We moved to Atlanta in September of 1972. I was about 2 months pregnant. with my second daughter. Jim had been talking about moving south and my sister lived in Atlanta so that is where we went. We moved into a two family house not too far from my sister’s house.
I worked 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 table top printing press, helped with mailings and sometimes transcribed tapes. 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 in their part of the world.
While I worked my two year old 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 picked us up each morning. From work I walked Jilo to school. After several days of crying when I dropped her off, my daughter settled in and seemed to enjoy the program.
One evening when I thought I was going to dinner at friends. When my co-workers yelled “Surprise!” and it turned out to be a baby shower! Some of the gifts I received were:
Orange bib baby carrier Leah & Stanley Diaper bag – Karen & AB Sheets,pad – Shirley $30 – Bill Lotion set – Cheryl Baby sak set – Ferrell Baby sak set – Ruth Nightgowns Pat & Sharon Baby gift set – Louise Blanket, clothes, plus – Pearl and Michael Green sleep suit – Myrdal Baby clothes – Carolyn & Terri
Three days before the birth, it felt like it was time to stop working. I mostly slept those three days. Ife was delivered 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”.
My great grandmother, Jennie Virginia Allen, was born October 1, 1866 in Montgomery Alabama, seven months after the end of the Civil War and the ratification of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. She was the forth child of formerly enslaved Eliza and Dock Allen. Her mother was a seamstress and her father was a carpenter. The girls were taught the seamstress trade while the boys were taught the carpenters trade. She married Howard Turner in 1887 when she was 20 and Howard was 23. My grandmother Fannie was born the following year. According to the 1940 Census she completed the sixth grade.
Below are my mother’s memories of her grandmother.
Memories of grandmother
By Doris Graham Cleage
Today I’m going to write about Grandmother. Grandmother Turner was born about 1872, nine years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Don’t know if she finished high school – but she did go. Her mother taught her to sew and it was a good thing she did because grandmother worked the rest of her life supporting herself and her children at sewing. That is, she worked after husband Howard Turner died. They married when she was about sixteen. Don’t know his age. He looked something like grandmother’s father and also like my father, mother said. He was a farmer’s son from around Hayneville, AL, but he preferred the big city – Montgomery. His father had three sons and planned to give each one a large share of the farm when they married. Howard and Jenny received their farm, but neither one liked the country. One day they were in Montgomery. He was at a Bar-B-Q. She was at her parents with their daughters, Fannie Mae, 4, and Daisy Pearl, 2. someone brought word that he had been shot dead. Apparently no one ever knew who did it, but mother always said grandmother thought his father had it done because he was angry that Howard would not farm and had even been talking about selling his part. The father did not want the land sold, but wanted it to stay in the family forever. (Bless his heart!). He and the son had had some terrible arguments before they left to come to the Bar-B-Q. I often wondered why he was there and grandmother wasn’t. She always seemed to like a good time.
I remember her laughing and singing and dancing around the house on Theodore. She was short, about five feet I guess, with brown eyes, thin dark brown hair that she wore in a knot. She was very energetic, always walking fast. She always wore oxfords, often on the wrong feet, and never had time to change them. We used to love to tell her that her shoes were on the wrong feet. (smart kids!)
She never did things with us like read to us or play with us, but she made us little dresses. I remember two in particular she made me that I especially liked. My “candy-striped” dress – a red white and blue small print percale. She put a small pleated ruffle around the collar and a larger one around the bottom. I was about five, I guess, and I really thought I was cool! The other favorite was an “ensemble” – thin, pale green material with a small printed blue green and red flower in it – just a straight sleeveless dress with neck and sleeves piped in navy blue – and a three – quarter length coat of the same material – also straight -with long sleeves and lapels – also piped in navy blue. She never used a pattern. Saw something and made it! She taught us some embroidery, which she did beautifully but not often. She never fussed at us – never criticized – and I think she rocked me in the upstairs hall on Theodore when I was little and sick. The rocker Daddy made stood in that hall. I remember lots of people rocking in that chair when I was small.
Grandmother went to work when her husband was murdered – sewing for white folks – out all day fitting and sewing – and sewing all night – finishing while mother and Daisy stayed with their Grandfather Allen, who would tell on them when Grandmother came home and she would spank them. Mother said she remembered telling Daisy to holler loudly so Grandmother wouldn’t spank them hard or long and it worked!
Grandmother stayed single until she was about 37 or 38 when she married someone Mother hated – looked Italian, hardly ever worked. Liked a good time. Fathered Alice and left when she was very small. Somehow when mother spoke of him I had the feeling he would have like to have taken advantage of her. She was about 20 and had given up two college scholarships to stay and help Grandmother.
Sometimes after her husband’s death, Grandmother took the deed to the farm to a white lawyer. (was there any other kind?) and told him to sell it for her. He went to see it and check it out – told her to forget it – her title wasn’t clear, but he never gave the deed back and she figured he made a deal with her father-in-law. (The rest of the land story.)
Aunt Abbie (note: Jennie’s sister) said the father-in-law built Grandmother and Howard a “shotgun” house on the farm. She would turn up her nose as she said it. You know that is a house like this – no doors on front or back, you could shoot a gun through hall without damage. Animals (pigs, dogs) would wander into the hall and have to be driven out. Aunt Abbie only stayed there when the plague was raging in Montgomery. Yellow fever (malaria) and/or polio every summer. Many people sick or dying. Huge bonfires in the streets every night to ‘purify’ the air”, and closing the city if it got bad enough – no one in or out. More than once they fled the city in a carriage through back streets and swamps because they were caught by the closing which was done suddenly to keep folks from leaving and spreading the “plague”
In Detroit, when they came in 1923 when Mother and Daddy had bought the house on Theodore and had room for them (room? only 5 adults and 3 children!) Grandmother, Daisy and Alice got good jobs, (they were good – sewing fur coats, clean work and good pay.) at Annis Furs (remember it back of Hudsons?) and soon had money to buy their own house much farther east on a “nice” street in a “better ” neighborhood (no factories) on Harding Ave. While they lived with us I remember violent arguments between Alice and I don’t know who – either Grandmother or Daisy or Mother. Certainly not Daddy because when he spoke it was like who in the Bible who said, “When I say go, they goeth. When I say come, they cometh.” Most of the time I remember him in the basement, the backyard or presiding at table. Daisy and grandmother were what we’d call talkers.
Grandmother got old, hurt her knee, it never healed properly. Daisy worked and supported the house alone. Alice only worked a little while. She had problems getting along with people. Grandmother was eventually senile. Died of a stroke at 83 or so. Alice spent years taking care of her while Daisy worked. Daisy added to their income by being head numbers writer at Annis!!
I got this from Wikipedia about playing the numbers. “The numbers game, also known as the numbers racket, the policy racket, the Italian lottery, the policy game, or the daily number, is a form of illegal gambling or illegal lottery played mostly in poor and working class neighborhoods in the United States, wherein a bettor attempts to pick three digits to match those that will be randomly drawn the following day. In recent years, the “number” would be the last three digits of “the handle”, the amount race track bettors placed on race day at a major racetrack, published in racing journals and major newspapers in New York.
Gamblers place bets with a bookmaker (“bookie”) at a tavern, bar, barber shop, social club, or any other semi-private place that acts as an illegal betting parlor. Runners carry the money and betting slips between the betting parlors and the headquarters, called a numbers bank or policy bank. The name “policy” is based on the similarity to cheap insurance, which is also a gamble on the future.”
I think the numbers writer – Daisy in this case, would take the bets in the store (the numbers people picked and their bet money) and pass them along to the numbers runner, who would take them to the center. She would get a cut.
My cousin Barbara was six years old when this photograph was taken. She is holding a little parasol and standing at the edge of their front yard.
In age, Barbara was right between my sister Pearl and me. Every year my father took the three of us to the Michigan State Fair. We went to the Fair right before the end of summer vacation in early September.
I remember buying little parasols like the one Barbara is holding. They were pin. blue, or yellow with flowers on them. We also liked to buy pop beads that snapped together into bracelets and necklaces. I don’t remember using them after the fair. They were part of the experience, like the cotton candy.
Living in Detroit, we didn’t see livestock everyday, but we saw it at the fair. I remember King Romancer the 23rd (or something along those lines), the bull who had sired many, many prize winning cows. And the time we rounded a corner to see a huge boar heading down the aisle towards us. Pearl and Barbara jumped behind me. There was someone with the boar and my father was right behind us, so all was well. We watched a 4-H cattle show where a girl kicked her losing heifer. As we walked through the various barns full of animals, I was envious of the young people who had cots in stalls near their animals.
The only ride we ever went on was the “Tilt-A-Whirl”. It was one step up from the Merry Go Round, and it gave me an upset stomach every year. We must have left for home soon after enjoying this exciting ride. I’m not sure when we stopped taking our annual trip, but it was well before our teen years.
Grand River Avenue figured in my life in multiple ways. I walked to both McMichael Junior High and Northwestern High Schools down Grand River. I took the Grand River bus home when I worked at J.L. Hudson’s Department store during several Christmas seasons. In 1971 and 1972, the Black Conscience Library was located at 6505 Grand River and that is my focus in this post.
In 1971 the Black Conscience Library relocated from temporary quarters to 6505 Grand River, the upstairs offices in a building right across the street from Northwestern High School. I continued as librarian for awhile. This was around the time that the heroin epidemic hit inner city Detroit hard. Chimba, one of the active members of the Library, was from the North End community. I remember him saying that the year before they had a baseball team, but that in 1971 there were so many heroin addicts in the community that they couldn’t get a team together. It was Chimba’s idea to start a methadone program in the Black Conscience Library to help addicts get off drugs. This was before it was widely known that methadone was a powerful, addictive drug in it’s own right. Eventually, the drug program over shadowed all other Library programs. I spent less time there and eventually got a job as assistant teacher at Merrill Palmer preschool. I still came around but not everyday and not as librarian. It was pretty depressing up there.
There were lines of junkies waiting to collect their scripts, men and women. Some brought their children. In the beginning, I watched the kids while the parents went to the lectures. I remember one baby with a bottle full of milk so spoiled it was like cottage cheese.
We came to the Library one morning to find it had been broken into the night before. All of the printing equipment and the tape recorder were securely locked up. There were no prescriptions laying around. Nothing was stolen, but we couldn’t figure out how they got in, until I noticed glass from the skylight on the table. They had come through the skylight. One night someone was found hiding in the Men’s room hoping nobody would notice they were there so they could rob the place. Another man tried to break in one early morning. Luckily, he couldn’t get through the front chained door. I remember a junkie who nodded off and fell out of his seat during the planning session for a radio program.
There were a few non-drug related activities. One I remember, was a panel discussion on the role of the father in parenting that was presented by several ex-members of SNCC (Student Non-violent Co-ordinating Committee). There were karate classes. One night I had come back after a particularly trying day and a car crashed into the shop downstairs. I caught a plane to visit my sister in Atlanta the next day. Those were the days of cheap standby tickets. I remember The Last Poets record playing over and over and over. The relief when the drug program ended.
This is one of a three page surveillance report from October 29, 1971 is from Jim’s police file. We knew they were watching, but when we got this report several years ago it was still creepy to see how much time they were actually spending watching, following, keeping track. “N/M” = Negro Male. “N/F” = Negro Female.
The window on the top left was our bedroom window.
In 2004 I spent a day driving around Detroit taking photographs of places where I used to live and of other houses family members lived in. The angle of this house fit almost perfectly with the photograph taken in 1953 of my father with my little sister Pearl and me. We are in front of the parsonage on Atkinson. My father was the minister of St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church, two blocks up the street on the corner of 12th Street and Atkinson.
My sister and I shared the bedroom on the upper left. We used to look out of the side window into the attic of Carol and Deborah. They were our age and lived next door and got to stay up much later then we did. They had a wonderful playroom in the attic. I taught Pearl to read by the streetlight shinning into our bedroom. I don’t know why we waited until we were supposed to be in the bed to teach and learn reading.
Sometimes after Pearl was asleep, I would kneel in front of the windows and look out. I remember an amazing pale pink Cadillac. The cars I had seen up until then were dark colors. I remember looking out of that window and watching for my mother to get home. Was she taking night classes while working on her teaching certificate?
On our other side lived Eleanor Gross with her family. Eleanor was a teenager and babysat with us during the rare times our parents went out. My paternal grandparents lived down the street.
This photo first appeared on my blog in 2012 in a post about my grandparents magical yard. I used that post again in June of 2017. This time I am only posting the picture of my sister looking glamorous and me looking worried as we stand next to our trusty mounts. Neither of us can remember where we went on those horses. I remember a pillow/saddle that was made of some shiney purple fabric. That may have been the one I am leaning on.
From 1976 to 1984 I lived in Mississippi and raised some goats, children and chickens. These are four of the goats. They needed their hoofs trimmed. I could talk their language. Recently I realized that it would have been a lot less trouble to go buy a couple of gallons of milk instead of milking all those goats twice a day, buying their feed and trying to keep them confined before I gave that up and just let them wander the area, losing garden after garden as they figured out how to break in and eat it. However, it was an experience for the whole family that would not have been replicated by buying milk.
You can read more about those years in these posts:
I spent much time in the summer of 1967 at my Uncle Louis’ cottage in Idlewild, MI. I was there when the Detroit Riot/Rebellion broke out and remember driving into the city on that first Sunday when it began. You can read more about that here Detroit Rebellion Journal.
I spent a lot of time that summer swimming and skating. I don’t have any photos of me skating but I have this whole series of a dive. My sister Pearl, my cousin Jan and my mother also make brief appearances. My Uncle Henry took the photos.
When I was growing up we spent Saturdays at my mother’s parents house, along with my cousins Dee Dee and Barbara and later, Marilyn. When the weather was good we spent it outside in the backyard. There was a vegetable garden, lots of flowers and space for anything we could think of.
In the summer of 1953 I turned 7 in August. Dee Dee turned 10 in September. Barbara had already turned 6 in January. Pearl was 4.5 until December. Poppy was 64. He would retire in December of that year when he turned 65. The yard was surrounded on all sides by a wooden fence that made it feel like a world apart. In the photographs I can see the big house across the alley and a factory on Warren but when I was playing in the yard I didn’t much notice those things.
Pearl and I are holding dolls and I have a purse I remember getting when we lived in Springfield, MA. A young lady who might have been the church secretary had a grown up purse just like it. It was brown leather and had a golden metal clasp that turned to open and close. Looks like collards with the poison Poppy sprinkled to kill the cabbage worms. I think I see a little cabbage butterfly holding on to the underside one of the leaves.
I am standing up at the table where Barbara and I are making something. Dee Dee is sitting on the arm of the swing. She was probably taking Pearl somewhere on the magic carpet (aka swing) the rider would have to say “Geni of the magic carpet, go, go, go!” and then Dee Dee would take you someplace magic. She would tell you where it was when it was time for you to get out of the swing. Dee Dee was in charge of all the magic. Each of our households had a little, invisible fairy that lived in the mud castle we built and rebuilt at the foot of the apple tree. Their’s was named Lucy and ours was Pinky. She also kept a box full of prizes that she gave out at appropriate times. I remember packages of soda crackers, prizes from cereal boxes and pieces of chewing gum.
Here Pearl and I are standing on the grassy part of the yard. The flowers are in full bloom behind us with the vegetables back behind them. We often made the saw horses into mounts. I see my purse over there on the grass to the left.
I have participated in Sepia Saturday for so many years that it is hard for me to come up with new photos when the same sorts of prompts come around. This week I am recycling a post from 2012.
“They set up a table in our room with a white tablecloth and a test tube bud vase. It was a good meal. I had thought I wouldn’t be able to have the dinner and had to call Jim at the Reeses to come eat. I had been on a special diet until that afternoon. James slept very nicely through the whole meal.”
Story of James Birth From His Baby Book – 1982
James was born during an ice storm. Actually the ice storm began the day before he was born. We went into Jackson (we were living about half an hour away in Simpson County at the time) when the storm started because I started having mild contractions about the same time. We stayed with a family with 6 children Jim worked with sometimes in printing. The first night I woke up and the contractions were stronger and we went to the hospital, but they faded away at the hospital and we went back to the Reece’s house. She said she knew I wasn’t really in labor because I was checking on everyone before I left. The next day my water broke and there was some meconium staining in the show. We went back to the hospital around 2 in the afternoon. I said I hoped they wouldn’t have to send me home again but Dr Barnes said since my water broke I wouldn’t be leaving until the baby came.
I was in the same birthing suite I used when Tulani was born. And had the same nurses. They hooked me up to the monitor because of the meconium and even attached a wire to James head to “get a better reading”. I remember thinking as I was laying there listening to the nurses talking and going about their business, that there I was laying there in labor and yet they were living their regular lives. They weren’t actually involved in it at all. I imagine it’s sort of like when you’re dying. But that’s neither here nor there.
I started pushing at 6:30PM and figured the baby would be born soon. After an hour of second stage labor and pushing the head still wasn’t engaged. I remarked between contractions that I hoped it wasn’t going to take me until midnight for the baby to be born. (I said that because each of the babies was born three hours later then the last one and Tulani was born around 9 PM.) Dr. Barnes said they weren’t going to wait that long, if he (she was sure it was a boy because he was causing so much trouble, she said) wasn’t born in an hour she was going to do a c-section. That hadn’t even entered my mind. Soon she sent all the nurses that were waiting for the birth off to get ready. I tried getting on my knees like I had with Ayanna, but to tell the truth, the mood was ruined. I just wanted to get the whole thing over with. If the baby was going to require a c-section, just go on and do it, I thought. Of course afterwards I wondered if I’d tried pushing awhile longer if he would have come on down.
On the way to the delivery room I asked Dr. Barnes if she would tie my tubes since I was going to be opened up and she said yes and I didn’t have to sign any papers, I think Jim did. And she gave me a tubal. Afterwards, when I found out that once you have a c-section you don’t always have to have a c-section if it’s not structural, I wished I hadn’t.
James was born at 8:17PM. He was 22 and 3/4 inches long and weighted 8 lbs and 12 ozs. He was fine and nursed fine and kept on growing. His Apgar score was 9 at one minute and 10 at three minutes.
My mother told me that we should name James for my husband. So we did. She was very ill with cancer and died five months later without having ever seen baby James.