Category Archives: Springfield, MA

I – I Was There!

This is my ninth year of blogging the A to Z Challenge. Everyday I will share something about my family’s life during 1950. This was a year that the USA federal census was taken and the first one that I appear in. At the end of each post I will share a book from my childhood collection.

I wrote about being in the 1950 Census ten years ago. Let’s see what I got right and what I got wrong. The first post was I was there.

My father, Albert B. Cleage, was 38 years old and he had worked 60 hours during the past week a pastor of a Congregational Church, not a Methodist church as it says in the 1950 census. He was born in Indiana. He and all members of the family were identified as Negro.

Census Sheet from 1950 Census Archives. Some people were asked extra questions. The red line leads from those family members to the extras. Pearl actually appeared on the next page, but for ease of viewing, I’ve added her to this page. Click to enlarge.

My mother, Doris G. Cleage, was 27. She was a housewife and her hours were not recorded. She was born in Michigan. She got to answer the extra questions and they show that the family lived in the same place the year before and that she had completed 4 years of college.

I, Kristin, was three years old. My younger sister Pearl who appears on the next page, was 1. We were both born in Massachusetts.

So, I didn’t get anything wrong, although the census did, getting the denomination wrong.

I Can Fly

I remember reading this book to my younger cousin Marilyn years later. She eventually memorized the book.

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I’m ’m also participating in the Genealogy Blog 1950s Blog Party hosted by Elizabeth Swanay O’Neal, “The Genealogy Blog Party: Back to the 1950s,” Heart of the Family™ https://www.thefamilyheart.com/genealogy-blog-party-1950s/

H – History of St. John’s

This is my ninth year of blogging the A to Z Challenge. Everyday I will share something about my family’s life during 1950. This was a year that the USA federal census was taken and the first one that I appear in. At the end of each post I will share a book from my childhood collection. Click on all images to enlarge.

In Memory of John Brown “Hero of Harper’s Ferry” A window in the Sanctuary. Other windows are named for former members.

I thought I would define “Congregational” for those that don’t know what makes this denomination different from other protestant denominations. Congregationalism emphasizes the right and responsibility of each congregation to determine its own affairs. It eliminates bishops and presbyteries. Each individual church is autonomous.

St. John’s Congregational Church is one of the oldest African American churches in New England. It was founded in 1844. First as the Sanford Street Church. After a few years, it was known as the Free Church. Many members were actively involved in the Underground Railroad and in the movement to abolish slavery.

In 1892, the Sanford Street Church merged with the Quincy Street Mission to form St. John’s Congregational Church, which was named in honor of John Brown, who was a member of the congregation during his three year residency in Springfield. Some years later Brown launched the attack on Harper’s Ferry leading up to the Civil War.

William Deberry as a young man. Click to see original photo on the Springfield Museum site.

Reverend William DeBerry came to Springfield in 1899, a week after graduating from Oberlin Theological Seminary in Ohio. He was ordained as pastor of St. John’s Church on June 28, 1899.

By 1911 the congregation had raised the funds and built a new church at the corner of Hancock and Union Streets. Some subterfuge was needed as the original white owner would not sell to African Americans. Another white man agreed to purchase the property for the church, with their funds, and deed it over to them after the sale.

Rev. DeBerry believed in combining traditional religious services with community involvement. In 1913 St. John’s Parish Home next to the church on Union Street was opened to provide safe residential accommodation for working girls and women. It also included quarters for the minister and his family. This is where we lived in 1950. A free employment bureau was opened for men and women, along with a night school which taught domestic science. The Women’s Social Union and the Boys Club were formed to provide social and sports activities for young people.

Springfield’s Black population almost doubled between 1917 and 1922 as people from the South moved North. Due to the population increase and housing segregation in Springfield, there was a need for housing. The church purchased buildings on Quincy Street and Orleans Street and rented it to black families.

In 1920 property was purchased for a summer camp in East Brookfield. Camp Atwater continues to this day as the oldest African American camp in the United States.

In 1924, DeBerry separated the social programs division from the church in order to bypass restrictions on the funding of religious programs. He resigned from the pulpit to lead the new organization, reorganized in 1931 as the Dunbar Community League. The church found itself in the midst of the Depression and without much of it’s social programming and income.

Rev. Albert B. Cleage on church steps.

In 1945 my father, Rev. Albert B. Cleage Jr became the pastor of St. John’s. He had also graduated from Oberlin Theological School and belived in combining traditional religion and social involvement.

In 1947 the church began a move to have the buildings DeBerry had separated from the church when he left, returned to church ownership. The dispute ended up in court. Some members of the church sided with DeBerry. After DeBerry died in January of 1948 arrangements were made between the Dunbar Community League and St. John’s Congregational Church for the buildings to be returned.

Springfield Union February 21, 1948 Transcribed below. Click to enlarge.

St. John’s and Dunbar Dispute is Settled

Out of Court Agreement Provides Church Pay League $11,000 for Two Properties

An out-of-court settlement of the long-standing property dispute between St. John’s Congregational Church and the Dunbar Community League, Inc., was announced jointly yesterday by counsel for the two groups, John T. Quirk, Jr., and Robert W. Bodfish for the church and Milton J. Donovan for the league. The settlement provided payment of $11,500 by the church to the league.

The terms will be incorporated in a consent decree terminating equity proceedings in Superior Court according to the attorneys. Their statement said, in part:

“St. John’s Church will pay to Dunbar Community League, Inc. $11,500. Dunbar will transfer to St. John’s the properties at 643 Union St. and 146-152 Quincy st., which are adjacent to the church property. The Dunbar organization will continue to occupy it’s present office location at 643 Union St., until Nov. 1, 1948.

Springfield Union February 21, 1948
Continued from above. Transcription to the right.

“Suitable releases will be mutually exchanged to terminate all questions raised by the equity suit or outstanding between the parties.”

The proceedings against the league had aroused considerable controversy in Springfield’s Negro community, involving, as it did, one of the largest Negro congregations and an outstanding Negro social agency. It centered around title to several properties acquired by the church and St. John’s Institutional Activities, Inc., of which the Dunbar League is the successor.

Last spring, the church obtained a temporary injunction and restraining order against the league forbidding the league to dispose of the properties involved, and this was followed by issuance of an interlocutory decree, continuing the injunction and restraining order until final disposition, by Judge William C. Giles. The following parcels of real estate were listed in the case.

A house and lot at 49 Hancock St., two buildings and lots on Jennette Ave., interest in a house and lot at 59 Quincy St. and a house and lot at 610-612 Union St., all conveyed to St. John’s Church in 1915 under th will of Henrietta H. Coleman.

Property at 72 Marion, obtained by will, and in Pease St., owned by the church prior to Jan. 10, 1924, the date on which the Dunbar League’s predecessor acquired al the real estate by conveyance from the church.

The main point in the church’s bill against the Dunbar League was that the property originally was bequeathed for religious purposes and that the conveyances to the league’s predecessor were in violation of these purposes. The bill further said that the church was unable to enumerate other parcels of real estate and personal property of “great value” intended for and belonging to the church, because essential records were in the exclusive possession of the league.

It also set forth that the church believed the defendant was on the point of selling the real estate and averred that any transfer of the properties involved by the defendant would be illegal, and an unlawful diversion for purpose wholly foreign to the original purpose. Other properties later added in the equity bill were 81 Orleans St., 146 Quincy St., 150-152 Quincy St., 154-156 Quincy st., 43 Hancock St., and 616 Union St.

Court proceedings were begun several months before the recent death of Rev. W. N. DeBerry, pastor of St. John’s Church who, in later years, devoted his efforts largely to the Dunbar League.

St. John’s Congregational Church was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2016.

Sources
St. John’s Congregational Church (Sanford Street Church, Free Church)
Springfield, MA – Our Plural History
Historic St. John’s Congregational Church to open New Worship Center
Rev. William N. DeBerry
Prophet of the Black Nation by Hiley H. Ward. ©1969 United Church Press

Here Comes A Parade

We never went to a parade but I remember looking out of our front door watching a religious procession going past our house. They carried large statues down the street.

F – Families Facing Eviction

This is my ninth year of blogging the A to Z Challenge. Everyday I will share something about my family’s life during 1950. This was a year that the USA federal census was taken and the first one that I appear in. At the end of each post I will share a book from my childhood collection.

For the month of April, 1950 there were half a dozen articles about the committee that was trying to find ways to help families that were being evicted from the site of a new school. Over the month different plans were submitted, but there was always a hitch – the white potential neighbors didn’t want black people to move in; electrical wires would need to be moved; some of the houses were not in shape to be moved; and on and on. The plan was thus prevented from being put into action. In the end, the families were evicted and no new homes were provided. Here is the first article from the Springfield Union, February 23, 1950. Page 2

Committee Studying Help To Families Facing Eviction

Co-operative Purchase of Apartment Block, House Moving, Use of School Are Considered

Co-operative buying of an apartment, moving houses on rollers, and remodeling the former Strickland School for use as living quarters have all been discussed by a committee, still in its organizational stage as possible methods for relieving the plight of the 22 families on Union and Monroe Sts. who received eviction notices to make room for construction of the new East Union St. School.

Councilman Paul R. Mason said last night Rev. Albert Cleage, pastor of St. John’s Congregational Church, Lindsay B. Johnson, Jr., athletic director of St. John’s Church, and himself comprise the committee. He said Councilman August Luca, who has expressed concern over the plight of the families, and other civic leaders would be asked to serve on the committee.

“If anything can be done for our families, it should be considered. The committee will explore every possible avenue to find homes for these people,” Councilman Mason said.”

About the co-operative plan, Councilman Mason said, “If these families are not in a position to buy a new home individually they might be able to co-operate on buying an apartment house. They would then be part owners and part tenants.”

Another possibility that the committee has considered is the purchase of the Strickland School, now believed to be in private hands, but not used and remodeling it for living quarters.

Councilman Lucia has suggested that some houses could be moved to another location on rollers as was done recently in the Barendo St. area. After investigation Councilman Mason was of the opinion that this could be done with some houses but said it was “questionable whether all of them are in condition to be moved.”

Councilman Mason also brought up the point last night of his claim that “policy of segregation is the same thing as a policy of discrimination against Negroes.”

He cited the case of Joseph Ingram of 693 Union St., a Negro and one of those who recently received a 60 day eviction notices from the Law Department. “Joe, a veteran, has a wife and two children, and is expecting another child. He told me applied to the Springfield Housing Authority for quarters in one of the housing projects, but was told to come back when he was notified officially of his eviction,” Councilman Mason said.

“Even if Joe is now at the top of the list and a vacancy occurs in a white tenement, he could not be considered for the housing unit, because the Authority’s policy is to segregate the Negro families into separate apartments,” he said.

Councilman Mason said he asked Housing Authority Chairman John I. Robinson last night what would happen if a Negro were next in line, but the only vacancy was in a white apartment. He said Mr. Robinson couldn’t answer it, saying simply, “No case such as that has ever come up.”

From the Springfield Union, February 23, 1950. Page 2
Four year old me playing a little plastic record with my little sister one year old Pearl.
Five Little Firemen

D – Democracy & Doris

This is my ninth year of blogging the A to Z Challenge. Everyday I will share something about my family’s life during 1950. This was a year that the USA federal census was taken and the first one that I appear in. At the end of each post I will share a book from my childhood collection.

My mother helping me hold my many dolls. Notice that Pearl always has only one doll.

Democracy is Not ‘Separate’

Click to enlarge

To the Editor of The Union:

Sir: In answer to “Home Owner” whose letter appeared June 21, there are three things I would point out. First, Americans believe in democracy, which means equality for all people — not separate equality, but plain and simple equality.

Second, no matter which way you look at it, Negroes are people just like other people. If at times they seem different, it is because misguided people like you have forced them to live under “separate” subhuman conditions.

Third, from coast to coast in the North of this country Negro people and white people live, work, play and worship together in happiness and in peace because there are Americans who believe in democracy, Christianity and love, and are big enough to live by them.

Doris Graham Cleage
Springfield

Below is the letter my mother was responding to.

The Race Problem and Housing

Click to enlarge

To the Editor of The Union:

Sir: In regard to the colored people buying homes among the white home owners, would first say, personally, I have nothing against them, for there are many fine folk among these people; but is it fair and right to us homeowners, who have worked to keep up our own homes, pay taxes, and make improvements within the laws of this city?

Do we have no voice in this matter, when we are being forced out? Would the city fathers, who advocate the merging of the two races here in this city, wish to live in the same neighborhood?

In a neighborhood supposed to be made up of happy congenial people, would the colored people be happy among us, and would we be? I have no doubt we would not. Our only alternative will be to sell to them, and try to start over. Why doesn’t the city build proper housing conditions for them in a district of their own? Is it too late?

Would like to hear how other home owners feel concerning this problem.

HOME OWNER

Springfield

_________________________________________________________________________

Meanwhile, as a three year old, I was oblivious.

The Surprise Doll.

B – Basketball

This is my ninth year of blogging the A to Z Challenge. Everyday I will share something about my family’s life during 1950. This was a year that the USA federal census was taken and the first one that I appear in. At the end of each post I will share a book from my childhood collection.

Did you know that Basketball was invented in Springfield, Massachusetts by Dr. James Naismith while working at the local YMCA? You can hear him talk about it in the short interview below.

When my father was pastor of St. John’s Congregational Church from 1945-1951, he had an active youth program, with boys basketball being an important component.

“Cleage’s work was appraised in retrospect by the church historians in the commemorative volume The History of St. John’s Congregational Church in 1962, more than a decade after he returned to Detroit. At the outset of Cleage’s ministry at St. John’s, it was noted:

‘Mr. Cleage soon inaugurated a strong youth program for the church. Membership in St. John’s Pilgrim Fellowship and College Forum was greatly sought after, and lectures of these groups grew each week. Included among the popular activities begun by Mr. Cleage were the junior and senior dramatic workshops.

Lindsay B. Johnson Jr. and Rev. Albert B. Cleage, Jr.

A vigorous church athletic program that produced winning basketball teams coached by Mr. Cleage and Mr. Lindsay B. Johnson Jr., was another product of the new minister’s youth program. During this period, a Brownie Scout group was organized under the leadership of Miss Adele Pickens, a Springfield school-teacher.'”

From Prophet of the Black Nation by Hiley H. Ward ©1969 United Church Press, pg 65.

Kristin catching the ball. July 1950.

Although I didn’t play basketball, I did play catch.

Baby Bunny

A – Announcing 1950!

This is my ninth year of blogging the A to Z Challenge. Everyday I will share something about my family’s life during 1950. This was a year that the USA federal census was taken and the first one that I appear in. At the end of each post I will share a book from my childhood collection.

Me in 1950, arms spread in the backyard on Union street.

Amazingly, the 1950 Census will be the first one I will personally appear in! I have spent years looking through old census records and trying to piece together the lives of my Ancestors. When I realized that the 1950 census would be released on April 1 this year, I was pretty excited that now I would get to see what picture the census gives of a year I know. Although I was only three when that census was taken in April, 1950, I remember and I recall those days. Sort of. With the help of news articles and photographs I will go through my family’s life in 1950 during this A to Z Challenge.

Although the news items show that my family was active and aware of what was happening at the time, I was blissfully unaware as I lived my young life. I was living through that simpler time everyone remembers as the past, but the adults were living through lives that were as complex as any. And so it goes.

A poem I wrote six years ago about this photo.

I was almost four
 swirling
in the backyard. My
life beginning.

August 2016 sitting at my 
desk
writing
listening to Sati. The 
ceiling fan creaks
around my husband's voice on
the phone.

Outside cars pass.
A Year on the Farm