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
I looked at Sanborn maps to locate the members of the Edelweiss Club. First I had to find out where they lived. In the items in The Emancipator the address of the house where the meeting was to be hosted was often given, but that didn’t happen every time and it didn’t tell me where the other members lived, nor where they were in relationship to each other. I did what I do when I am studying people, I made each of them a tree on ancestry.com. All 37 of them, or as many as I could find.
I searched for them in the Montgomery City Directory for 1919 or in the U.S. census for 1920. Those gave me their addresses and their occupation. If I found the census and they were living with their families (most were) I also found their ages, their parents ages and occupations and information about their siblings. With that information I could start a tree later to learn more. At the beginning, I just wanted to find basic information for my blog post and then I wanted to find where they lived. When I decided to write something about them for National Novel Writing Month, I created more complete trees to find out when they moved to Montgomery, if they married, if they moved out of Montgomery to points North, East and West.
Where did the women live in Montgomery? Were they spread out or did they live near each other? I have only been to Montgomery twice, once in 1975 and once in 2009. I knew where the neighborhood my grandmother had lived in was, and it was mostly torn down and absorbed into downtown Montgomery. The building that housed her uncle Victor Tulane’s grocery store, was still standing, but that was about it. What churches did the members attend? Were they active in church work? Did they sing in a group? For those that worked in a family business, as my grandmother Fannie Turner did, where was the business located? Was there (hopefully) an old and faded photograph of it in the paper? Was there, perhaps a photo of the young woman in the newspaper? And a question difficult to find an answer to, were the unidentified women in my grandmother’s photo album Edelweiss members?
While looking for information, I came across a document about gentrifying, they called it “rehabbing”. It the area where Victor Tulane’s store was and they gave me a name for the neighborhood where the store, my family and most of the Edelweiss members lived – The Centennial Community, a historic black Montgomery community. Some of the churches and schools and a few of my family had lived in the black community known as West Montgomery. That was where Washington Park, where the last dance was held, was located. It was on the other side of town from the Centennial Community. I found where the “Peacock Tract”, an early black, community was located and why there was a school way up in the northeast part of the city – another smaller, black community. Some of these questions I have answered – I found most of the members lived within walking distance of each other. At least so it looks on the map. I found all of my family members living within walking distance of each other. I located cemeteries, churches, drugstores, and private schools. There were a number of schools that were not a part of the public school system that had been started by northern missionaries after the Civil War. Aside from finding where the young women lived using the Sanborn maps, I was also able to find the relative size of the houses and schools. For the schools and churches, the type of heat and the source of light was given. If the streets were paved or not was more information. Most of the streets were not paved. Some of the schools had no heat. Lights were lanterns, or big windows in some cases. Reading the news articles, there were many drives by black citizens to raise money to repair schools, buy equipment and even built new additions.
During the time of the Edelweiss Club – 1918 – 1919, a flu pandemic raged. Schools were closed and then opened. Students returned to Montgomery from Fisk and Tuskegee due to the pandemic. People appeared on the sick list in The Emancipator newspaper. Some died.
The United States became involved in the first world war. Times were far from calm and peaceful, but the women met and ate delicious refreshments, played whist, went to work, and lived their lives a hundred years ago.
Who were the members of the Edelweiss Club? Thirty-seven women attended the monthly meetings judging from news items that appeared in The Emancipator, beginning on January 12, 1918 and continuing monthly during the school year, until May 3, 1919. Some were members and some were guests and not all were present at every meeting. Thirty of them were teachers. One was a seamstress. Three worked in family businesses. The other three were not employed and were relatives of members. Most of the members were single, some married as time went on. Some moved out of town. A good number never married.
All of them came from literate homes. Most of their parents owned their homes, either free and clear or mortgaged. Their fathers tended to work for themselves as barbers, carpenters and plasterers. Bertha Loveless’ father was an undertaker. Madge Brown’s father was a farmer. Alberta Boykin’s father was a mail carrier. Several lived with their widowed mother or an aunt. Most had multiple siblings.
Their parents were born in the mid 1850s to 1870 and would have been teenagers when slavery ended or were born during Reconstruction. Several were from families that were free before the Civil war. There were several clusters of cousins descended from unrelated women who were free and living in Montgomery before the Civil War.
There were no more reported meetings after May 3, 1919. The last event was a picnic dance given on June 16, just 3 days before my grandparents, Mershell and Fannie (Turner) Graham married and immediately moved to Detroit.
In 2018 I did a series of posts for the A to Z Challenge based on articles taken from The Emancipator, an African American newspaper published in Montgomery Alabama from 1917 – 1921. I mentioned the Edelweiss Club in several posts. There were 37 young women who attended the club meetings. They were friends and neighbors of my grandmother Fannie Mae Turner Graham.
In 2021 I planned to present snapshots from the lives of some of those women as my A to Z theme. I decided not to complete the challenge that year so only completed two biographies. This is the first one.
Madeline Abercrobie was born September 7, 1890. She was the second and youngest child of Nicholas and Frances Abercrombie. She had one brother ten years older than she was. He was named Nicholas after their father. Madeline lived in the house at 605 High Street for her whole life.
In the 1900 Census Madeline was nine years old. She and her family lived at 605 High Street and attended school for eight months of the year. She, along with everybody in the household was literate.
Her father Nicholas Abercrombie was 54 years old, a self employed barber. He first appears in the 1860 census before the Civil War as a free twenty year old mulatto living with two other young men, Jack and Napolean Abercrombie, also described as mulattos. All three were barbers and did quite well. By 1883, Nicholas owned his own home, which was mortgaged.
Madaline’s mother, Frances Abercrombie was 49 years old. She had given birth to two children and both were living. She worked as a seamstress from home. Two of her mother’s sisters lived in the household. Ida Abercrombie, was a teacher in the public schools. Mary Abercrombie was a seamstress, also working on her own account.
Fifteen year old Mary Hill lived with them. She was listed as a servant and was literate. She later became a teacher. She and Madaline both attended school for eight months of the year, the full school year. Everyone in the house was literate. Brother Nicholas was grown and living on his own.
In 1910 Madeline was 19. She attended school and was not employed. She was single. Her father, Nicholas was still barbering. They still lived at the same address on High Street. Their house was right down the street from Victor Tulane’s grocery store/residence. The First Congregational Church was across the street and down a block. They were well within the Centennial community.
Her mother, Frances, was no longer working as a seamstress. She had given birth to two children and both were still alive. Her first child, son Nicholas Jr. married and living with his wife and two small children nearby.
Frances’ sister Ida, 33, lived with them and taught school. They had two lodgers. Fannie Lewis a widow of 40 was a seamstress. She given birth to one still living child. Eulala Lewis, age 22 and single was a taught school. She was probably the daughter of Fannie Lewis.
Familiar Figure is Gone
A figure familiar to the city of Montgomery for the past sixty years, disappeared from the walks of men, when Nick Abercrombie, a widely known colored barber, died a few days ago. It is certain that Nicholas Abercrombie was above seventy years of age and it was probable that he was eighty. Yet he worked at the trade he had followed to the Saturday before his death on Monday.
He was born in Wetupka, but he came to Montgomery before the war, and he was a familiar figure in the business section of the city for three score years. For a long time he was a part of the force of Gallagher’s barbershop, that typically old fashioned barbershop on Dexter avenue which was favored by all the older generations of Montgomery to the very day its proprietor died and which had a large clientage that was never won away by the more modern shops.
In this place Nicholas Abercrombie shaved and conversed with a long line of governors of Alabama. For that matter he has probably shaved every public man in Alabama, big or little. He had courtly manners, which he brought down from the old South, and he was popular with the public of Alabama. He stood well in the esteem of both races in Montgomery. He had many recollections of the men who have made Alabama history.
The funeral, which was held at his home on High street, the services were conducted by Bishop C. M. Beckwith of the Alabama Diocese of the Episcopal Church. Many floral offerings testified to the esteem in which he was held. He reared and educated a large family which stands in the front rank of their race in the city. He is survived by his aged wife, three daughters and one son, Nicholas Abercrombie, Jr.
23 Mar 1917, Fri • Page 7 The Montgomery Advertiser Montgomery, Alabama
Madaline Abercrombie began teaching in 1917 at the age of 26. At first she taught in the public schools and then began giving private music lessons in her home. In 1930 at the age of 39, she married Joseph Albert. First a bit about the Edelweiss Club and then a summary of her later life.
The Edelweiss Club had it’s first regular meeting at the home of Miss. Madeline Abercrombie on High St., Friday evening Nov. 22nd despite the inclement weather, the following were present; Misses Alberta Boykin, Clara Bailey, Juanita Davis, Jessie Freeman, Ernestine Shaw, Willease Simpson, Bessie Nelms, Cecile Walton, Effie Todd, Fannie Turner, Annie Wimbs, and Mrs. Alice Cotton.
Misses Todd, Davis and Wimbs were awarded the prizes. After a delicious salad course, the club adjourned to meet with Miss Juanita Davis Dec. 6th.
Weather Forecast. For Montgomery and Vicinity – rain tonight; Friday, cloudy and much colder. East to southeast winds, shifting to north tonight or Friday morning and becoming fresh to strong. For Alabama – rain tonight; colder in north portion. Friday, colder and generally fair.
24 November 1918 Montgomery, Alabama
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. (note: = about $209 in today’s money) Our club held it’s first meeting last Friday evening at Madeline’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...
From a letter my future grandmother Fannie Turner wrote to my future grandfather, Shell Graham (ie. Mershell)
One of those things that warms a teacher’s heart happened to Mrs. Madeline Abercrombie Albert of 609 High St. recently. Her former pupils gave her a surprise party.
About 30 of the hundreds of Montgomery children she has taught to play the piano over nearly a half-century showed up. And her students include some accomplished musicians.
One of them teaches music in the Montgomery school system now. Another plays for a band of professional musicians. Others include doctors, lawyers and a host of other professionals. She’s proud to have taught them.
“I just charged 25 cents a lesson,” she says. That was two lessons a week at $2 a month. Her prices didn’t go up with inflation of everything else during the years.
Born in Montgomery in 1890, she is a graduate of Booker T. Washington High School and Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute.
She taught second and third grade in Bessemer for 10 years, then for a while at Booker T Washington here. She began to teach piano at her home, which she continued for another 40 years before she retired in 1967.
“I played jazz and everything.” She says. “They used to have matinees in the old Majestic Theatre on Bibb Street. I got $18 the first week playing for that.”
Her piano pupils, numbering as many as 70 a year came in shifts, one after another, from the wee hours of 5 a.m. or so, sometimes into the wee hours of the next day.
She also played without pay nearly 15 years at St. John’s A.M.E. Church. She’s now a communicant of St. John the Baptist Church.
She likes waltzes, “That’s not dancing,” she says of today’s dance styles.
And she is a trained hairdresser.
She claims mixed heritage. Both parents were born in slavery, her father the son of a white Scotch-Irishman, she says – Stan Bailey.
Alabama Journal Jan 9, 1973, pg 5
Madaline Albert died April 30 1973, Montgomery, Alabama United States. She was 72 years old and a widow.
Albert, Mrs. Madaline, 609 High Street died at her home Monday. Funeral Services will be Saturday at 11 a.m. from St. John Catholic Church South Union Street. Rev. Michael J. Farrell will officiate. Burial will be in Oakwood Cemetery, Ross-Clayton Funeral Home directing. Survivors include a foster son, Reuben Cotton; devoted friends. Mrs. Carrie B. Brown. Mrs. Amanda Grayson, Mrs. Gertrude Graysen, and other relatives. She was a retired teacher of piano. Rosary will be Friday at 7 p.m. at the Funeral Chapel. The Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Alabama) · 3 May 1973, Thu · Page 57
Unidentified young women from my grandparent’s photo album. I believe the one on the left is Madeline Abercrombie, based on a newspaper photograph of her several months before her death in 1973. More about that on the A post.
In 2018 I did a series of posts for the A to Z Challenge based on articles taken from The Emancipator, an African American newspaper published by my cousin in Montgomery Alabama around 1920. I mentioned the Edelweiss Club in several posts.
Who were the members of the Edelweiss Club? Thirty seven women attended the monthly meetings judging from news items that appeared in The Emancipator, starting January 12, 1918 and continuing monthly until May 3, 1919. Some of the women were members and some were guests and not all were present at every meeting. Thirty of them were teachers. One was a seamstress. Three worked in family businesses. The other three did not have employment and were relatives of members. Most of the members were single, some married as time went on. Some moved out of town. A good number never married.
All of them came from literate homes. Most of their parents owned their homes, some free and clear, some mortgaged. Their fathers tended to work for themselves as barbers, carpenters and plasterers. Bertha Loveless’ father was an undertaker. Madge Brown’s father was a farmer. Alberta Boykin’s father was a mail carrier. Several lived with their widowed mother or an aunt. Most had multiple siblings.
Their parents were born in the mid 1850s to the 1870 so they would have been teenagers when slavery ended or were born during Reconstruction.
There were no more reported meetings after May 3, 1919.
There were 37 young women who attended the club meetings, more than enough for 26 “A to Z” posts. This year I will present the lives of some of those women as my A to Z theme. This will be my ninth year participating in the A to Z Challenge.
Today I found a new app on My Heritage, Deep Nostalgia. It takes still photographs of faces and animates them. It was a bit strange, who knows if that is how the actual people moved when they were alive and moving. It was interesting to play around with though.
Below is are animated photos of Eliza (who this blog is named for) and Dock Allen, my 2X great grandparents through the maternal line. Click links below to see animations.
Mary Allen, Eliza’s oldest daughter, was born in 1856 in Dallas County, Alabama. The family relocated to Montgomery after Freedom. She married Edward McCall and they had six children together. One died in infancy.
In 1920, when Mary McCall was 63, her husband died. Later that year her oldest son, James Edward McCall and his family, migrated to Detroit. Mary McCall moved with them. She died there in 1937.
Mary McCall’s surviving children all left Montgomery and moved north.
James Edward McCall migrated to Detroit in 1920.
Anna Belle McCall Martin moved several times, arriving in Lima, Ohio in 1922. She moved to Detroit in 1930 and lived there for many years before moving to California.
Leon Roscoe McCall migrated to Detroit in 1920 with his family. Several years later, they moved to Chicago, IL.
William McCall died as an infant.
Alma Otilla McCall Howard lived in Holly Springs Mississippi before the family migrated to Chicago by 1930.
Jeanette McCall McEwen was in Chicago by 1920.
Ransom Allen was born in 1860 Dallas County AL. He migrated to Chicago with his wife by 1920.
John Wesley Allen, his only child, was in Chicago by June 5, 1917.
Dock Allen Jr was born in 1862. He died by drowning in 1891 in Montgomery.
Jennie Virginia Allen Turner was born in 1866 Montgomery. Her first husband Howard Turner died in 1890. She separated from her second husband Edward Wright before 1910. She migrated to Detroit with her younger daughters, Daisy and Alice, in 1922 to join her oldest daughter, Fannie Mae Turner Graham(my grandmother) after she married and moved there in 1919.
Anna Allen was born Montgomery 1869. She left Montgomery for Chicago before 1900. She passed for white and died in Chicago after 1945.
Willie Lee Allen Tulane was born in 1873 in Montgomery. Her husband, Victor Tulane, died in 1931 in Montgomery. She remained there until 1958. Several months before she died, she moved to New York City to live with her only surviving child, Naomi Tulane Vincent who had moved to New York in 1920 after marrying Ubert Vincent.
Abbie Allen Brown was born in 1876 in Montgomery. She married Edward Brown. They were divorced before 1900.
She moved to Detroit in 1946 and lived with her niece, Fannie Turner Graham and her family. She died there in 1966.
Both of her sons moved to New York. The oldest, Earl Brown, lived in New York by 1917. The other, Alphonso Brown was in New York by 1925.
Beulah Allen Pope was born in 1879 in Montgomery. She married Robert Pope. He died in 1941, in Montgomery. By 1948 She had moved to Milwaukee, WI to live with her oldest son, Charles Lee Pope. She died there in 1962. In addition to her son Charles, her daughter Annie LeePopeGilmer also lived in Milwaukee. Her youngest son Robert Pope and his family had moved to Chicago by 1942.
Charles Lee Pope – Moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin by 1926. Annie Lee Pope Gilmer married and was in Milwaukee by 1922. Robert Pope and family were in Chicago by 1942.
They left in this order:
Anna moved to Chicago alone between 1880 and 1900.
Ransom moved to Chicago with his wife, son and daughter-in-law between 1917 and 1920.
Mary and her oldest son James Edward McCall moved to Detroit in 1920.
My great grandmother Jennie joined her oldest daughter, my grandmother, Fannie in Detroit in 1922.
Abbie moved to Detroit in 1946 to stay with her niece, my grandmother Fannie.
Beulah moved to Milwaukee, WI about 1947, to live with her oldest son Charles, who never married.
Willie Lee moved to New York to live with her daughter several months before her death in 1958, leaving no more of Eliza’s children or grandchildren in Montgomery.
1920 was the first election that my grandmothers, Fannie Mae Turner Graham and Pearl Doris Reed Cleage, were able to vote. It was also the first election in which my grandfather Mershell C. Graham was able to vote. Before that election he lived in Alabama, where black people did not have the vote until the 1960s.
My grandfather Albert B. Cleage had been living in the north since 1907, and so would have been able to vote in the 1908, 1912, 1916 and 1920 elections.
Family members who still lived in Tennessee and Alabama, men or women, still could not vote in the 1920 election.
With all the voting rights and demonstrations happening during the 1960s, I cannot believe I never talked to my grandparents about how they felt when they could finally vote.
The 1920 election seemed to be about as confused and contentious as today’s election.
This year I am going through an alphabet of news items taken from The Emancipator newspaper, published between 1917 and 1920 in Montgomery, Alabama. Most are about my grandparent’s circle of friends. All of the news items were found on Newspapers.com. Each item is transcribed directly below the clipping. Click on any image to enlarge.
Zephyrus Todd was a friend of my grandmother Fannie Turner. When she visited my grandmother, Fannie Turner in May 1918, she was 26 years old. My grandmother was 30.
Miss Zephyrus Todd of Selma was in the city last week, as the guest of Miss Fannie Turner.
Zephyrus Todd was born in 1892, the second child of James and Corinne (Hunter) Todd. There were eight siblings. The one born after Zephyrus died in childhood, the rest lived well into adulthood. Both of her parents were born soon after the end of slavery. Both were literate.
In the 1900 census, her father James taught school. Her mother Corinne was a seamstress. There were Four children. The oldest, Percival, was ten and attended school. Zephyrus was eight, Ruby was three and James was one. Corinne had given birth to five children and four were living. The deceased child was probably born between Zephyrus and Ruby.
In the 1910 census, her father, James Todd was listed as a laborer in an oil mill. His wife Corinne was still pursuing her work as a seamstress while raising six children. Two more had been added to the family, Six year old Furrnis and two year old Nathaniel. The four oldest children had all attended school.
By the 1920 census, James Todd was an engineer at the oil mill. Their was no occupation listed for Corinne. Zephyrus was teaching. Percival was not living at home. All but six year old Corintha were attending school.
All of the children finished high school. At least five attended college. Zephyrus began teaching at Clark Elementary School in 1913 when she was 21. Here is a bit I found about education in Selma at that time.
“…in 1891 the Alabama state legislature approved new education laws that allowed for discrimination in facilities and in the salaries provided for black teachers compared to whites. Despite these impediments, Richard B. Hudson (1866-1931), who was a Selma University graduate, remained committed to building a public school presence for black children in Selma. In 1890 Clark Elementary School opened on the first floor of Sylvan Street Hall, the first public school for African American students in Selma. A permanent building was constructed and opened in 1894 on Lawrence Street. Hudson administered Clark School for approximately 40 years and coped with a white perception that black children did not need education when they were needed more in the cotton fields or in the cotton industry. The length of the school year for blacks in Alabama, for instance, decreased from 100 days in 1900 to a mere 76 days by 1910.” (1)
Zephyrus’ sister Ruby joined her as a teacher at Clark Elementary School in 1922. Both of them continued to live at home and teach at Clark until they moved 129 miles away to Lamar County and began to teach at Lamar County Training School. Eventually Zephyrus Todd became the principal. Neither Zephyrus nor her sister Ruby married.
At the age of 76, on August 13, 1968, Zephyrus died in Lamar County. She was buried in Elmwood Cemetery, the black cemetery in Selma,
“… Elmwood Cemetery on Race Street (note: so named because of the Race Track.) became a forgotten civic space. The earlier Confederate burials were removed c. 1878. By the turn of the century it was the town’s recognized African American cemetery and became the final resting place for many significant local leaders in commerce, religion, and education from the first half of the twentieth century.” (1)
I found this information on Ancestry.com in Census Records, Directories, Death Records and Military Records. The news item was found on Newspapers.com. The history information was found here Section E. Historic Context (1)