Category Archives: Grahams

Fannie Turner Animated

fannie turner portrait 2 1919-0-Animated

This photograph was taken in Montgomery, Alabama, during my grandparent’s engagement in 1919. I animated it using My Heritage, Deep Nostalgia.

My maternal grandmother, Fannie Mae Turner Graham, was born 133 years ago today. She was born in 1888 in Lowndes County Alabama, the oldest child of Howard and Jennie (Allen) Turner. Here is something my mother wrote about her in about 1980.

Somebody’s Daughter My Mother

By Doris Graham Cleage

            Yes, I’ll tell you, I am somebody’s daughter.  My mother was really SOMEBODY.

            She was the first child of my (who else?) grandmother who was one of seven children born to a woman freed from slavery at seventeen and a free man.  The woman had been trained as a seamstress in the “Big House” and she taught every one of her five daughters to sew.  And so my Grandmother earned her living as a seamstress for white folks in Montgomery, Alabama.

            It was fortunate that she had an independent spirit as well as a skill because she lost her husband when my mother was four years old and a younger sister was two.  While grandmother was out sewing, the two children stayed with their grandparents who were very strict.

            One of my mother’s earliest memories was of a spanking with the flat of a saw by her grandfather because she made footprints across the dirt backyard which he had freshly swept to a marvelous smoothness! 

            She also remembered him complaining often about their behavior to their mother when she came home.  She spanked them too. But mother said she learned early that if they cried loudly, the spanking was shorter and less energetic.  Armed with this knowledge, she and her sister made it through childhood and in due time graduated from Normal school (high school). 

            Mother finished in 1906 and she refused scholarships to college.  She chose instead to clerk in her uncle’s general store and eventually managed it.  I think she valued this and her marriage above all other experiences in her life.  I think they held vastly different meanings for her.  I think one represented what she really wanted to do and to be and the other represented what she thought she ought to want to do and be.

            I never knew her very well.  There never was time to talk to her until she was very ill and I took care of her.  This seems very strange to me.  My mother never worked after she married.  She was always at home taking care of her family.  I lived at home until I married.  When I lived at home in Detroit I saw her at least once a week.  When I lived in other cities, we exchanged letters at least once a week.  For the last seven years of her life we shared a two-family flat.  But I never knew her as a person until she was dying.

            Stereotypes and structures.  Forms and duties.  Oughts and shoulds.  How things are supposed to be.  Never how they are.  Cages and gags and straightjackets.  And we don’t know they’re there.

            When I could see and hear my mother as a person, and not as MY MOTHER, I was delighted and dismayed.  Delighted that we had so much in common and that I liked her.  Dismayed that she was eighty-six and ill and that life had made me wait so long to know her.

            She and my father were happily married for fifty-one years.  They loved and respected each other.  Even in delirium I never heard either one say anything but good and loving things about the other.  Mother spoke with peace and sureness about my father.  But her face lit up, her back straightened, her voice got louder and she was alive when she talked of managing Great Uncle Victor’s general store.  She never tired of telling me about taking inventory, counting money, keeping books, dealing with the help and customers and demanding respect from the drummers. 

            Drummers were white salesmen trying to get orders for their products and you can imagine how difficult it was for a handsome black woman doing a man’s job to get respect from them.  But she knew the power of her ability to give or without orders and she used it without apology.  Her whole tone when she straightened her back and raised her head to tell it was not of asking for respect, but demanding it – and loving the demanding!

            She managed the store for the twelve most satisfying years of her life.  Then she married in 1919.  My father never wanted her to work.  She suggested a small business several times.

            He said, “A MAN supports his family.  I am a man. My wife will never work.”

            She knew he was supposed to be right so she didn’t press it.  She wrote that all a woman needs to be happy is “a baby to rock and a man to please.”  And that’s the way she acted.  She kept the house, cooked the meals, rocked the babies and pleased the man. But she never believed that woman was meant only for this because she raised her two daughters by word and deed to believe that women should be whatever they wanted to be.  I don’t remember her ever saying, “But women can’t be freighter captains, or airplane pilots or doctors or engineers.”  she believed I could be anything and I believed it too.

            How restricted she must have felt doing most of the jobs that go with keeping house and raising babies.

Mrs. Annie Graham – Obituary

Earlier this year I met via Ancestry.com Cedric Jenkins, a newly found cousin, who is a descendant of my grandfather Mershell Graham’s sister Annie Graham. He shared this funeral program and also programs for Annie Graham’s children, which I will share in the coming days. My grandfather and his sister lost contact after he moved to Detroit.

R is for Relatives, of the Elusive Kind
Mystery Photograph
Annie Graham – Sibling?

The Grahams in the 1950 Census

Today I’m going to write about my mother’s parents, Mershell and Fannie (Turner) Graham grandparents in my preview of the 1950 Census.

In 1950 Mershell and Fannie Graham were still living at 6638 Theodore Street. The single family frame house was built in 1913 and was probably worth about $7,000.  The Grahams bought the house in 1923. If they had a 30 year mortgage, they would have had 3 more years until it was paid.  I like to think that they had already paid it off. The house probably cost  less than $2,000 when they bought it in 1923.

house deed

The house was heated with forced air using a converted coal to gas furnace. There were three bedrooms and a bathroom complete with indoor plumbing and running water upstairs, including a claw foot bathtub and a flush toilet.  Downstairs were three more rooms, making six in all (not counting the bathroom). The kitchen had an electric refrigerator and a sink with hot and cold running water.  There was also a full attic and full basement. They did not own a television but did have a radio, probably more than one. I remember one in the kitchen and one in my grandfather’s bedroom.

Mershell Graham had worked 52 weeks as a stock clerk in an auto factory. His annual wages were probably about average, $3,210. He had completed 8 years of school. He was not a veteran. Mershell and Fannie had been married once and this marriage had lasted 31 years. Fannie had birthed 4 children.   She had completed high school, and had not worked outside of the home.

Abbie Allen Brown

Living with them was Fannie’s 75 year old widowed aunt, Abbie Allen. Abbie had birthed 2 children and her 1 marriage occurred 46 years ago. She hadn’t worked in the past year. She had completed 7th grade.

All three of them would have given “Negro” for race, but if the census taker didn’t ask and assumed, they may have been enumerated as “white”.  All three were born in Alabama and all of their parents had been born in the United States.

Helpful links for figuring out costs and wages were:

Other posts in the 1950 series

Mershell & Annie Mae Graham Sibling Relationship Proved

Graham, Mrs. Annie, Elmore. Funeral service will be Sunday at 11 a.m. at East Chapel MP church. The Rev. Paul Cook will officiate. Burial will be in Jackson Cemetery with Ross-Clayton Funeral Home directing. Survivors include one daughter, Mrs. Emma Reves; sons, Clyde Jackson, William Jackson, Birmingham, and Joe Jackson; a brother, Marshall Graham, Detroit, Mich.; 16 grandchildren; 43 great-grandchildren; three daughters-in-law, Mesdames Edith, Odessa and Ethel Jackson; and other relatives. She was a member of the Esters of America Society No. 1.

When I found this obituary for Annie Mae Graham on Newspapers.com, I wondered who the son “Joe” was. I had never heard of him before. At first reading I thought that “Marshall Graham” in Detroit was her son, formerly identified as “Michele” in census records. On re-reading, I realized that the “Marshall Graham” was named as her brother, and was my grandfather Mershell who lived in Detroit. And that Joe was Annie’s son, Michele.

I had been looking for something to tie my grandfather Mershell C. Graham to those I suspected were his siblings – Annie, Jacob and Abraham Graham. All of them listed the same parents on their delayed birth records and death certificates, but I could not find them in the same household. In 1900 my grandfather was not in the home with the other children. I have yet to find him in 1900.

Annie Graham’s great grandson, Cedric Jenkins, saw the obituary and contacted me on Ancestry. That was the first he had heard of my grandfather Mershell. We exchanged photographs and information. Annie and Mershell certainly look like sister and brother in the photos below.

After Cedric got in touch with me, I realized I had a DNA match on 23 & me with the surname Jenkins. That Jenkins matched my maternal first cousin, Dee Dee, and was identified as a probable third cousin. He turned out to be Cedric’s nephew.

Using an obituary, a genealogical paper trail, DNA and a newly connected cousin, I was finally able to connect my grandfather Mershell Graham to his sister.

O. Barron’s Farm 1918, Elmore County, Alabama

Cedric was also able to identify the children in the photo above as Annie Mae Graham’s children. In the front are Joe (Michele) and Emma. On the mule closest to us is Will and next to him is Clyde.

Mershell Graham with his wife Fannie and children Doris (my mother), Mary Virginia and Mershell Jr. Standing in front of Plymouth Congregational Church in 1927. Detroit, Michigan.

Other posts about Mershell’s siblings

R is for Relatives, of the Elusive Kind
Mystery Photograph
Annie Graham – Sibling?
Jacob Graham – Sibling?
Inside Cover of Mershell C. Graham’s Bible

Note: I published an earlier version of this post but I got so much new information that I decided to re-write it but keep the comments from the first post, as I did not want to leave that one up.

Poppy in the Garden

My maternal grandfather Mershell C. Graham in his garden with my cousin Dee Dee. About 1946. We called him Poppy.

I came across this photo while looking for a picture for my cousin last night. I don’t remember seeing it before, although I must have because it’s in my box of Graham photographs.

Since the end of the April A-Z Challenge this year, I’ve been working on my grandfather’s migration story – his move from Montgomery, Alabama to Detroit, Michigan in 1917. The more I look, the more I find, much more than I had originally been looking for.

When I saw the prompt for Sepia Saturday this morning, it reminded me of the picture of my grandfather in the garden and I decided to post it while I continue to work on putting together his larger story.

For other Sepia Saturday Photos, click .

Z – ZOO, Belle Isle

Mershell Jr, Mary Virginia (or is that Doris?) and their father, Mershell Graham in front of the Conservatory on Belle Isle. 1920s.

The Belle Isle Zoo was originally established on the island in 1895 with a deer park and a bear den. By 1909, the Detroit Zoo on Belle Isle had 150 animals in 32-acres. The Belle Isle Children’s Zoo was established in 1947 dismantled in the 1970s. In 1980, the Belle Isle Safari Zoo was opened with raised walkways expanded into the wooded area. The Belle Isle Safari Zoo closed in 2002. Historical Gallery and Fun Facts

The route from the Graham home on Theodore to Belle Isle. That is the same route we took in the 1950s from my grandparents house to Belle Isle.

Can’t Get Animals For Belle Isle Zoo

Buying Trip Fruitless; Market Empty; War Blamed

Added to the other shortages which have taken the joy out of life during the past year, we now have the wild animal shortage.

The lack of supply in this commodity was brought forcefully to the attention of E. G. Becket, commissioner of the park and boulevard department. Last week when efforts to obtain additional specimens for the Belle Isle zoo came to naught.

James Timmons, animal keeper at Belle Isle, was sent on a scouting expedition by Mr. Heckel, with instructions to bring back some zebras, camels and any other specimens obtainable. A trip to Cleveland Toledo and Cincinnati resulted in a report from Mr. Timmons that no animals worth buying were to be had.

“The scarcity of wild animals for zoo and menagerie specifically is due to the World War.” H. W. is Busch, park department superintendent, said Sunday. “There have been no importations for more than four years, with the result that what stock is offered for sale is of such poor quality that the city cannot affort to waste its money.”

According to Mr. Busch, the supply of deep sea fish from which the aquarium is stocked also is limited. A recent trip made to the West by Mr. Heckel in quest of deep sea fish failed to produce a single specimen.

The park department has a fund of $2,500 to spend for zoo specimens this year and to date has succeeded in placing but one order, which is for a pair of ostriches. These are expected to arrive within a few weeks.

I can’t believe this is my last A to Z post for 2020!

U – UNDERTAKER – Mershell Graham’s Death 1927

Aunt Daisy Turner, Grandmother Jennie Allen Turner, Mother Fannie Turner Graham Mary Virginia, Mershell and Doris. This is about the only photo where Mershell smiles.
Dr. Alexander Turner, 1926

On November 1, 1927 Mershell C. Graham Jr was killed when he was hit by a truck on the way back to school after lunch. He was taken to St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, a Catholic Hospital on Detroit’s East side. Dr. Turner was there with him when he died.

The route from the Graham house, to the elementary school and Mercy Hospital. The highways wouldn’t have been there then.

From the back pages of my grandmother Fannie Turner Graham’s Bible
“Our darling little Mershell Jr. was run over by a truck on Tuesday Nov. 1st – ’27 at 12:45 PM. on his way to school from lunch. skull crushed etc. – Neck broken – shoulder fractured- rushed to St. Joseph’s Mercy Hospital – never regained consciousness – died – same night at 2:10 – Dr Turner at his sid(e) (Fun)eral-Nov 4th … (Lavi)scount offic(iated)  sang….”

Thomas School in the last several years before it burned down.
St. Joseph Mercy Hospital Detroit, MI 2200 East Grand Blvd.
Click to enlarge

Something has gone out of our hearts but I get comfort from the following song which I’ve so often heard my mother sing: – as best I remember it:

“Go bury thy sorrow,
Go hide it with care,
‘Go bury it deeply,
The world has it’s share.
Go tell it to Jesus,
He even will hear,
His is the best solace
He always is near.”

God be with us, strengthen and comfort us in these, the saddest hours we’ve ever known, and prepare us to meet our darling boy in heaven. Amen.

8/25/29 We went to cemetery for first time today

9/7/28 – Howard came in place of Mershell, we thot – he was such a beautiful darling – stayed with us 3 1/2 years – then God took him….

Now we go to cemetery weekly.

Mershell Cunningham Graham Jr. – Death Certificate
The Detroit Tribune, May 25, 1957
The undertakers listed on Mershell Graham’s death certificate were Davis and Webster.