This is the 28th and final post in the February Photo Collage Festival and the Family History Writing Challenge. Today I will write about this photograph which appeared in the Ebony Pictorial History of Black America, Vol. III. It was taken at the Association of Black Students Symposium at Wayne State University in Detroit, February of 1968.
I remember when this photograph was taken. The photographer asked some of us to gather around Lonnie Peek and look interested. Lonnie is in the middle, wearing a striped dashiki. Back in February of 1968, nobody was selling authentic African print fabric in Detroit. We went and bought regular fabric, made our lapa wraps and head wraps with that. I made mine out of a green paisley print and the top was a thin green fabric that I folded over and sewed into a blouse without a pattern. Later, I tuned the skirt into a dress. By the next year, I was sewing garments out of African fabric at the sewing factory.
I didn’t really work with the Association of Black Students. I remember helping on some of the layouts for posters or brochures. I was using insta-type – letters on sheets that you rubbed onto the paper. It has been years and years since I have seen anyone here. Some are dead.
On the far left, in the background is Beverly Williamson. He did security duties for my father for several years. The man leaning in with glasses was Rufus Griffin who became a judge in Detroit. Brenda, with the stripped, draped skirt, later married Rufus. Next to her is Bell. He was a tailor and was framed by a drug dealer and spent time in prison. Then we have Lonnie Peek who is now a Baptist Minister. Cynthia Washington is wearing a striped lapa and polka dot blouse. She graduated from Wayne and returned to Mississippi. Behind her, you can just see the top of Homer Fox’s head. He became a lawyer and is now dead. Next to Cynthia is Nana Kwadwo Oluwale Akpan, then known as Gerald Simmons. He was a photographer, among other things. He died in Ghana several years ago. On the end is Kathy Gamble. She moved to New York and died there a few years ago. I am next to Kathy and right behind her, you can see part of my father’s head. He must have given a speech.
I don’t know who the man watching us from the balcony was.
The photograph for today was taken during the Black Arts Convention in Detroit. It was 1966. I was 19 and Jim was 21. This was LaSalle Park, which was located a few blocks from my father’s church on Linwood. I don’t remember why this session was held at the park, but I do remember walking back to church where other closing activities were held.
During that week, from Thursday through Sunday, The Black Arts Convention was held at Central United Church of Christ. There were workshops on the visual arts, theater, literature, religion and politics. There were arguments and sincere discussions. People from all over the country attended. I was going to write it all up, but I cut my finger last night while cooking dinner and typing is s-l-o-w today.
Camp Talahi was associated with the Congregational Church (later the United Church of Christ). It was located on 180 acres beside Lake Chenago, about an hour from Detroit.
My father was a minister in the United Church of Christ at the time and sometimes he was there as a counselor at the same time that my sister and I were there. In the camp photo above, my father, my sister and I were all there the same week. I recognize some of the girls in the crowd as those who skipped activties and stayed in the cabin playing cards one year. I was a part of that group. At the top of the photo you can see one of the crafts we did. It’s a circle of leather with a piece of lanyard attached. I guess I wore it. The crafts were not Camp Talahi’s strong point. Lots of braided Lanyard.
The craft workshop was on the lower level through those double doors. Upstairs was the screened porch where we took all meals. There was a large interior room with a stone fire place. The daily Bible study workshops were held here too. There was a show later in the week with all cabins contributing a skit or some talent.
Camp sessions lasted a week. We arrived on Sunday afternoon and left on the following Saturday afternoon. There were 6 cabins for girls and others for the boys. Each cabin was divided in half. You entered through a door like the one Pearl is holding open, and you were either on side A or B. There were 4 0r 5 bunks on each side, plus a cot for the counselor. I always tried to get an upper bunk by the window. The windows were screened with shutters you controlled from inside with a rope. There was no glass. The toilets and sinks were in the cement block building to the left in the above photo. I don’t remember any showers.
This is a postcard my father sent me in 1962. He had a strange sense of humor. The classes were just as bad as I thought they would be. They were usually about the Apostle Paul. Every evening there was a vespers service on a hill. We sang some camp songs. Somebody did a Bible reading. We had a quiet meditation.
We never went camping or slept outside, although the boys did. We had one cookout when our cabin went to the prepared campsite and cooked a hamburger, potatoes and carrots in foil on a fire. We went on one walk in a piney woods once and I remember the wonderful smell.
We went swimming once or twice a day. We had buddies and when the lifeguard blew the whistle, we had to hold hand up, together. We hung our towels and suits on a clothesline outside of the cabin. They hardly dried from use to use.
There were two black churches in the United Church of Christ in Michigan. Both were in Detroit. Ours was one and Plymouth was the other. Usually there were a few kids from our church. I don’t remember any from Plymouth. Sometimes there would be a lone black kid from a small town who attended a mostly white church.
The directorship of the camp rotated between the ministers in the denomination who were actively involved. Except for my father. He was never asked and was not included because he was black. As far as I know, there was no unpleasantness between my father and other staff or campers. He was quite popular with the campers. I never experienced any racism. Mainly, girls would ask “Why is your hair like that?” To which I answered, “Because that’s the way it grows”. As years passed, I asked why their hair was so straight. That just confused them.
At the end of each summer my sister, cousins, mother, aunt and grandfather, Poppy, took a trip to the Detroit Zoo.
Sometimes the four older cousins spent the night before at our grandparents. We slept on a foldout cot in Poppy’s room. We went to bed first and I was always asleep by the time Poppy came to bed. That worked fine, unless I woke up in the middle of the night. He had the loudest snore and it was impossible to get back to sleep until he turned over and stopped snoring.
My grandmother, Nanny, never went with us. As I write this, I realize there are so many things I don’t remember. I suppose our mothers drove across town with Marilyn, to meet us in the morning. Did we take two cars – my grandfather’s and my mother’s? I don’t think so. I think we all smashed into one car, three adults in the front and 5 children in the back, with Marilyn sitting on someone’s lap. Nanny probably made us a picnic lunch to take. I can’t imagine buying hot dogs and french fries with Poppy along.
Looking at the photographs I can see that Dee Dee was way ahead of the rest of us in cool. Even in 1956, when she and I both wore our plaid slacks, hers fit and look good. Mine are baggy. Luckily, it doesn’t seem to bother me. That year Marilyn is so little and unaffected.
By 1959 Dee Dee is 16. I’m amazed she still accompanied us to the zoo. It must have been a very important part of our year. I was 13 and still not at all cool. That expression on my face is one I recognize from other photos through the years, unfortunately. I would say the sun is in my eyes but it doesn’t seem to be bothering anybody else. And why am I wearing that skimpy outfit? The hats that Connie and my mother are wearing were some my mother bought for Pearl and me. White sailor hats were the rage for awhile. Unfortunately, those were the cheap version and did not look like the popular ones. I don’t think we ever wore them. If I had, maybe I wouldn’t have been squinting at the camera. Little Marilyn looks a lot more blasé in 1959. I believe she is wearing one of the little sundresses my mother made for Pearl or me when we were that age. It was yellow with lace on top.
It is probably Sunday, because my mother is still in her bathrobe. And who reads the Saturday paper so avidly? I think the bathrobe was light pink, but I’m not sure. The couch was an old one that my mother brought from Sally and Ivy’s mother when we lived on Calvert. They moved out to Southfield, near the zoo, and bought new furniture. I remember going to visit once and hearing the lions roar.
The couch was old. My mother had a slip cover made. It was blue with a blue design. I patched it once, in a fit of fix-it-up. It has been a long time since I have read a newspaper offline. I wonder what we were reading about.
There was an end table with a lamp and a brass ash tray. Both my mother and Henry smoked. The table had a fake leather top and a big drawer. One of my daughters has that table now. The lamp was white with red flowers and green leaves painted on it. There were gold lines at the top and base. The old television, in a wood cabinet ,was still working. Later it died and for awhile there was a smaller TV, that worked, sitting on top of it.
The walls were beige. When we moved in, they were covered with wall paper. As soon as she could afford it, my mother had Mrs. Bruce’s brother come and paint it a clean, beige color. There is no art work above the couch in this photograph. When I graduated from high school and began studying art at Wayne State University, my mother would tack one of my drawings up on the wall. Later on she had me frame them for her, badly. I never could cut the mats right. You can’t see the rug here but it was a faded wine colored pattern. It was wall to wall and never replaced while we lived there.
My parents, Albert B. Cleage Jr and Doris Graham, were married in Detroit on November 17, 1943. They left immediately after the ceremony for Lexington, Kentucky, where my father had accepted a call from Chandler Memorial Congregational Church. They were there only two months when he accepted an interim pastorship at the new, experimental San Francisco Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples. He served from January of 1944 through June of the same year. The captions under the photographs are taken from what my parents wrote on the back when they sent the pictures back home to their families.
Following is an excerpt from a biography of my father, about his time in San Francisco. I wish I had the box of letters I know existed from those six months.
“Cleage does not remember his work with the famous Fellowship Church of All Peoples with any fondness. The new congregation, which had about fifty members when he was there, was a contrived, artificial affair, he says. ‘An Interracial church is a monstrosity and an impossibility,’ he said. ‘The whites who came, came as sort of missionaries. They wanted to do something meaningful, but this was not really their church. The blacks regarded it as experimental too, or were brainwashed to think that it was something superior.’ He called his white counterpart, Dr. Fisk, ‘well-meaning,’ and said Fisk thought he (Fisk) was doing a great work, but had no understanding of tension and power. He felt the Lord looked in favor on this work, and any whites that joined him were headed for glory. He hated to have problems mentioned. Problems included the property left deteriorating after the Japanese were moved out, and the boilermakers’ union ‘which set up separate auxiliary units for black so they could discontinue the units after the war.’ Cleage joined in with NAACP efforts to get at these injustices. He was told he could stay at the Fellowship of All Peoples if he wanted to, and he said ‘they were nice people, but it did not seem to me it was a significant ministry.’ About Fisk, he said, ‘He talked about the glorious fellowship washed in the blood of the Lamb; I talked about hell on the alternate Sundays. He felt upset about my preaching, but he didn’t want to raise racial tension in his heaven.'”
From Hiley Ward, Prophet of the Black Nation. (Piladelphis: Pilgrim Press, 1969), p. 55.
You can see a newspaper clipping of my parents and a very short post about their time in San Francisco here Newspaper Clipping of My Parents. Soon after July 1, my parents moved to Los Angeles, where my father studied film making for a year before he was called to pastor St. John’s Congregational Church in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Minnie Averitte Reed was born in Lebanon, Kentucky in 1878. She was the second child of Buford Avritt and Anna Allen Reed and Anna’s 6th child. Anna and Buford were never married and couldn’t have been even if both were willing as Buford was white and Anna was black.
Two year old Minnie first appears in the 1880 census living with her mother and five older siblings in Lebanon Kentucky. Her mother’s parents lived next door.
By 1893 Anna Reed was in Indianapolis, Indiana. Minnie was 15. Her two older sisters had already married and moved to Berrien County, Michigan. In 1898, when Minnie was twenty years old, she married James Mullins. By 1900 they had one daughter, Helen who was a year old. Everyone in the household was identified as “B” for black. James was working as a fireman. At that time the Indianapolis Fire Department with all the black fireman operating out of the firehouse at 441 Indiana Avenue.
By 1910, there were 6 more children. James was born in 1900. Ben was born in 1901. Arthur was born in 1904. Pearl was born in 1906. The twins, Anna and Marie, were born in 1908 and Minnie was born in 1910. The family was still living in Indianapolis and James Mullins had continued working as a fireman. Everybody was identified as “Mulatto”.
By 1920 the family had moved to Detroit, Michigan. My grandmother Pearl Reed Cleage, Minnie’s younger sister, and her family lived in Detroit. Three more children had been added to the family. William was born in 1913, Harold was born in 1914 and Barbara Louise was born in 1916. James was working as a carpenter at an auto plant. Arthur was working at the Packer Auto Plant. The two oldest boys were around 20 and no longer living in the home.
In 1930 Minnie and her family had moved to Benton Harbor, Michigan where her two older sisters and their families lived. Minnie was identified as ‘white’ while the rest of the family was identified as “Indian”, specifically “Cherokee”. James was working as common laborer. Son Arthur, who works at a foundry and is “Cherokee” and his wife were living down the street as was sister Louise Reed Shoemaker. Youngest son, John was 9 years old.
You can read about the Mullins family in 1940 here 1940, Minnie and James Mullins. They were back in Detroit and only three of the sons were still at home. Minnie died in Minneapolis, Minnesota of pneumonia in 1963. She was 84 years old.
We moved to Atlanta in September of 1972. I was about 2 months pregnant. That would be a recurring description of me off and on over the next 10 years. Jim had been talking about moving south and my sister lived in Atlanta so that is where we went. Pearl found us a duplex on Cascade Road not too far from her house on Willis Mill Road.
Jim alternated between Detroit and Atlanta until just before Ife was born at the end of March, 1973. My sister helped me get a job at the Institute of the Black World (IBW). Part of the statement of purpose of IBW read: “The Institute of the Black World is a gathering of black intellectuals who are convinced that the gifts of their minds are meant to be fully used in the service of the black community. It is therefore an experiment with scholarship in the context of struggle.”
I, however, was hired to do clerical work and was not a member of the intellectual staff. I typed, organized a small library, ran off the IBW newsletter on their off-set printing press, helped with mailings and sometimes transcribed tapes. As I remember, the in-house staff was small, less than ten people. When the Watergate Hearings started, we worked around the conference table as often as possible to enable us to watch the hearings on TV. Sometimes educational meetings were called when interesting people came to town. They talked to us about the struggle where they were.
While I worked, my daughter Jilo attended the Martin Luther King Jr. Preschool. It was several blocks from IBW and had an afro-centric curriculum. Ruth, a fellow employee at IBW, drove by our house on her way to work. She stopped and picked us up each morning. From work I walked Jilo to school. After several days of crying when I dropped her off, my two year old daughter settled in and seemed to enjoy the program.
I remember the surprise baby shower the IBW staff gave me at some friends house. I thought I was going to dinner until everybody yelled “Surprise!” Three days before the birth, it felt like it was time to stop working. I mostly slept those three days and then delivered my second daughter, Ife at Holy Family Hospital, with Dr. Borders in attendance. It was a natural birth and Jim was there. All went well. Ife was a big baby and fussier than Jilo had been. She went to sleep best when Stevie Wonder was singing “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”.
Jim got a job printing at the Atlanta Voice Newspaper. I stopped working outside the homes. We got our first full sized washing machine! I sold a poster I made using a woodcut to a group recruiting black students for historically black colleges and designed a sign for the Emergency Land Fund and I got paid.
The Atlanta Voice was a weekly newspaper so Jim was often working at night putting out the paper. Ife had decided that the middle of the night was the time to get some one on one time with me. That spring there seemed to be a constant stream of severe thunderstorms moving through the area in the middle of the night. Always while Jim was at work.
I sewed most of the children’s clothes. Those I didn’t sew, I bought second hand. I started my first garden. The yard was a bit shady, but I did get some tomatoes and green beans. We got a dog who ran out into the street and got hit by a car. The across the street neighbor’s dog had puppies under the other side of the duplex neighbor’s car. Jilo played outside all the time. It was the first place we lived that had a yard. There were plenty of kids near us and they often played at our house. I formed a baby co-op with two friends and we got a little bit of free time without kids. I can remember walking down the street after dropping off Jilo and Ife but I can’t remember where I went or what I did.
We didn’t have a car. Jim drove the Atlanta Voice truck to and from work. I took the bus or walked or my sister sometimes gave me a ride. I remember walking up to the Salvation Army on the corner of Cascade and Donnelly; walking to Adams Park to take the children swimming; walking to my sister’s house on Willis Mill. Jilo would be walking and I’d push Ife in the Umbroller. The only bad part of walking was that there were no sidewalks in the neighborhood, so all walking was done on the side of the street. There was much less traffic back then and I didn’t feel like I was taking my life in my hands. There was a pasture across the street from my house in 1973, now there are condos.
My father decided to open a branch of his church in Atlanta so we saw him as he came down to prepare the way. Other family and friends passed through Atlanta on a regular basis. Looking back it’s hard to remember why we felt the need to move on but we wanted to get out of the city. In 1974 Jim got a job with the Emergency Land Fund and we moved to Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina.
When Jim received his FBI file several years ago, we found the memos below included.
ATTN INTELLIGENCE DIVN
REF JAMES EDWARD WILLIAMS AKA AKBAR LEE, NM (note: stands for Negro Male), THIS OFC DESIRE ALL AVBLE INFO AND PHOTOS IF POSSIBLE ON THE ABOVE INDIVIDUAL, WE HAVE INFO THAT THE ABOVE SUBJ IS ENRTE TO OUR CITY TO ESTABLISH A CONSULATE FOR THE REPUBLIC OF NEW AFRICA. PLS FWD ALL INFO TO LT WW HOLLEY ATLANTA PD(Note: stands for Police Department) INTELLIGENCE DIVN 165 DECATUR ST ATLANTA GA 30303.
In the spring of 1970 the Black Conscience Library was evicted from 12019 Linwood so that the League of Revolutionary Black Workers could have the space. We temporarily moved into the basement of friends, Stu and Gloria House. They had been members of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and worked for voter registration in Lowndes County, Alabama.
That summer, we had high school students working with us. One of their tasks was to sell the Malcolm X posters you can see on the wall behind me in the photo above. Sometimes on Saturdays there was an organized trip to the rifle range so people could learn to shoot. I never went due to being in the last months of pregnancy. I remember all those steps from the basement to the attic and how many times I climbed them. We had received a grant from somebody and that summer two of us got paid.
Our living quarters were in the attic. I was about seven and a half months pregnant with my first child. My bedroom was in the cedar closet up on the third floor. It was large enough for a bed and the baby’s little crib later. I remember the light from the streetlight on the trees below my window those warm summer nights. There was another bedroom towards the front of the house. Phil had that room. Phil was a former Black Panther who worked with the library. He kept playing “Bitches Brew” by Miles Davis all summer long.
There was a claw foot bathtub and a window that looked into the neighbors attic. We had globe top refrigerator and a hotplate in the hall that the two bedrooms and bathroom opened out to. I babysat the 2.5 year old when his parents were at work or school. There wasn’t a lot of library work to do aside from running off flyers and newsletters because we weren’t really open to the public. I remember lots of meetings. Meetings between the people that shared the house. Meetings between members of the library staff. Meetings about meetings.
Usually the house was full of people but the night that I went into labor, nobody was home. Jim was teaching a “Survival and Defense” class somewhere else. I don’t know where the other 5 adults and the 2 year old that lived in the house were. I waited and walked around and waited. Finally I called my doctor to say the contractions were 5 minutes apart and he said to come to the hospital. It was 10 PM. I called my mother and she came and drove me down and waited with me until Jim arrived. Baby Jilo wasn’t born until noon the next day so I could have waited a bit longer.
One night soon after I came home with Jilo and everybody had gone to bed, neither Jim or Phil were there, but the downstairs people were. A woman started to scream for help from the alley behind the house. Stu came upstairs looking for one of the rifles from the trips to the range. As I remember they had been broken down and cleaned but not put back together. He went back down and hollered out of the back door that he was going to come out there with a “30 aught 6” and shoot somebody if the woman wasn’t released. She was and she came into the house and the police were called. I learned this later because I was upstairs in the bed with my new baby girl thinking about the dangerous world and glad that Stu had been there to shout out the door.
“I was happy to hear that Jim and Chris (sic) were well. In the times when I question my own dedication to the struggle i remember them up in that loft, with the child, cooking dinner on a hot plate. It is something i can never forget and it brings me back home when i begin to trip too hard. It is a constant source of inspiration.”
We were there about 6 or 7 months before a new location was found for the library. By that time everybody was happy to get their own space again.
This is the 18th post in the February Photo Collage Festival and the Family History Writing Challenge. I am doing four posts about some of the places that I didn’t cover in the Alphabet Challenge last year. Today I am going to remember 4315 Third Avenue, Detroit, where my husband, Jim, lived for several years while I was a student.
When I met Jim in 1966, he was sharing a flat near Wayne State University’s campus with Eizo. Eizo was slightly older than we were, taught math at WSU and was an artist. He was a Japanese American who had spent part of his childhood in a concentration camp during WW2. Jim and Eizo met when they were both members of the Congress Of Racial Equality. They organized tenant strikes and demonstrations against absentee, ghetto landlords. The store front downstairs was empty. One of Jim’s friends, Cebie, an art student and friend from Missouri, lived in the basement for awhile before he moved out and into the Artist’s Workshop.
One Friday, Jim asked me to go to a party with him but first he had to go do a radio play he was working on. We went to his flat and he left me there while he went for an hour to practice. This was the first time I had been there. When the phone rang I was afraid to answer it, not only because it wasn’t my place, but because I was half sure my mother knew I was there and was calling to fuss. It actually was Jim trying to call and tell me it was going to take longer than he thought.
As I was waiting night came and his roommate, Eizo, came home and asked if I was waiting for Jim or Bernard. Bernard? I didn’t know who Bernard was. While we waited for Jim to return he showed me his drawings. I said they reminded me of Cuba. He asked if I’d been to Cuba and I had to admit I hadn’t. I had just spent my high school years reading about and dreaming about it. His drawings were of California.
That summer, I worked at the Center for Applied Science and Technology. It was several blocks from Jim’s flat. Every morning before work I went by his house and everyday after work we would meet either at the student center in Mackienzie Hall and play chess or sit around the snack bar or at the Montieth Center, an old house that served as classrooms for Montieth College and also had a mimeograph machine and a lounge area. A friend of ours and fellow member of the African American’s Action Committee was the person in charge for the summer. We published A Happenin’ using their equipment.
I remember standing at the back door watching the kids come home from the swimming pool at the rec center down the street and the winos looking through the bottles in the alley for one that still had a sip in it. And the man in the apartment across the alley practicing the trumpet, badly.
I remember the colorfully painted wall over the kitchen table and the squash left in the oven way too long. I can see the room full of television sets in the little room with the skylight, that Jim was going to repair.
On August 30 I turned twenty. That evening I was at Jim’s, he had once again invited me out to a party. There were other people there too, five or six. After awhile he told me that he had planned to give me a surprise birthday party but not enough people had come. We sat around and talked for a bit and then all went to another party.
At the beginning of September there was a trip to New York planned. Several people were driving over for something. I wanted to go but my parents said absolutely not. Jim went and the people he was riding with had car trouble and he ended up stranded there. I don’t remember how he got back but I do remember I was waiting and waiting for him to get home. I was at his flat and his friend, Cebie was there. While we were waiting, Cebie made some mashed potatoes and we ate them with olive oil instead of butter. Finally Jim called and he had gone straight to the AAAC meeting without coming home first.
In the fall of 1966 Eizo moved out and got another place where he didn’t have to be surrounded by Jim’s bizarre friends. Not including me, of course. At that point Jim moved in some of Cebie’s cousins who, he says, were Robitussin addicts. They worked in downtown hotels. After they moved in, I stopped going by. Eventually Jim resorted to drastic measures to get them to move out – he stopped paying the heating bill. By that time it was November in Detroit and cold. One night he decided to build a fire in a trash can to heat the place up. Amazingly, it didn’t burn to the ground but there was so much smoke that he coughed his way outside. He made it across the freeway to the student housing at the edge of the Jefferies projects and found refuge with a couple of student sisters. That takes us to a whole different chapter of the story that we won’t be covering here.