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.
When I was growing up in Detroit, my birthday was often celebrated at my grandparent’s house because it fell on August 30, during our school vacation. My grandmother, Nanny, would make my birthday cake. When we celebrated at home, my mother made one using Nanny’s recipe.
The recipe below was written on the back of a picture in the ‘frosting’ section of my mother’s falling apart cookbook.
1 1/2 c. butter 2 c. sugar 3 c. cake flour, unsifted 4 large eggs 1 c. milk 3 t. baking powder 1/2 t. salt 1 t. lemon extract 1 t. vanilla “ 1/2 t. nutmeg
Sift dry ingredients together. Proceed as usual.
Easy Chocolate Frosting
Melt 2 or 4 sq. unsweetened chocolate and 3 Tb. butter over hot water. Measure 1 lb. sifted confec(tioner). sugar, add 1/8 tsp. salt, 7 Tb. milk, and 1 tsp. vanilla. Blend. Add hot chocolate mixture and mix well. Let stand. Beat until of right consistency to spread on cake.
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.On Saturdays I’ve combined my usual Sepia Saturday post with the letter of the day. A double challenge.
Several years ago I shared the photograph below from my grandmother’s scrapbook of my mother dancing at a formal dance. The other day I decided to see if I could find any more information in the newspapers. I was overjoyed to find two articles in two different Detroit papers with photos and mentions of my mother. Both were African American newspapers. The Tribune was published by my maternal grandmother’s first cousin, James McCall.
I am sharing the photo from the Michigan Chronicle and the original photograph from my grandmother’s album and the article from the Detroit Tribune, because it mentions what my mother was wearing.
In March 1939, my mother was 16 and a senior at Eastern High School. She graduated in January 1940, and entered Wayne State University.
Glimpses… In Detroit’s Mirror
By Sylvia Penn
The Detroit Tribune, March 18, 1939, page 4
Hello , Folk! The hour for twisting and turning our “little ole” mirror for you to catch reflections of the doings of Detroit, is at hand again. We have always heard that the weather is a safe topic of conversations at any time; so right here for a second or two, we shall discuss the weather Sunday and Monday of this week, we were tempted to think of Detroit as the “Crystal City,” instead of the Motor City for the handiwork of nature stretched before our gaze a picture of dazzling beauty with trees, houses and streets encased in ice. The sparkling beauty of it all equaled the splendor of the jewels in the King’s Crown. It was a magnificent sight, but it is all gone now, except the memory of it and in it’s stead we have warm sunlight, which reminds us that spring is just around the corner.
Yes, Folk, but there have been other scenes of beauty in Detroit other than that afforded by Dame Nature. Such was the Chesterfields ball at Wayne university last Saturday evening. The affair was as colorful as a rainbow and was distinctly an occasion for dress. The frilly crisp gowns worn by the young ladies were as beautiful and picturesque as springtime. The gowns were rampant in color, ranging from polka-dots to mulberry taffetas, sky blue satins and black and gold nets. Then there were the many lovely corsages, also orchids for two of the Chesterfieldians chose and pinned gorgeous orchids on the gowns of their company. The members of the club identified themselves by wearing green and gold ribbons in their lapel, these being Wayne’s colors. They further used the same color scheme in the. ceiling decorations. Of course, there were multi-colored balloons and a profusion of confetti. The swingy, swingy music brought forth the usual group of jitterbugs doing their number on the sideline with maybe one or two doing the “Boogey.” The Chesterfieldiana and their invited girl friends were: Bobby Douglas and Doris Graham, Doris looking very sharp in peach chiffon and corsage of sweet peas and roses, Howard Tandy and Martha Bradby, Martha very cute in black and white net, Jack Barthwell and Marjorie Cook, Marjorie being quite smart in black chiffon; Leven Weiss and Helen Nuttall, Helen very sophisticated in black taffeta striped with gold; Theodore Washington and Margaret Book, Billy Allen and Alice Tandy. Alice very ravishing in red and wearing orchids too; Tony Martin and Lorraine Porter. Louis Bray and Shirley Turner, Shirley lookin lovely in white crepe; Conklin Bray and Harriet Pate. Harriet quite charming in blue and white. Demar Solmon and Lillian Brown; John Roxvourgh and Mary L. Singleton; Robert Johnson and Veralee Fisher, Vera very stunning in her new gown of aqua-blue chiffon, embroidered with silver; Charles Diggs Jr. and Christine Smoot. …
Today I did two “G” posts, unawares. The other isG-Gardening.
My mother in the spring of 1934 standing on a box by the cherry tree in the backyard.
I’m not sure what kind of cherries these were, but here is a picture of my grandfather picking cherries the year before. If they were pie cherries, I’m sure my grandmother made pies. There was also an apple tree, a garden and chickens in their Detroit backyard.
My aunt Mary Vee was 13 years old. My grandmother Fannie was 46. My mother Doris was 11. Bonzo was five years old. It looks like they are just back from church service at Plymouth Congregational Church.
In 1934 they got their first car, a model A named “Lizzie”, which I wrote about a few weeks ago. My grandfather worked as a stock keeper at the Ford Motor Company Rouge Plant. My grandmother didn’t work outside of the home. Mary Vee attended Eastern high school and Doris attended Barber Intermediate school.
I remember a summer in the 1990s when my husband worked for the Michigan Department of Transportation. One year they were building Highway 31 from Pentwater to Ludington. The route went through some orchards which were doomed to be bulldozed. One July weekend we went and picked so many cherries! There were red and black and yellow and they were fully ripe. We went a few times. Never have we eaten so many cherries. So delicious and so sad the trees were destroyed.
My mother was born in Detroit in 1923 to Mershell and Fannie (Turner) Graham. This year marks 100 years since her birth. Below are 101 photos of her. Beneath the photo are some of the posts I have done about her life.
When I decided to write about my grandfather Mershell’s car, Lizzie, I thought it was a model T, but when I went looking at pages that tell you how to tell whether a car is a model “A” or model “T”, and what year it was made in, I found that based on the shape of the headlights, the bumper, the running board and the doors, that it was a Model “A” Tudor sedan and built in 1931. I was happy to find the note below in my grandfather’s little notebook. I remembered various stickers on the back window and thought it must have been purchased used and the note also mentions that.
Lizzie, my grandfather Poppy’s old Model A Ford, was the first car that was a regular part of my life. We didn’t have our own family car until I was eight. Lizzie was black with a running board and awning-striped shades on the windows. We pulled them down when we changed for swimming at Belle Isle.
Poppy didn’t have a garage. The back of his yard was taken up in a large vegetable and flower garden with a winding path and bird feeder, so he rented a garage from a neighbor across the alley. Was it the family with all the kids? I don’t remember. I do remember my mother telling me one of their sons mentioned to Poppy something about his pretty granddaughter and I figured she was going to say Dee Dee, my older, beautiful cousin. At the time I was skinny with glasses and hair in two braids. I was truly surprised when she said he was talking about me. Come to think of it, he was skinny with glasses too. Anyway, I don’t remember ever talking or playing with him or any of my grandparent’s neighbors. We stayed in the house or yard making up plays, building fairy castles, playing imaginary land and swinging.
Back to Lizzie. Poppy did not drive to and from work. He worked as a stock clerk at the River Rouge Ford Plant, quite a distance from home. He caught the bus. According to Google maps that trip takes over an hour now. Bus or streetcar service might have been more direct in the old days. I hope it was. The car was used on the weekends to do errands on Saturday and to go to Church on Sunday. I remember riding in Lizzie with my grandfather to go to Plymouth Church where he was a founder, a Deacon and the man who fixed the furnace and put up bulletin boards and everything between. We would run around and explore the empty church while he worked.
My sister Pearl’s memory
I remember the back window had a little shade you could pull down. I remember loving the running board because you could stand up on them and look around before climbing in. And I remember when we went with Ma and Poppy to trade it in and one of the doors flew open. I wish they’d kept it. (Note: As I remember it, the car door the door of our old gray Ford Betsy flew open as we drove into the parking lot to trade it in on a later model used car, not Lizzie.)
Car struck by M.C. (note: Michigan Central) engine Mar. 10th 1935 At 2:15 P.M. Doris in car with me. No one hurt very bad. Doris received small cut on left hand M.C. RR settled for $25.00 part cost on fixing car.
Sunday, March 10, 1935 was a cold, rainy spring day. My grandfather and my twelve year old mother, Doris were on the way home. They were crossing the railroad tracks when they were struck by a Michigan Central railway engine.
My sister Pearl remembers: The train was backing up. They were crossing the tracks headed home. Poppy didn’t see it because it was on his blind eye side. Ma saw it but didn’t want to hurt his feelings by telling him. How crazy is that?!?!?
Cousin Marilyn’s memories
My cousin Marilyn was the youngest of the cousins. Before she started school she used to spend the week at my grandparents while her parents worked. Poppy would drive her back home for the weekend. Her memories are below.
Hey cuz, yes I remember LIzzie, the dark blue car!? I was always embarrassed to be in that old car when Poppy would bring me home to Mama’s for the weekend. I was just a little girl. I remember ducking down in the seat when we would come down Calvert. Those mean kids would say “Why your Grandpa got that old car? It’s so ugly!” Or something to that effect.
These are my cousin Dee Dee’s memories of Lizzie. You can see more about Lizzie in Part 1
My cousin Dee Dee McNeil remembers Lizzie
Our grandfather called his Model T Ford “Lizzie.” I always referred to Poppy’s car as a Model T Ford, but when I looked up the photos, I think his car might have been a little later Ford Model B or Model 40. This I decided after looking at photos of the Ford Motor Company 4- cylinder engine, 2-door cars. Lizzie was all black.
Just about every Sunday morning, me, my sisters (and sometimes our two cousins, Kris and Pearl) climbed up on the running board and piled into the backseat of Poppy’s historic black Ford that rumbled down Theodore Street on the East Side of Detroit, Michigan, towards Plymouth Congregational Church. Our grandfather, who we called ‘Poppy,’ always drove, with his wife Fannie Graham sitting proudly in the passenger seat by her man’s side. Unlike the youthful looking grandmother’s of today, our soft spoken, proud grandma always looked like a grandmother. Her gray hair was always neatly braided into two braids that were bobby-pinned across the top of her head. Her blue veins shown through slender hands with long, delicate fingers and when she was upset, her lips were pursed in a straight, stubborn line across her sweet face. Every Sunday, in the summertime, (when we often stayed at our grandparent’s home) we rode in Lizzie to church and then to the cemetery to visit the graves of my mother’s two brothers who died as children. In our innocence, we thought that lovely, well-kept cemetery was our private park, as we body-rolled down the slightly sloping hillsides, arms and legs flailing past the cemetery markers.
I don’t remember Lizzie having leather seats or being fancy. The seats were of some sort of cloth, because Nanny (our grandmother) used to sew and repair the small rips and tears. She also darned Poppy’s socks, using a plastic egg and she taught me how to do the same as a young child of maybe eight or nine years old. I remember, when I was older, nearing my teen years, several hippie looking, young, white boys used to drive up next to Poppy’s old iron car and roll down their windows to shout at him.
“I’d love to buy your car. Is it for sale?”
Poppy always kept Lizzie sparkling clean and well kept. If it was a cold morning before church, he’d have to let her run for 2-3 minutes before we took off.
“She’s got to have her engine warmed up,” he’d tell me as he adjusted the ‘choke.’ Those cars had a throttle and a choke you adjusted by hand. I think that old collectible car lasted so long because of Poppy’s good care and the fact that he never took it on the freeway. He always putt-putted down the avenues at about twenty-five to thirty-miles per hour, much to the frustration of those driving behind him. Several times I saw impatient, rude, and irate drivers pull around him and call him everything but a child of God for driving the speed limit. I’d cringe, but he’d just whistle a tune, as though they were invisible and keep driving at his slow rate of speed. There was always the slightest smell of gasoline and oil in the backseat of Lizzie. Underneath the carpeted floor there were wooden floors. All four cousins could curl up in that back seat of Poppy’s old Ford and we’d sing songs or giggle, the way little girls do, over little to nothing. I remember there was a little switch on the wall inside the car that could turn on the overhead, inside light. Lizzie was a familiar ride and we felt safe and comfortable in that Ford Model “A”, until my Aunt Doris, (my mom’s sister) finally persuaded her dad to sell that car and step into the 2nd half of the twentieth century. Today, those old Fords are a hot-rodder’s dream.
The next year we see my great grandmother Jennie Allen Turner standing with her daughters, Daisy on the left and my grandmother Fannie on the right, outside of the fence surrounding my grandparent’s backyard.
And because it is Thanksgiving week here in the U.S.A., I include a clipping from 1939 of my great grandmother hosting a dinner with her daughters and her granddaughters and her son-in-law, my grandfather.
“On Harding Avenue, Mrs. Jeannie Turner bade the members of her family to dine with her. At the table were her daughters, Misses Daisy and Alice Turner; Mr. and Mrs. M.C. Graham, and her granddaughters, Misses Mary Virginia and Doris Graham.”
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
This is my ninth year of blogging the A to Z Challenge. Everyday I will share something about my family’s life during 1950. This was a year that the USA federal census was taken and the first one that I appear in. At the end of each post I will share a book from my childhood collection. Click images to enlarge.
The Graham’s in the 1950 Census I wrote this two years ago. Let’s see what I got right and what I got wrong. I over-estimated his yearly salary which was not $3,200 but $2,900. He had worked 42 weeks during the past year not the 52 I had him working. Aunt Abbie was indeed 75 years old and sharing their home.
I answered more questions than were asked because certain questions were only asked to one member of the household. I was right about the family possibly being enumerated as white instead of Negro based on their looks. And I knew that my grandfather was not a veteran. Pretty good average, I think.
In 1950, my maternal grandfather, Mershell C. Graham worked at Ford Motor Company. He was 62 years old. Up until 1949, there was on pension program for workers in the auto factories. Up until that point people worked as long as they could because they couldn’t afford to retire. In that year the UAW and Ford Motor Co. came to an agreement about retirement payments. Workers would now receive $100 a month, which included their social security payments. My grandfather retired in December 1953 when he reached 65. His Social Security payment was $85.00 so Fords would add $15 and bring it up to $100 a month. April 1, 1950 was the date the company began making deposits into the account that would fund those payments.
Two little pigs make an exciting journey across France to catch a steamer to the USA. You can see all the illustrations at this National Museum of American History Site -> Gaston and Josephine.
My grandfather Mershell C Graham was the son of Mary Jackson Graham who we saw auctioned off with her family after the death of slave holder Crawford Motley Jackson in 1860. We move forward 70 years to 1930 and see what the life of the Graham family was like during that decade. Click on any image to enlarge in another window.
The decade began with the Graham’s living in the house at 6638 Theodore where they had been for almost seven years. There were five family members – Mershell (42), Fannie (40), Mary Virginia (10), Doris(7) and Howard(almost 2). They owned their home which was valued at $8,000. They owned at least one radio. Everyone was identified as Neg(ro). Mershell and Fannie had been married ten years.
Both Mershell and Fannie had been born in Alabama, as had their parents. They were 32 and 30 when they married. Both were literate. The children were all born in Michigan. The two oldest girls attended school. Howard was too young.
Mershell was working as a stock keeper in an auto factory for wages. He had been at work the day before the census taker came to the house. He was a citizen and not a veteran. Fannie had not worked outside of the home in the past year.
There were 50 names on this census sheet. Aside from the Jordan family who lived next door to the Grahams, everyone on the page was white, a number having been born in other countries. None of the males on this census sheet had served in the armed forces. All of the school age children were attending school. Three men were unemployed. One of the married women worked outside of the home as a laundress.. There were three widows. One was 70 years old, lived with her son and did not work outside the home. One worked as a servant and one as a laundress. Both for private families. One single daughter worked as a telephone operator. One single sister-in-law worked as a “janitress” in a steel factory. All of the adults were literate. One household had spoken Polish and one German & French, before coming to the United States. Fifteen people were born in Michigan. Others were born in Canada, Ohio, Scotland, Poland, Pennsylvania, England, Missouri, Washington, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, Alabama and Switzerland.
These statistics only include the people on the enumeration page. Not all of the people on the map below were included on the same page as my family.