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.
My paternal grandmother, Pearl Reed Cleage was born 135 years ago in Lebanon, Kentucky, the youngest of Annie Reed’s 8 children. She married Dr. Albert B. Cleage in Indianapolis, IN in 1910 and they had seven amazing children, including my father, who they raised in Detroit, MI.
She was a small woman who looked sweet as pie and had a backbone of steel. She didn’t begin to run down until she broke her hip in her 80s. In 1982, my grandmother Pearl died of congestive heart failure in Idlewild, Michigan.
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.
Northern Congregationalists went south to Montgomery, Alabama after the Civil War. First Congregational Christian Church was founded in 1872. They also supported a school nearby. My grandmother, Fannie Turner, attended both the school and the church. She met her husband, Mershell Graham, in the church.
When Mershell Graham, my grandfather, migrated north to Detroit in 1917 many of his friends, who were also members of First Congregational Church, were also leaving segregated Montgomery. In 1919 a group of nine gathered together to form Plymouth Congregational Church. They first met in member’s houses and in borrowed space until they were able to purchase their own building, a former Synagogue, in 1927. They moved in, in May 15, 1927.
Plymouth had been in the building a little over a year when this photo was taken. My grandfather, Mershell C. Graham, is standing behind his daughters, Mary V. and Doris (my mother). Their cousin, Margaret McCall, is standing between them. They are in the front row, towards the left side of center. The minister, Rev. Laviscount, is standing behind Mary V. My grandmother, Fannie, had just given birth to their youngest son, Howard, so she was not able to be there.
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.
The photographs used in this series are from my personal collection. Please do not use without my express permission.
Barbara Pearl Cleage was the fifth child and first daughter born to the Cleages. She was also the first child born in the house on Scotten Avenue. She was born at home on July 10, 1920.
She soon grew taller than her older brother, Hugh. This made her self conscious until a dressmaker, Mrs. Chase, convinced her that she was very good looking. Barbara always looks quite stylish in her photos, even when a young girl. When I mentioned seeing her in a photo of “The Social Sixteen”, a group of young people that included my mother and her sister who met at each others homes and held dances and other social events, she said that they only let her in because of her older brothers.
This little magazine was published by some of the same people that published Crisis Magazine when Barbara was only a few months old. The purpose was to provide positive images and stories for African American school children.
Published Monthly and Copyrighted by DuBois and Dill, Publishers, at 2 West 13th Street, New York, N. Y. Conducted by W. E. Burghardt DuBois; Jessie Redmon Fauset, Literary Editor; Augustus Granville Dill, Business Manager
(The links will take you to posts I have written that give more details about his life.)
Henry Wadsworth Cleage was born March 22, 1916, six months after his family moved from Kalamazoo to Detroit, Michigan. He was born at home on 1355 24th Street, the 3rd of the 7 children of Dr. Albert B. Cleage SR and his wife Pearl Reed Cleage. This was my first digression. I went to look on Google Maps to see if the house was still there. It wasn’t. There are mostly empty lots with a few houses scattered about. The house was located on the corner of 24th Street and Porter, a few blocks from the Detroit River And the Ambassador Bridge.
Between January and June of 1920, when Henry was 5 years old, the family moved 3 miles north to a large brick house on 6429 Scotten Ave. My grandmother was pregnant with Barbara, her 5th child and first daughter, who was born in the new house. I remember my aunt Gladys telling me that all the girls were born in that house on Scotten.
Henry and his siblings attended Wingert Elementary school, a few blocks from the house. He built forts in the backyard with his brothers and neighborhood friends and told of riding his bike out Tireman to the country where they roasted potatoes in a campfire. His father’s mother Celia Rice Cleage Sherman stayed with the family during that time.
He attended McMichael Junior High School and then Northwestern High School. While at Northwestern he played in the school orchestra and the All City Orchestra, played school baseball and was on the 12-A dues committee.
Henry married Alice Stanton in 1941. When WW2 started, Henry and his brother were conscientious objectors and moved to a farm in Avoca where they raised dairy cows and chickens. Henry and Alice were divorced in 1943.
While on the farm, Henry wrote short stories and sent them out to various magazines of the day. None were published. I shared two of them earlier – Just Tell The Men – a short story by Henry Cleage and another short story Proof Positive. In 1947 Henry returned and completed Law School and began practicing in Detroit and Pontiac.
From Left to right My grandmother, Fannie Mae Turner Graham, peeking over my great grandmother, Jennie Virginia Allen Turner’s, shoulder. My grandmother’s sister Daisy Turner. Behind and between Aunt Daisy and Aunt Alice Turner, is my aunt Mary Virginia Graham Elkins, although she was not yet an Elkins. At the end, behind Alice, is my mother, Doris Graham Cleage, although she was not yet a Cleage either.
Grandmother Turner was 73, about my age. My grandmother was 51. Daisy was 49. Alice was 30. My mother was 16 and her sister was 19.
They are posed in Grandmother Turner’s backyard on the East Side of Detroit at 4536 Harding. The house is gone now. They look like they just came from Plymouth Congregational Church, however the photo is dated July 4, 1939 on the back. July 4 was on a Tuesday that year. My grandfather, Mershell C. Graham took the picture.