Category Archives: sepia saturday

The Grahams – A Day In 1931

My grandfather Mershell C Graham was the son of Mary Jackson Graham who we saw scheduled to be auctioned off with her family after the death of slave holder Crawford Motley Jackson in 1860. We move forward 70 years to to see what was happening with the Graham family in 1931,

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“Doris – Mother – Howard – Mary Virginia ’31”

These two photos of my mother, Doris (wearing the dress with scarf) and her family were taken in the backyard of their Detroit home in 1931. Doris was eight, her sister Mary Virginia was eleven. Baby brother Howard was two years old.

Dad – Howard – MV and Doris (Actually Doris and M V)

Maybe they had just come from church, or were on their way. I wonder if my grandfather was pointing to one of the airplanes that were just beginning to become more common.

Mershell was 44. My grandmother Fannie was 42. They kept chickens, had a large garden and several fruit trees. The girls attended Barber Elementary school several blocks away. My grandfather rode the streetcar to work and they took the streetcar to church. They didn’t have a car until 1934.

From my grandfather's little pocket notebook. This was the only entry from 1931. 
"Transferred from HP (Highland Park) plant to Rouge plant Mar. 14, 1930
Went to work in Elect(rical) Stacks
 Mr. J.H. Arthiston foreman"
Detroit Free Press (Detroit, Michigan) · 24 Jul 1931, Fri · Page 15

Below are some 1931 comments from Howard’s baby book, written by my grandmother.

Saw his first circus – 2 1/2 years old – and what a thrill. July 1931
On Oct 23 1931 – Howard came into bathroom while Dad was trimming my hair.
Where have you been I asked?
Answer …In the children’s room.
Question—What doing?
Answer – “Lecturing on common-sense.”
The above is true – Believe it or not.
Had more sense then any child his age we’ve ever seen.

In my grandmother Fannie’s scrapbook, I found two library cards made by my mother, Doris and her older sister, Mary Virginia in 1931. My mother was 7 and Mary Virginia was 11. There is no book listed on my mother’s card but Mary Virginia names “The Children’s Story Hour” on hers. I wonder what other books they borrowed and lent or if this was a one time happening. I notice that Mary Virginia returned her book on time.

Related Posts

The Graham’s in the 1930s
Mershell Graham’s Notebook – 1930s
Home Library 1931
Births, Deaths,Doctors and Detroit – Part 1- Grandmother Fannie’s notes

Memories of Cats

James and Taffy – 1986 Idlewild, Michigan

As far as I know my ancestors did not have cats, although many had dogs. We had some cats in Mississippi, they lived in the barn and were sort of wild. Where did they originally come from? I cannot remember.

We moved to Idlewild, Michigan in the fall of 1986 and brought our cat Taffy with us. She had been gifted to us by our neighbors in Excelsior Springs, Missouri. Taffy founded a dynasty that lasted over 20 years. We spayed and neutered the last batch. Most of the cats eventually wandered off and never returned, but one named Panther stayed for over 17 years and moved to Atlanta with us where he soon died, never adjusting to city life at all.

Taffy’s children


James: Wow. Mumia enjoyed the photo of me and the cat.
Me: Do you remember that? Or the cat on your shoulder.
James: When I saw it I was like “Aaaaaargh – Why do I have the cat all up in my face like that!!!” I remember the hat and know where I must have been standing on the deck. But I don’t remember the actual picture. I first asked Mumia if he recognized anyone in the picture, he thought it was his friend Levon. We were trying to figure out how old I was. That cat looks pretty big. I was thinking sixish?
Me: It was our first winter in Idlewild, 1986/87. You were about 4/5.

In Mississippi I remember a lady who bought our goat milk and wanted one of the wild barn cats. They were a variety of colors, but she only wanted a white cat. His name was Peter Pan and he bit my husband’s hand while he was trying to catch him. He was finally caught and handed over.

Peter Pan

Ife: I remember dropping kittens over the railing at the house in Mississippi to see if they would land on their feet.
Me: I remember telling you all to stop dropping them.
James: Did you ever try it after clipping their whiskers?
Ife: No. We didn’t strap buttered bread on their backs either.
James: I remember the results of an experiment we did involving falling cats – with and without whiskers. but I don’t remember doing the actual experiment.

Sydney with big weed.
James and his children found gigantic dandelion sculptures even bigger than the originals shown below.

Sydney: those dandelions are huge
Me: They must be dandelions big sister.
James: Or the children are tiny
Me: They weren’t that tiny

Ife: I just saw some of those and asked the person whose garden they were in because I remembered these pictures. They are wild onion/garlic (alums). They are purple before they go to seed.

Tulani: Memories of cats?! I have plenty… I remember when cutie pie climbed up your leg trying to get to what you were cooking on the table, and that the second taffy used to be able to pull open my bedroom door….I remember bottle feeding kittens…
Plenty more…I’m sure…

James: I remember the kittens being found in the pile of wood over by the rabbits. Also, I remember Cabral naming one of the kittens Cutie Pie…I have that sad memory about the cat and mailbox.

Me: I remember one mother cat who was hidden in the car and chewed Cabral’s bottle . I put her out at Head Start and she was gone forever.  Never made it home. Her kittens must be the ones Tulani remembers bottle feeding.

A variety of cats with family members.

We did this experiment as part of our home school science class. We buttered a piece of bread and tied it onto the back of a cat. When dropped from the height of a picnic table, the cat landed on it’s feet. I think to be a real test of the sayings – bread always lands buttered side down and a cat always lands on it’s feet – we would have had to have a piece of bread the same size as the cat, which we didn’t.

My sister Pearl’s memories of her cat, Scatter

That was Scatter. Here he is. A great cat. He came to our door one day when he was tiny. I tried to shoo him away but when Zeke walked up behind me, he let out a loud cat wail and leaped up on the screen like he was finding his long lost friend. Zeke gave him some water. Then some milk. Then some tuna. Then he moved in! Lol. For almost 20 years!!

We had to stop letting him out because we live on such a busy corner. He used to hunt when he could go out. He’d bring home a dead chipmunk and eat it on the porch! Yuck! He was fast. He ran from our porch across our street one day and pounced on a blue jay in a tree across the street!

Only cat we ever had. He was very cool. He’s buried in the backyard.

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Witherspoon United Presbyterian Church – 1909

Witherspoon United Presbyterian Church Congregation 1909 Indianapolis, Indiana

This is a photograph of the congregation of Witherspoon United Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, IN in 1909, two years after they organized. This photograph is from the personal collection of my cousin Vivian Vaughn McDonald.  My grandmother Pearl Reed Cleage is the third person on the top right. My grandfather, Albert Cleage is next to her.  They wouldn’t be married for two more years. Next to Albert is his brother Jacob and next to him is their brother Henry.  Directly in front of my grandfather Albert is Jacob’s wife, Gertrude.

I was told that my grandfather’s sister Josephine, also a church member, was not there for the photograph, but was home pregnant with Hattie Ruth, the youngest of her five children. Her husband, James Cleage  stands four people to the left of Henry.  James Cleage was from a different branch of Cleages.  In the second row, second from the right, is Henrietta Cleage, oldest daughter of James and Josephine.

In the 1909 Indianapolis City Directory Witherspoon United Presbyterian Church is listed as located in Realty Hall with Rev. David White as Pastor.  I wonder if he is in this photograph and if so, which one he is?

From “History of the American Negro Virginia Edition” published 1921

I finally found a photograph of Rev. David French White! He was older, but I think he is the man in the front row holding two boys on his knees, seventh from the left. What do you think?

The history below was from the Witherspoon web page, however they  have taken the history section down. My grandparents, Albert Cleage and Pearl Reed, are both listed as founders.

On April 30, 1907 the Presbytery of Indiana of the United Presbyterian Church held a called meeting at Realty Hall in response to a petition signed by 31 persons asking to be organized into a United Presbyterian congregation.

Begins With 31 Members

Prof. David Graham of Rushville was moderator and Rev. W. W. McCall of Greensburg was secretary. Other members present were Rev. Fred W. Schmuch of Milroy, Rev. N. B. McClung of Vevay, Rev. Mr. McDill of Madison, and Dr. Cowan of Indianapolis.

The petition was discussed at some length. By unanimous vote an organization was decided upon. The 31 members who signed the petition were as follows: Henry W. Cleage, Mrs. Carrie Perkins, Mrs. Emma Moore, A. T. Roney, Mrs. Cora Donann, Mrs. Cathern Crenshaw, Mrs. Daisy L. Brabham, Albert Cleage, Mrs. Gertrude Cleage, James Myers, Mrs. A. L. McElrath, O. F. Dennis, Mrs. Hattie  Mitchell, H. M. Mitchell, Mrs. Theresa Finley, Othello Finley, Miss Edith Finley, Miss Luell E. Hibbett, Mrs. Mary Peterson, Mrs. Anna Bowman, John T. Fox, Miss Pearl Reed, Thomas H. Bransford, Mrs. O. F. Dennis, Miss Alice Mathews, Miss Hilda Reeder, W. J. Perkins, Henry Moore and H. L. Hummons.

The Bus Ride

I graduated with a BFA in December of 1968 and caught the Greyhound bus out of town right after Christmas. I had $500 from savings and graduation gifts. Bus fare was cheap. I can’t find the fare online, but $35 comes to mind. At the time, it was the only way I could figure out to leave home. That was my only plan – leaving home. Until this trip the farthest west I’d been was to Ludington, Michigan on Lake Michigan.

My grandmother Cleage said she wanted to pack a box lunch for me. She packed lots of fried chicken, bread and butter and various fruits. And I think I remember some pound cake. There was so much food, I couldn’t have eaten it before it went bad on my cross country trip. I remembering sharing some with a young man also heading west. And when we crossed into California I only had an apple left. We were warned to turn over any fruit and a fruit smelling dog walked through the bus, sniffing for fruit. He missed my apple and I hope that I didn’t import any virus or bugs with my rogue apple. Here are my memories of the five day bus trip west.

From a letter I wrote on Christmas, 1968 “My father said I’m crazy, but if that’s what I want to do he’ll try and give me some money if i need it. But he didn’t think it was good planning etc.”

My cousin Jan, me, my sister Pearl. The night I left.

My cousin Jan remembered: I remember being there and thinking it was very romantic and grown up you going away and all. You always did what I wanted to do before i was old enough to. And you and Pearl were my idols.

… i think it was my idea to go over and send you off properly. plus i wanted to pack myself in your luggage  

My sister Pearl remembered:
here’s what i think i remember. you had on a pea jacket and a long scarf looped around your neck and you were grinning sorta like in this photo. you had on jeans, i think, maybe bellbottoms… almost certainly… but mainly what i remember is that you didn’t seem scared (i was terrified for you!) and you seemed really happy to be going/going/gone! i also remember how weird it was going home with ma and henry. whew…]

January 5, (I think, the date is smeared) 1969

Dear Ma and Henry,

I am in Utah.  Ech.  So far no lechers for seat mates, only soreness.  I’ll never ride a bus again.  The country looks just like Michigan until Wyoming when it got hilly and now is getting more and more mountains.  I’ll write more later.

I knew you would like the patriotic pic on front (Monument to Mormon Pioneers in Temple.



January 7, 1969

Dear Mommy and Henry,

            I’m doing O.K. so far.  It’s really strange not to know where anything at all is.  Today I’m going over to Berkeley, if I don’t get lost on the bus.  I’ll never ride on another bus trip!  I thought I’d never walk again. 

The people on the bus were O.K  That is everybody minded their own business, but the seats were too small you couldn’t get comfortable or sleep.  And no water.  My whole face was flaking off from dehydration when I got here.  I opened a back, I mean bank account and so my money is safe.  The Y is okay.  I don’t see anyone up here but I hear them moving so they must be here.  There’s a sink in the room, so I can get lots of water and last night I washed my hair.  The bathroom is across the hall.  This morning I woke up to the sound of some construction work at 5 – what were they doing working at 5?  Downtown here looks like Detroit downtown, but bigger.

            The towns I went through on the bus were Chicago, Des Moines, Salt Lake City (not a very interesting place, don’t go there) Reno, (Is it easy to get married there?  They had churches with Christmas lights and lit crosses. Pathetic)  Also Wyatt Earp’s town in Wyoming.  Up to the end of Iowa the scenery all looked alike, but then there were mountains.  From a distance, they looked low, like you could run up the side.  There was a shepherd herding sheep and leading a horse.  I’ll write later, now I’m going to get something to eat.  My phone and address are:

415-775-6500   ext. 402
621 Sutter Street #402
San Francisco 94102
Write soon,

On envelope:  I got luggage

January 8, 1969
Dear Aunt M.V.
          I went over the bridge to Berkeley and it’s really high.  Every student at Berkeley seems to have his own personal dog that runs along with them.  I never saw so many dogs.  They must take them to class.

By January 16, I was writing my parents from Washington, D.C. where my sister was a student at Howard. You can read more about the next parts of this trip “Once I worked in a sewing factory

Air Raid Drills

When I was attended Roosevelt Elementary school in the 1950s, I remember air raid drills. We all sat in the hall like those children below. There would be singing and then we’d all cover our heads with our hands, which would have done a lot of good if a bomb or tornado came through. Luckily, none did.

Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University
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I remember hearing the air raid siren go off one day when I was on the way home from school. I was five or six years old. I don’t remember hearing it before that, but I might have been home already. I didn’t know it was a monthly test, I just knew it sounded weird and frightening. No one else was out on the street. I came to my grandparent’s house before I got to ours and stopped there. They told me it was a test to make sure the siren worked. They didn’t mention atom bombs or tornadoes.

T – TRAIN TRIP Revisited

This is my tenth A to Z Challenge. My first was in 2013, but I missed 2021. This April I am going through the alphabet using snippets about my family through the generations.

Several years ago, I wrote about a trip to the west that my grandparents, Albert and Pearl Cleage made by train from Detroit to California. They were traveling with a group. I wasn’t sure when or where they went, aside from starting in Detroit. Since then I have found photographs that show they visited The Garden of the Gods in Colorado, the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles and a beach with Oil derricks in the distance which may be Venice, California. They also visited an old west set and a mission bell, which I have so far been unable to locate.

I also decided that a photo of the grown children still living at home, eating dinner with my parents, dates the photo between 1951 and 1953 when we lived in that house.

Waiting for the train. My grandmother Pearl Cleage on the far right.
Garden of the Gods . My grandfather Dr. Albert B. Cleage Sr.
By Dicklyon – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
Southwest Mission Bell
A stagecoach on a movie set.
My stylish grandparents – Albert and Pearl Cleage. He is wearing the rakish white hat and she is wearing the stylish black hat, with a feather.
My grandmother holding her hat on.

Looking out over the vista. My grandparents are on the far right.

A beach with derricks. Venice Southern California? Venice is a neighborhood in Los Angeles, California.
Venice California oil derricks. Venice is a neighborhood in Los Angeles, California.
Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, California.
Hollywood bowl
The Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, California
At a train station

We moved back to Detroit in 1951 and lived down the street from my grandparents who lived on Atkinson. At that time my aunts and uncles in the photo below lived with my grandparents.

My mother seems to be on her way to the kitchen, perhaps to refill a serving dish. From the left, we have my uncle Louis, my mother, Uncle Hugh and part of Aunt Anna and my father. I believe that this dinner took place when my grandparents took the trip. I can think of no other reason that they would all be crowding around the dinner table. The photographer must be my uncle Henry, who doesn’t appear in the photo. Where were my sister and I? Perhaps sitting at a different table. Perhaps it was after dark and we were in bed.

dinner atkinson
Around the table
#AtoZChallenge 2023 letter T


My cousin Jan leaping amazingly.

You probably think I am going to tell you she went on to have an illustrious career with the Alvin Ailey dance troupe, but no, she did not.  I asked her how long she danced and she replied “let’s see, started around 13, stopped around 25. I danced somewhat with Shashu born and a teeny bit after Kamau.”

I believe there was also some modeling and transcribing of court sessions. Jan eventually moved to Canada and, along with Leonard, raised 4 wonderful, smart and talented children. She has 5 grandchildren. Jan now spends her time doing what needs to be done. This includes, but is not limited to, keeping up with her far flung family, copying and sending me family photos via email, posting inspiring quotes on fb and moving to a higher plane in a spiritual sense.  She still wears her magnificent collection of bangles.

I saw the leaping photo in 2013 and I was very impressed. Jan was so much younger than I was in those days and I have to admit I wasn’t paying enough attention to her life back then. Amazing how the passage of time makes the years that seemed so wide in youth narrow as we age.

I’m sorry I never saw Jan dance but so happy to have these photos.

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G – Glimpses in Detroit’s Mirror!

This is my tenth A to Z Challenge. My first was in 2013, but I missed 2021. This April I am going through the alphabet using snippets about my family through the generations. On Saturdays I’ve combined my usual Sepia Saturday post with the letter of the day. A double challenge.

Several years ago I shared the photograph below from my grandmother’s scrapbook of my mother dancing at a formal dance. The other day I decided to see if I could find any more information in the newspapers. I was overjoyed to find two articles in two different Detroit papers with photos and mentions of my mother. Both were African American newspapers. The Tribune was published by my maternal grandmother’s first cousin, James McCall.

From my grandmother Fannie’s scrape book. An article from The Tribune March 18, 1939

I am sharing the photo from the Michigan Chronicle and the original photograph from my grandmother’s album and the article from the Detroit Tribune, because it mentions what my mother was wearing.

In March 1939, my mother was 16 and a senior at Eastern High School. She graduated in January 1940, and entered Wayne State University.

The Michigan Chronicle, March 18 1939. My mother is in the center of the circle looking up at us.

Glimpses… In Detroit’s Mirror

By Sylvia Penn

The Detroit Tribune, March 18, 1939, page 4

Hello , Folk! The hour for twisting and turning our “little ole” mirror for you to catch reflections of the doings of Detroit, is at hand again. We have always heard that the weather is a safe topic of conversations at any time; so right here for a second or two, we shall discuss the weather Sunday and Monday of this week, we were tempted to think of Detroit as the “Crystal City,” instead of the Motor City for the handiwork of nature stretched before our gaze a picture of dazzling beauty with trees, houses and streets encased in ice. The sparkling beauty of it all equaled the splendor of the jewels in the King’s Crown. It was a magnificent sight, but it is all gone now, except the memory of it and in it’s stead we have warm sunlight, which reminds us that spring is just around the corner.

Yes, Folk, but there have been other scenes of beauty in Detroit other than that afforded by Dame Nature. Such was the Chesterfields ball at Wayne university last Saturday evening. The affair was as colorful as a rainbow and was distinctly an occasion for dress. The frilly crisp gowns worn by the young ladies were as beautiful and picturesque as springtime. The gowns were rampant in color, ranging from polka-dots to mulberry taffetas, sky blue satins and black and gold nets. Then there were the many lovely corsages, also orchids for two of the Chesterfieldians chose and pinned gorgeous orchids on the gowns of their company. The members of the club identified themselves by wearing green and gold ribbons in their lapel, these being Wayne’s colors. They further used the same color scheme in the. ceiling decorations. Of course, there were multi-colored balloons and a profusion of confetti. The swingy, swingy music brought forth the usual group of jitterbugs doing their number on the sideline with maybe one or two doing the “Boogey.” The Chesterfieldiana and their invited girl friends were: Bobby Douglas and Doris Graham, Doris looking very sharp in peach chiffon and corsage of sweet peas and roses, Howard Tandy and Martha Bradby, Martha very cute in black and white net, Jack Barthwell and Marjorie Cook, Marjorie being quite smart in black chiffon; Leven Weiss and Helen Nuttall, Helen very sophisticated in black taffeta striped with gold; Theodore Washington and Margaret Book, Billy Allen and Alice Tandy. Alice very ravishing in red and wearing orchids too; Tony Martin and Lorraine Porter. Louis Bray and Shirley Turner, Shirley lookin lovely in white crepe; Conklin Bray and Harriet Pate. Harriet quite charming in blue and white. Demar Solmon and Lillian Brown; John Roxvourgh and Mary L. Singleton; Robert Johnson and Veralee Fisher, Vera very stunning in her new gown of aqua-blue chiffon, embroidered with silver; Charles Diggs Jr. and Christine Smoot. …

Today I did two “G” posts, unawares. The other is G-Gardening.

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#AtoZChallenge 2023 letter G

Oh Dry Those Tears

My paternal grandmother, Pearl Reed Cleage was born in Lebanon, Kentucky. Her family moved to Indianapolis, Indiana when she was a young girl and that is where she grew up. She sang at various events before she married and my father was born and the family moved to Kalamazoo, MI. I found this newspaper article in the box of family photos and was able to find more information about the event in several local papers. I found one of the songs she sang (Oh Dry Those Tears) and I shared it below.

Sings in Concert at Simpson Chapel

 Miss Pearl D. Reed The violin recital of Clarence Cameron White will be given this evening at Simpson Chapel under the direction of the Colored Y.M.C.A. Orchestra.  He will be supported by the best local talent.  The following program will be given:
Overture – “Northern Lights,” Y.M.C.A. Orchestra
Violin – Hungarian Rhapsodie, Clarence Cameron White
Song – “Oh Dry Those Tears,” Miss Pearl D. Reed.”
Piano – “Vaise in C sharp minor (b) Polanaise in A major.  Mrs. Alberta J. Grubbs.
Violin – (a) Tran Merel: (b) Scherzo, Clarence Cameron White
Orchestra – “The Spartan,” orchestra
Vocal – “Good-by”, Miss Pearl D. Cleage
Readings A.A. Taylor.
Selection – “The Bird and Brook,” orchestra

The Indianapolis Star, Friday       May 8, 1908

“The Cameron White Recital” 

Clarence Cameron White ably sustained his reputation as a violinist at Simpson Chapel church last week under the auspices of of the Y.M.C.A. Mr. White plays a clean violin; he gets all out of it there is – dragging his bow from tip to tip, and more if it were possible.  He did not attempt any of the great big things – the big concertos, and perhaps for the best.  Yet he showed his capability for such work and at the same time satisfied his audience.  His encores as a rule were selections that the audience recognized and through the beautiful renditions it could easily form some estimate of his playing ability.  Mr. White was a decided success.  Seldom is has a good class of music been so thoroughly appreciated.  He was supported at the piano by Samuel Ratcliffe whose playing was commendable.  Miss Pearl D. Reed proved an acceptable contralto singer.  The orchestra under Alfred A. Taylor did some very effective work.  Mr. Taylor proved a reader of ability; he read several of his own selections.  The audience was magnificent and paid the utmost attention to the renditions.”

The Freeman An Illustrated Colored Newspaper 1908    May 16 page 4

One of the songs Pearl Reed sang at the recital, “Oh Dry Those Tears”

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Laughing Before the Dance

Doris and Toddy, Alpha dance 1952.

I do not remember seeing my parents dressed up for this dance or any dance. The most dressed up would be for church or holidays and there were no evening gowns worn for those. I was six years old. I do not remember ever seeing my parents dressed up and going out.  After we moved off of Atkinson to Chicago Blvd, I remember that my mother had several fancy gowns hanging in her closet, but never saw her wear one.

That radio was passed to me when I was in college and I had it for a number of years before I moved to very small quarters and most of my stuff disappeared. There was a phonograph in the lower part. You could also get short wave through the radio and I remember listening to Radio Habana Cuba during high school while I was studying Spanish.

Now, if they were down there practicing their steps to the radio or their collection of 78s, that would be a life I wasn’t aware of. I was in college before I found those 78s and heard The Ink Spots, Bessie Smith and so many other classics. My mother never played them as I was growing up.

A photo from the Sphinx magazine of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. October 1952

I found this article in the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity magazine, The Sphinx, about a ball in the spring of 1952 in Detroit. This might be the one my parents were going to.

For more click about where we were living –  A is for Atkinson.
I posted a companion photograph to this one in 2015. You can see it here -> Alpha Dance 1952
The Sheraton Cadillac in photographs through the years.

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