There were no photographs of the Grahams inside their home. There is this one of the children on the front steps.
My maternal grandparents, Mershell and Fannie Graham, bought their house on Theodore Street on the East Side of Detroit in 1922. My grandmother was pregnant with my mother Doris. They lived in the house on Theodore for 45 years until the neighborhood became increasingly violent. In 1968, after experiencing several home invasions and gun shots fired into the house, they bought a two family flat with my parents near the University of Detroit.
The Brass Bed
Poppy bought a brass bed soon after he married. He was, the story goes, walking down the street when he saw a brothel being evicted and the belongings being set out on the street. This wonderful brass bed was among the items and he bought it on the spot. Growing up we – sister and cousins – spent many happy hours playing in my grandfather’s room. We used to be able to slip between those brass bars at the foot of the bed. My sister Pearl has the big bed now.
My mother memories of growing up in this house.
Ilived at home until I finished college and married. Everyday when I got home from school the minute I opened the door I knew what we were having for dinner. The house would be full of the good smell of spaghetti or meat loaf or greens or salmon croquettes or pork chops and gravy or steak and onions. We had hot biscuits or muffins every day. My father did not like “store bought” bread. I hardly knew what it tasted like until I married. Our friends were welcome. The house was clean. Our clothes were clean and mended.
She also remembered being in the car with her father when their car got stuck on the railroad tracks down the street and the train hit them. I found an entry for that in my grandfather’s little notebook. Although it happened in 1935, I am going to copy it here. My mother was 12.
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.
Here are two other posts about the house on Theodore
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.”
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.
Now we go to the maternal side of my family, the Grahams. My mother Doris Graham was born February 12, 1923, the third of the four children of Mershall and Fannie (Turner) Graham.
“3rd baby – Doris J. Graham born February 12th – 1923. 5:10 a.m.- on Monday at Woman’s Hospital Beaubien and For(est) – (Detro)it Mic(h)”
Some of my mother, Doris Graham’s, memories of her childhood
About four blocks around the corner and down the street from Theodore was a vacant lot where, for some years ,they had a small carnival every year. I don’t remember the carnival at all. I never liked rides anyway. Not even the merry-go-round. But I remember it being evening, dark outside and we were on the way home. I don’t remember who was there except Daddy and I. He was carrying me because I was sleepy so I must have been very small. I remember my head on his shoulder and how it felt. The best pillow in the world. I remember how high up from the sidewalk I seemed to be. I could hardly see the familiar cracks and printings even when the lights from passing cars lighted things, which was fairly often because we were on Warren Ave. I remember feeling that that’s the way things were supposed to be. I hadn’t a worry in the world. I was tired, so I was carried. I was sleepy, so I slept. I must have felt like that most of my childhood because it’s still a surprise to me that life is hard. Seems that should be a temporary condition.
This has been some cold day, but we went to church this A.M. and heard a splendid sermon on “Thanksgiving.” Rev. Scott never spoke better. He’s really great. The people never will appreciate him until he’s gone. Last Sunday was Harvest and it was fairly good. Might have been better but for the flu. They realized $12.50 from it. Our club held it’s first meeting last Friday evening at Madaline’s. She put on a strut, too. We certainly had a good time. We are all feeling okay. Mama is so much better, though she complains yet.
Now, Shell, about your question. Willie Lee and several others have been telling me that we were to get married for a month or more. I’ve been wondering where it all came from. I know you wrote me some time ago that you had “something to tell me,” but I never dreamed it was on this subject. It’s all okay though and if you will overlook my deficiencies, I’ll say yes. You know you like good cooking and I’d have to learn to do that, even after working in a grocery store all my life. Ha, ha! Now that you know about my inability as a cook does it shock you? Just let me know what you think about it.
Now, Shell, please don’t write any of this to any one, for it’s our own business and we can keep them guessing awhile longer. What do you say? Do this for me as a special request.
Well, dear, I’m so sleepy that I can’t write longer so you must let me off tonight with just one kiss. Ha, ha!
Being in the middle of the corona pandemic 2020, I decided to look back at my family history and see if anything was mentioned about the spanish influenza pandemic of 1918. I remembered that my grandmother wrote in a letter to my grandfather that church attendance was down because of the flu.
Because my grandmother was living in Montgomery, Alabama at the time, I took a look to see what the Montgomery newspaper’s were saying about the flu in November, 1918.
The article below came out the same day as the Sunday service mentioned in the letter.
Click for more about Dr. Bell’s Pine-Tar-Honey mentioned in the advertisement above.
This year as we begin the 2020s, I decided to go back a hundred years to the 1920s and write about what happened to my family during that decade. My grandparents had settled down to marriage and family and my parents and their siblings were too young to participate in any “roaring” that was going on.
While preparing my posts, I found out several things that I wish I had asked my grandparents about, but strangely never thought to do so. I managed to cover all of the letters in the alphabet and to tie them in with my family in some way. I actually started in February to decide on the words for each letter and to chose photographs. In March I started writing the posts. The plan is to be completely done by the time I post this.
This picture was taken at Belle Isle in 1930, which used to be a city park in the Detroit River and was free to all. It has since been changed to a state park and there is a fee for entry. Howard must have been almost one year old, he had been born the previous September. He seems to be wearing a gown. Mary Vee was ten and Doris was seven.