autograph of DoctorA.L. Turner M.D. Autograph of NurseAunt Abbie Allen Autograph of othersAunt Jean Walker presented this book to him.
Baby’s First Photograph
“Feb. 4, 1929 Dad snapped baby and me thru the dining room sun window not very good – sorry as now he has whooping cough? Weathers been too bad to take him out to have pictures made…“
From my Grandmother Fannie’s Bible pages of family records.
20 months old – On May 28th 1929 – Howard was ready for bed – (Dad’s working nights) Mary Virginia and Doris kneeling to say prayers – he said “Wait dirls” – “britches coming off” ie. (Diapers) – Never soils or wets bed after 1 year old. A most remarkable baby.
Our baby Howard was taken ill Nov 17th 1931 – Dr. Turner came and pronounced it Diabetes… cured — Jan 1932…
On Feb 20 1932, he developed Scarlet Fever – was sent to Herman Kiefer Hospital on account of his condition, died March 4th 1932 and was buried -sat March 5,
Private Funeral at Memorial Park Cemetery. 3 1/2 years old — born 9/7/28
Our loss is truest gai…. God fills the pla(ce) ..by our 2 bo(ys)…
Mershell Cunningham Graham Jr was born at 7:45 pm on June 10 in 1921, a Friday, He was the first son and second child of Mershell and Fannie (Turner) Graham. He was delivered at Dunbar Hospital by Dr. Turner. Mershell was a big baby, weighing 8 1/2 pounds. He joined older sister, 14 month old Mary Virginia. Twenty months later his younger sister, my mother Doris, was born.
Mershell was an active boy, falling down the clothes chute and breaking a window during a game of “who can hit their head against the window the hardest” with his younger sister, Doris. In family photographs, he shows no fear of the ferocious puppy or the family chickens.
On November 1, 1927, he was hit by a truck on his way back to school after lunch. He died just after midnight on November 2. My sister, cousins and I grew up with warnings to be careful crossing the street and to remember what happened to Mershell.
My mother wrote on the page of practice writing above “Mother teaching him to write his name.”
Louis Jacob Cleage was the third of Albert and Pearl Cleage’s seven children. He was born in Kalamazoo Michigan in 1913 before the family moved to Detroit. During the 1920s Louis went from age 7 to age 17. He attended Wingert Elementary school and Northwestern High School. Later he went on to Medical School and went into practice with his father.
Louis loved to tinker with things and build contraptions, some of which were used at the fairs they put on in the backyard. At one time he wanted to be an engineer but that was a difficult profession for a black man in those days and so he became a doctor.
In the book “Prophet of the Black Nation” (published byPilgrim Press, 1969) a biography of my father Albert B. Cleage, by Hiley Ward, wrote on page 77:
Louis-now the M.D. – could write short papers. Louis just put it down, but you can’t grade this son (note: she was talking about Albert) by his younger brother’s method.“
Mrs. Cleage, the 81 year old matriarch, watched me closely as I wrote down her words. “I feel sorry for parents raising colored children,” she said, “for so many don’t have the fight like I do.” Perhaps I grinned a little at this point, in admiration of the energy of this tremendous lady still full of the old vinegar for her sons. “You smile, but you don’t know,” she said. “You have to do something in a country like the United States.”
She did the same with all her youngsters. “Louis was brokenhearted when he got a C in chemistry. So I went to his counselor.’You come with me,’ I told him. ‘I’m taking him out of that class. I can’t have a child ruined by a man who hates colored people.’ I took him to another class, and the new teacher was amazed – he was an A student all along.”
On page 48 we read old family friend Oscar Hand describe “In the backyard we used to have a carnival, and all the Cleage brothers took part in it. Dr. (Louis) Cleage had a penny machine then; you paid to see how much shock you could take when you held on to a certain part of the car.”
Three Lads Attack Detroit Youngster in Alley and Endeavor to Kill Him
Special Dispatch to the Enquirer
Detroit, Mich., Aug 16. – The police are investigating a report made by a boy , who is recovering from serious burns in Receiving hospital, that he was attacked by three older boys in an alley, doused with kerosene and set afire.
The boy is Joseph McAdoo, 10 years old. He did not give the names of the three who he said attacked him, or tell the cause of the attack. He said however, that two of the boys held him while a third poured kerosene on his face and ignited it with a match. The alley is behind his home.
Joseph was seen running with his head on fire toward his home, and a neighbor called Dr. Albert B. Cleage, after extinguishing the flames.
The boy will recover, although his face, head, neck, shoulders and one hand were injured painfully.
It was first feared Joseph might lose the use of his eyes.
Joseph told detectives of Scotten Station who were assigned to the case today that he was looking for wooden boxes in the alley when the attack took place. He gave the officers a description of the three.
BOY, 10 BURNED, ACCUSES OTHERS
Police Doubt Story Oil Was Poured on Victim.
Receiving hospital physicians Thursday were skeptical regarding the story told by 10-year-old Joseph McAdoo, 5424 McKinley avenue, suffering burns about the neck and shoulders, who, after being brought to the hospital, Tuesday, said that three boys whom he met in an alley in the rear of his home drenched his clothing with kerosene and set it afire.
Police of Vinewood station said Thursday that no investigation of the boys story is being made.
McAdoo, a Negro lad gave questioners at the hospital a description of the alleged assailants but furnished no details by which they could be located in the neighborhood of his home.
Mrs. Lucy McAdoo, the boy’s mother, was away from home at the time her son suffered the burns. A neighbor summoned a doctor, who called an ambulance and had the boy removed to Receiving hospital.
Joseph Youles McAdoo was the oldest of nine children. In the 1920 census (three years before this incident) he was seven years old and attended school. There were three younger children ages five, almost two and 3 months . The family lived in a rented house in Hamtramck, Wayne County, Michigan, a small city surrounded by Detroit. Joseph’s father worked as a laborer in a can factory. His mother did not work outside of the home in 1920. The baby of three months died six months later of pneumonia. There were eventually nine children in the family.
Joseph had two years of high school before he began to work for a grocer. He eventually became a butcher. Over the years he was married and divorced several times. There were two step children.
On his WWII draft card, he was described as 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighing 140 pounds, with a dark complexion, brown eyes and black hair. His only feature that they mentioned was “high cheek bones.”There was no mention of any scars from the burns in his childhood.
On October 18, 1987 Joseh MacAdoo died in Detroit, Michigan. His death certificate was not available online so I do not know what he died of. He was 75 years old.
My grandmother Fannie’s mother Jennie Virginia Allen Turner and her two other daughters were still in Montgomery, Alabama when the census was taken on January 19, 1920. My great grandmother Jennie was living in the same house she had lived in during the 1910 census. She owned it free of mortgage. All three were listed as mu(latto) and spoke English.
Jennie was 52 years old. She had been born in Alabama and the census said her father was born in South Carolina, although other records say Georgia. Her mother was born in Alabama.
She worked on her own account as a seamstress from her home. The oldest daughter, Daisy, was 25 and occupation is listed as none, while younger daughter Alice, was 11 and listed as both attending school and working as a clerk in a grocery store. Actually, Daisy was working as a clerk in her uncle Victor Tulanes store. Alice just attended school.
All of their neighbors on the page were listed as B(lack). Thirteen of them rented their houses while three owned their homes. The school age children in these families all attended school, except for one 16 year old who worked as a laundress with her mother.
Some of the married women worked outside of the home and some did not. The single women worked. They held jobs as cooks, laundresses, elevator operators, house servants. With one seamstress and one clerk.
The men worked as porters, carpenters, one doctors keeper, a butler, laborers, a chauffeur, a fireman, a minister, a driver, and a proprietor of a retail store. Thirteen rented and three owned their homes free and clear.
When her grandchildren were born in 1920 and in 1921, Jennie Turner and her daughters visited Fannie in Detroit. In 1922 when Fannie and Mershell were waiting for the birth of their third child, my mother Doris, Jennie, Daisy and Alice moved to Detroit. The two households bought a house together and eventually my great grandmother and her younger daughters bought another house further out on the East side of Detroit.
Henry Wadsworth Cleage was born March 22, 1916, six months after his family moved from Kalamazoo, Michigan to Detroit, Michigan. My poor grandmother! She seems to have always been pregnant when the family moved! Henry was born at home on 1355 24th Street, the 3rd of the 7 children of Dr. Albert B. Cleage Sr and his wife Pearl Reed Cleage.
Between January and June of 1920, when Henry was 5 years old, the family moved 3 miles north to a large brick house at 6429 Scotten Ave. My grandmother was pregnant with Barbara, her 5th child and first daughter, who was born in the new house. I remember my aunt Gladys telling me that all the girls were born in that house on Scotten, which you will get to see when we reach “S”.
Henry and his siblings attended Wingert Elementary school, a few blocks from the house. He built forts in the backyard with his brothers and neighborhood friends and told of riding his bike out Tireman to the country where they built campfires and roasted potatoes. His paternal grandmother Celia Rice Cleage Sherman stayed with the family during that time. Henry was her favorite and she sometimes slipped him a nickle.
He attended McMichael Junior High School and then Northwestern High School. While at Northwestern Henry played in the school orchestra and the All City Orchestra. He played school baseball and was on the 12-A dues committee.
Here is another memory from the December 1990 Ruff Draft, a family newsletter we put out for 5 years. My daughter Ayanna interviewed my Uncle Henry and wrote this from the interview.
Henry Cleage remembers when his Aunt Gertrude won a nice new shiny bike. He just knew she would give it to him for Christmas. On Christmas Eve he was sitting in the living room with his father after the younger kids had gone to bed. His father said, “Henry, go over to your Aunt’s and get that bike … for Hugh.” Henry thought he would never enjoy Christmas again, but that, after seeing Hugh so happy with the bike, he decided it was all worth it. Even so, he said that Christmas was never the same for him. It had lost some of the magic.
Gladys Helen Cleage, the sixth of the seven children of Albert B. and Pearl (Reed) Cleage, was born on September 29, 1922 at home on Scotten. Gladys attended Wingert Elementary School with her siblings when she turned six in 1928. She was eight years old when the decade ended.
My Aunt Gladys and I used to walk a mile in the evenings when we both lived in Idlewild in the 1980s. She told me that one year she had been sick so much that her father decided she would stay home the following school year. She was looking forward to it, but over the summer her health improved and she had to go to school after all.
Gladys also told me that she liked to play with dolls but neither of her sisters really cared for dolls so she would have to beg them to play, which happened rarely.
I looked for the house my grandparents lived in in 1920 on the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, to no avail. I couldn’t even find the block. However, I do have the photos above which were taken at the house so at least we can see the backyard and their housemates.
Mershell Graham and Fannie Turner married on June 15, 1919. They left that same evening for Detroit where they boarded with friends from Montgomery, Moses and Jean Walker. Moses wasn’t related to my grandparents, but he was the brother of one of Fannie’s cousin’s wife, Margaret Walker McCall.
The Household of Moses and Jean Walker in 1920
Everybody in the household was wrongly labeled as “white”. They were all African American. Moses and Jean Walker, were old friends of my grandparents from Montgomery, Alabama. There were three family members and four boarders in the house.
Moses and Jeanette Walker owned their home free of mortgage. Moses was 38 years old and born in Alabama, as were his parents. He was literate, and had, in fact, attended business college. In 1920 he was employed by the US government as a Customs Inspector.
His wife Jeanette, was 38 and born in Tennessee, as were both of her parents. She was literate and not employed outside of the home in 1920.
Moses and Jeanette’s daughter Mignon Walker was born in Tennessee in 1909. She was 10 years old and was attending school.
My grandfather, Mershell Graham was 30 years old he and my grandmother, Fannie (Turner) Graham were both born in Alabama as were their parents. They had married the year before and Fannie was about seven months pregnant with their first child, Mary Virginia Graham. Both were literate. Mershell worked in an Auto plant as an inspector.
Harrold Gumble was 23 years old. He was born in Louisiana as were his parents. He was single and worked as a labor boss in a foundry. He was literate. Several years later he returned to New Orleans, married and raised three children there.
Mrs. Emma Davis Topp roomed with Moses and Jean Walker after her husband died in 1912. She was born in Mississippi and attended school through the 8th grade. She was a dressmaker.
All of their neighbors were listed as white. Most of them were immigrants or children of immigrants. Some worked in auto plants, there were two carpenters and several auto mechanics. All of the school age children, except one fifteen year old, attended school. None of the married women worked outside of the home. There were several unmarried women who worked in offices. Emma Topp was a dressmaker and there was a widow who kept a boarding house.