The photographs used in this series are from my personal collection. Please do not use without my express permission.
This year for the A to Z Challenge, I am going back a hundred years to the 1920s and writing about what happened to my family during that decade. My grandparents had settled down to marriage and family and my parents and their siblings were too young to participate in any “roaring” that was going on. I start with my father, Albert B. Cleage Jr.
Albert B. Cleage Jr., the oldest of the seven children of Albert B. Cleage Sr and Pearl (Reed) Cleage, was eight years old when the 1920s began. When the decade ended, he was nineteen. During that decade he attended Wingert Elementary School through the 8th grade. He graduated from Northwestern High School in 1929 and went on to the College of the City of Detroit, as Wayne State University was known then.
Strange, but I don’t remember my father telling us any stories about growing up.
Below are some memories of my father’s childhood taken from a biography by Hiley Ward written in 1969.
“I want to say to you, there was nothing funny when he was a small boy,” said Mrs. Cleage. “He was a serious little boy. He wore little white blouses and trousers, and was always with a book. The others were excavating the backyard, or wiring the back porch, or Louis would be greasing up something, and Albert reading. He was never happy-go-lucky.”
Why? “That’s the way God made him.” and for another reason, she suggested, “It might be that at a tender age when he should be happy, he saw practices concerning colored children and it took all the jolliness out of him.” His sister Barbara, who had come into the room, noted that experiences of seating in the predominantly white schools “were shattering, because they were usually asked to sit in the back of the room,” as Cleage himself recalls, and said Barbara “there were the lynching pictures in Crisis magazine – all had an effect on him.” They noted that Louis was a great builder and Albert, in “his white shirt and tie, and book under his arm, was good at art.”
Oscar Hand, the multi-faceted church official who is custodian for the Birney Annex school and tries his hand occasionally in politics on a school or county ballot, unsuccessfully, knew the Cleages since 1920…
Recalling their childhood (they lived two blocks apart, the Cleages at Scotten and Moore Place and the Hands at Hartford and Stanford), Toddy (my father’s nickname) never played, never engaged in sport activity with us. Henry was the athlete. I don’t remember Toddy participating in the games we did. There was never a reason why he didn’t play games – he was probably just not interested; he was always reading and always making plans for something for us to do.
“In the backyard we used to have a carnival, and all the Cleage brothers took part in it. Dr. (Louis) Cleage had a penny matching machine then; you paid to see how much shock you could take when you held on to a certain part of the car.” Then there was a marbles game. “If you grabbed the right marble, you won a pair of ice skates. Nobody would win; the marble was in the pocket. One big white boy wanted to win so badly he substituted one just like it as he pulled his hand out of the jar. We just about had a fight on the corner.” Cleage, who was lighter in weight than Oscar (Cleage is now 5 feet, 10 1/2 inches, 185 pounds, adding some weight after giving up smoking), used to challenge Oscar to a race and “he’d run faster, then sit on the porch to porch a point.”
You can find more posts and photos about my father during the 1920s below:
Reading an article in the Dec 12, 1939 edition of The Detroit Tribune, about a concert Marian Anderson gave in Detroit, I was surprised to find a number of family members and friends among those who attended. My mother had several of Marian Anderson’s records, but she never mentioned hearing her in person. Click on images to enlarge.
“According to Anderson biographer Allan Keiler, she was invited to sing in Washington by Howard University as part of its concert series. And because of Anderson’s international reputation, the university needed to find a place large enough to accommodate the crowds. Constitution Hall was such a place, but the Daughters of the American Revolution owned the hall.
“They refused to allow her use of the hall,” Keiler says, “because she was black and because there was a white-artist-only clause printed in every contract issued by the DAR.” Denied a Stage, She Sang For A Nation
Photographs of some family members and friends who attended the concert. Family photographs.
Well we is in Los Angeles… (Typewriter is still on the way) Our last two weeks in San Francisco were a conglomeration of everybody sending us on our way. We had supper out almost everyday — and all of San Francisco’s Elite entertained us — quite a time was had by all. We also received several gifts in addition to the church’s gift of books — Cigarettes — Candy — towel set — 2 lbs of coffee — ash trays — and books (even a copy of Strange Fruit). People were very nice — with their regrets and hopes that we will return when Thurman leaves. Frisky kept smiling even though it seemed to hurt his face.
Just before we we left we met Rev. Roy Nichols who has another inter-racial church (Congregational) across the Bay in Berkley. His co-pastor is Rev. Gallager who was president of Talladega College before coming to the “Pacific School of Religion”. Nichols “offered me a job “working with him and Gallager — and tried to arrange a meeting with Gallager but I was too busy. (I’m tired of inter-racial churches for the present!)
President Imes of Knoxville College sent me an application blank which I returned (with a letter in which I re-organized Knoxville’s curriculum around religious education!) He said he had an opening for a Prof. of Religious Ed — and a college Preacher — the combined job paying $1,890 per year and house.
(The top corner of the page, where the return address would be on the reverse side is torn out, leaving four half sentences.
….ply to my application …happy to have …ine training and …Knoxville faulty – but he would have to work slowly to get the Elders of the church – and he does not want to seem to be forcing – the issue etc. He also admitted that the salary is very inadequate (with which I agree!!!) He said that he had mentioned my application to the President of Virginia State College who also is looking for a College Preacher but just for a year while the regular preacher is away studying. He suggested that Virginia State will contact me — giving me the opportunity to pick the position which offers the best position. (Nice, isn’t he!)
Anyway – I’m writing Imes and advising him to take his time — I’d rather stay here until next fall anyway I can finish two years work at the U. of Southern California by that time. As I told him, I’m looking for a permanent position which will still allow me time for study during the summer — with an occasional semester off for study etc. I don’t suppose anything will come of it!
Los Angeles is a fine town! Except for our present financial uproar we like it better than any place we’ve been yet.
Our financial-uproar is due to the fact that we have not as yet received our last — $200 — pay! Dr. Smith stopped payment because I insisted upon $200 instead of $135 –. So — I have turned a bill into the church for the balance of $65 due. I suppose I’ll get it all one of these days! (over Frisky’s dead body!)
Our apartment is Super-duper!!! It’s “on the hill”– which in Detroit would be the “North-End” — except its more like Boston Blvd — or Lake-shore Drive!!! — Big — fine houses, lawns and palm-trees. Negroes have not broken into the “hill district” A Mrs. Hammonds of Detroit owns the building (Husband a racketeer (?) or something in Detroit). Our living room is right out of “House and Garden” magazine — It is long with blue wall to wall carpet — and white walls and woodwork — and white walls and colored upholstered furniture — end tables — cocktail table ‘n that — (Ohhh yes and Venetian Blinds at the windows which are all the way across one end of the room with wine-colored drapes at either end!) The bathroom is pale-blue tile with white woodwork ‘n that. Shower — built in bath tub ‘n’ that!
The only catch is the kitchen which is an alcove between the living room and the bah-room. It’s shrewd, too but it ain’t got neither sink nor stove! We’re supposed to get an electric plate to cook on — and the land lady is supposed to put in a sink! The ice-box and cupboard are in. It was called a Bachelor-apt. — and so had no stove or sink.
Both the kitchen living room and bath have built in automatic heating units (gas). The living-room has an “In-a-door-bed” which is very nice — and the closet for clothes! We also have a garage for storage, the building is new and shrewd! Thousands of Negroes within walking distance and all in nice homes – quiet and taken care of just like white-folks. I can see why Daddy wanted to move out here. It would be a fine place to live if you had money!
We’ve been here eating at the restaurant ever since we got here – There’s a very nice little colored restaurant within walking distance “The Faun” – very elite — ‘n’ that! But our pocket-books won’t stand much more of it, — fun though while it lasts!!!
I registered at the University of Southern California today. Its a fine campus and buildings — I can’t tell about classes yet. With the religion fellowship — my bill was $73.00 for 16 hours (full semester). Without the reduction it would have been over $200.00 (and I’d a been right home!) Most (all but one) of my courses are in Cinema — with one religion course to enable me to register in the graduate school of religion.
Doris starts job-hunting any day now! She has an appointment with the Red-Cross and the Urban League. Can’t tell how everything is going to turn out — quite an escapade however, if we can just last a year! and then move on to New York – authorities in the field of Cinema and Religious Ed. ‘n’ that.
Tell the Junior Doctor to keep his fingers crossed until we wire him formoney — and then to wire the money — and send “the I told you so” on by air-mail!
Just a short not to tell you-all that we have our Los Angeles address and that the apartment is at least partially furnished. We received a Special from Mr Woodard, the agent who has been looking for a place for us, and this is what he said about the apartment he has for us.
“It is a modern apartment in every detail and is equipped with a living-room suite, carpet, Venetian blinds, and a pull-out bed in the living-room. Adjoining the living-room is a small alcove which is used as a kichenette. It has a frigidaire (I can hardly wait!!) in it but does not have a stove. Adjoining this kitchenette alcove, is a complete tile bath.” The rent is $37.50 per month.
So ——it looks like we will go to Los Angeles and stay awhile. I hope the apartment is as good as he makes it sound. We are very lucky to have a furnished one…. it will save us quite a bit of expense. We have our tickets for July 2 and will leave at 8:15 a.m. and arrive at 6 p.m. the same day. The apartment will be ready for us when we get there, so we will not have to spend money for a hotel room. I am getting all ready to pack. Freight rate from here to L.A. is 90¢ a hundred pounds and if we ship our things four or five days before we leave, they should get there when we do.
Everything here goes well. We went down to Palo Alto yesterday with the Brittons and had a very good time. It was cold and foggy in San Francisco, but down there the sun was shining and we felt the first hot weather we’ve seen since last summer! Stanford University campus was a very interesting place to see what white-folks money can do. Five thousand acres of palm trees, huge stone buildings, carillons, a 30-room house for the President of the University, and an estate for Herbert Hoover… a mess.
Don’t worry about us if our letters are short for awhile. We’ll be busy getting ready to go. We’ll write something every week, though. It takes about six days for your letters (not air-mail —three days for them) to reach us, so if you mail any after June 25, send them to 2130 South Hobart Boulevard, Apartment 4, Los Angeles.
Looks like the “fabulous” Cleages are off on another “fantastic” adventure or something. WE’D VERY MUCH LIKE TO BORROW HENRY’S ELECTRIC-STOVE if you-all aren’t using it (or planning to use it soon.) It’s about the only thing we’ll have to buy for the apartment … except a desk (or table) for me. IF you-all can see your way clear send it to us at the address above RAILWAY EXPRESS right away SO IT WILL BE THERE WHEN WE ARRIVE. and (O.K. LOUIS) send us the bill (for carting and shipping)
I don’t remember whether I mentioned this or not. I heard from the Detroit Council of Churches a few days ago…saying that my application will be placed on file until they raise the money… and promising to contact me this FALL when the plans are worked out a little more definitely.
Don’t worry too much about our Los Angeles expedition… if it doesn’t work out WE’LL BE ALONG HOME ANY DAY. Seems like it might work if the good Lord decides to keep Albert B. Cleage, 3rd in heaven for a couple more years … and Doris can find an EASY job (which is the only sort she’d keep!)
Everything here is just too sweet … the church is arranging a farewell party … and getting a present etc. I preach my last sermon here next Sunday. We had a fine trip yesterday … down to Palo Alto … SOUTH …warm and everything … (Like Los Angeles). A lady in the church has a FORD she wants to sell for $250.00 … I’m trying to talk Doris out of getting it … (since it would leave us too close to broke!) (You can see she sure is a STA-BAL-IZING INFLUENCE! DON’T FORGET THE STOVE! Let us know, either way as soon as possible so we can try to pick up something here if you’re using it!
After leaving Chandler Memorial Church in Lexington in January of 1944, my parents traveled across county, by train to San Francisco, CA where my father, Rev. Albert B. Cleage, Jr. became co-pastor of the interracial Fellowship Church. Here is an article he wrote in October, 1946, about the experience after he had moved on to St. John’s Congregational Church in Springfield, MA. At the end of the transcription, there are links to other posts about the time in San Francisco.
San Francisco’s interracial Fellowship Church is now approaching the close of its first year of existence. Having weathered the storm of birth, infancy and growth, it is now, firmly established with two of America’s outstanding preachers, an expanding community program and a growing congregation.
From the beginning Fellowship Church has tried to de-emphasize its interracial character, preferring to be known as a community church, incidentally interracial. In spite of this theoretical distinction, however, Fellowship Church is nationally known as “San Francisco’s Interracial Church.” The church achieved national attention with the coming of Dr. Howard Thurman and his wife Sue Bailey Thurman.
Time magazine reporter sent to investigate the “project to which Dr. Thurman was coming” explained his interest by stating, “Anything which can drag Dr. Thurman across country for a year must be important.”
Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dr. Mordecai Johnson spoke at the testimonial meeting of church notables who gathered to wish Dr. and Mrs. Thurman God-speed on their great Christian adventure. Dr. Thurman spoke of Fellowship Church as “the most significant single step that institutional Christianity is taking in the direction of a really new order for America.”
I arrived at Fellowship Church a few weeks after its organization. All I knew of the project I had gleaned from the letters of Dr. Alfred Fisk, its organizer. He wrote: “We are organizing in San Francisco an interracial church to be known as ‘Fellowship Church.’
We do not want a church run by whites ‘for’ Negroes or one in which Negroes will merely be welcome to participate. We want to establish a church which will be of and by and for both groups. We are planning to have as co-pastors, with absolute equality of status, a Negro and a white person. The boards of the church, the choir, the Sunday School and its staff will be made up of both groups, and perhaps some Filipinos and others.”
I found the Church located in a very old residential neighborhood formerly occupied by the Japanese, but now termed the “Negro District.” Negroes made up about 50 percent of the population. Twenty thousand Negroes were crowded into make-shift rooming houses and apartment houses which had accommodated about eight thousand Japanese.
The city was suffering from a bad case of riot-jitters. Everywhere people seemed to be waiting for the signal which was to begin the fire-works. Both Negroes and whites were frightened and angry in the presence of something they couldn’t understand. D. Fisk, Fellowship Church’s white co-pastor, wrote to Dr. Thurman, “Unless you come to San Francisco we perish!”
San Francisco didn’t like the “new Negro.” They didn’t like his independence, his war-boom pay-checks, and most of all they didn’t like his increasing numbers. Very trivial things loomed large in their discussions of the “problem”, “the way Negroes crowded onto the streetcars to get home from work” “the way Negro women entered the most exclusive shops in their work clothes.”
Miss Vanita Lewis of the Children’s Bureau visited the city to oil the troubled waters. She lectured Negro leaders on the “disciplines of interracial living.”
Policeman were being taught “sociology” by a rabid Negro and Jew hating priest who lectured at great length on the innate racial differences “about which we can do nothing.”
In the midst of this bedlam I found Fellowship Church with 30 members and an infinity of good intentions. Dr. Fisk stated the problem well, “The challenge to a church in such a community is obvious. If ever the spirit of Christ were needed it is here. To interpret that spirit as an effective force in the community is our task as we see it.”
For the first six months of its existence Fellowship Church functioned without any formal membership. All persons who believed in the fellowship-idea were welcome.
The nucleus of the congregation consisted of a group from the American Friend’s Service Center which had been meeting for some months as the core group (The Committee On Racial Equality). They were mature and sincere young people of both races interested in the ideal of human brotherhood. They earnestly worked to build this ideal into a militant active church program. They brought a freshness of spirit and a sincerity of conviction which made of Fellowship something more than just another church, and which alone carried the experiment through the first trying months. Without them there could have been no Fellowship Church.
To this vital nucleus other individuals were attracted. The Negro residents of the immediate community did not overfill the small auditorium as Dr. Fisk had apparently expected. As the congregation steadily grew, attendance remained almost evenly divided between Negroes and whites.
Fellowship Church, as any interracial venture, in the midst of the American community, faced the task of deciding just how far it wanted to go in its undertaking. Each individual faxed the painful responsibility for his personal decision regarding the implications of his commitment to brotherhood and racial equality.
My months at Fellowship Church were devoted to hammering at one basic weakness. I saw clearly that the effectiveness and future of the church depended upon the building of a common social philosophy. People cannot work together to accomplish any program, however small, unless they agree in their interpretations of the total world in which they live.
A group of people cannot attack the “Negro-problem” unless they understand the socioeconomic framework out of which it has grown and upon which it depends. Only then can they decide whether or not they are willing to come to grips with the problem.
At the close of its first year Fellowship Church faces the crucial problem of undergirding its complete program with a common social philosophy. Its future development depends absolutely upon this decision. In this dilemma, of course, Fellowship Church is not alone. Liberal Christians everywhere cannot longer avoid their total responsibility to society by making pleasant and ineffective gestures in restricted and isolated areas of living.
To do something about the Negro problem implies also doing something about the Jewish problem, the Indian Problem, the African Problem, the Labor Problem, the Mexican, Chinese and Japanese Problems.
A Christian church must be even more thank a place where Negroes and whites can worship God together, or it will inevitably become less. It must function in every area of life as a united liberal force striking fearlessly out against all forms of oppression, bigotry and inequality. Its friends are the friends of human freedom no matter what the banner beneath which they march, and its foes are the oppressors of mankind, even though they march beneath the banner of Christ.
This post covers the time from my father’s ordination, my parent’s marriage and the few months they spent in Lexington, Kentucky at Chandler Memorial Church. Click the link to learn more about the history of Chandler.
The news items below were transcribed from The Detroit Tribune (Detroit) and Colored Notes, The Sunday Herald-Leader (Lexington, Kentucky). Click the photographs to enlarge or to go to the websites where I found them.
Thursday February 4, 1943 Albert B. Cleage ordained at Plymouth Congregational Church, Detroit, Michigan, by Rev. Horace White.
October 2, 1943 Rev. Albert B. Cleage of Detroit, Mich., will preach at the Chandler Memorial church at 11 o’clock Sunday morning.
Sunday, Nov. 7, 1943 Chandler Memorial church worship and sermon, 11 a. m., preaching by the Rev. A. Rice, Sunday school 12:15; Y. P. meeting at 6 p. m. The annual “harvest-home” ingathering will be held Nov. 21-22 Donations may be forwarded, or call 1356-X. Roger Stewart chairman. The new pastor, the Rev. A. B. Cleage will take charge Nov. 21.
November 14, 1943 Chandler Memorial church, worship and sermon, 11 a. m., preaching by the Rev. A. Rice. Sunday school 12:15. Special program at 3:30 p. m., sponsored by Mrs. Louise Newman. Participants are Prof. W. T. Seals, Miss Hattie Lee, L. D. Mills, William Smith and Prof. W. J. Black. The annual “harvest home” ingathering will be held No. 21-22. Donation may be forwarded or call 1356-X. Roger Stewart, chairman. The new pastor, the Rev. A. B. Cleage of Detroit will take charge next Sunday.
Friday, Nov. 19, 1943 The Rev. A. B. Cleage of Detroit, new pastor of the Chandler Memorial Congregational Christian church, 548 Georgetown Street, will take charge Sunday morning.
Sunday, Nov 21, 1943 Chandler Memorial church, the Rev. Albert B. Cleage, pastor; worship and sermon 11 a. m., preaching by the pastor. Sunday school, 12:15, Young people’s meeting, 6 p.m. Theme of the morning sermon will be “Fruits of the Spirit.” The annual “harvest home” service will open today. All members and friends are urged to be present. Harvest home sale at 8 o’clock Monday night at the church.
Tuesday, Nov 30, 1943 Regular business meeting will be held Wednesday night at Chandler Congregational church, Rev. Albert B. Cleage Jr., minister.
Sunday, Dec 5, 1943 Chandler Memorial Congregational Church, the Rev. Albert B. Cleage Jr., pastor: worship and sermon 11 a.m., theme, “The Messianic Hope;” music by the choir, Miss Pearl Blackburn, director; vocal solo, Prof. W. J. Black; saxophone solo, Prof. William Smith. Sunday school 12.15; Young People’s meeting, 6 p. m. The pastor is preaching a series of pre-Christmas sermons.
Sunday, December 12, 1943 Chandler Memorial Congregational church, Rev. Albert B. Cleage Jr., minister: worship and sermon 11 a. m., theme, “The Sin of Selfishness.” Sunday school, 12:15; Endeavor, 6 p. m. Important announcement by the trustees. All members asked to be present. The pastor is preaching a series of sermons dealing with the birth of Christ and its meaning or the individual.
Sunday, Dec. 26, 1943 The Chandler Memorial church, 548 Georgetown street, The Rev. Albert B. Cleage Jr. will preach his Christmas sermon from the subject, “Star Of Bethlehem.” The choir will render special Christmas music, and Mrs. Louise Newman will be featured as soloist, Sunday school and Christian Endeavor will meet as usual.
December 12, 1943
January 2, 1944 Chandler Memorial Congregational church, Rev. A. B. Cleage, minister: worship and sermon, 11 a. m., theme, “The Pentecost of Calamity.” Sunday school, 12:15; Endeavor, 6:30 p. m. The church annual meeting will be held Wednesday night at 8 o’clock.
January 7, 1944
January 9, 1944 Chandler Memorial church, Rev. Albert B Cleage, minister; Worship and sermon 11 A. M., theme “Winning the Peace;” Sunday school 12;15; Y. P. meeting at 6:30 p.m. Communion service. Business meeting to elect church treasurer.
January 16, 1944 Chandler Memorial Congregational church, Rev. A. B. Cleage, minister: worship and sermon, 11 a.m., theme, “Bitter Fruit;” Sunday school, 12:15 p. m.; Endeavor 6 p. m.
Saturday, January 29, 1944 The Rev. Albert B. Cleage, who recently resigned as pastor of the Chandler Congregational church, left Wednesday for San Francisco, Calif.
January 29, 1944 Toddy and Doris Cleage are due in from Lexington, KY this week. They have been there since their marriage in November. The young couple found the South’s dyed in the wool policy of segregation and oppression of Negroes most distasteful, and were glad when Toddy received a call to pastor a church in California. So they too will head for the Golden West.
Below is a partial transcription of the sermon delivered above in it’s entirety.
Excerpted from “No
Halfway Revolution,” text of a sermon delivered at Central United Church of
Christ, the Shrine of the Black Madonna, on July 23, 1967, several hours after
the Detroit Rebellion began:
said, ‘Let me die with the Philistines.’ Then be bowed with all his might; and
the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people that were in it. So the
dead whom he slew at his death were more than those whom he had slain during
his life” (Judges 16:30).
lesson is taken from the Book of Judges. While the riots were going on down in
Watts [in August 1965], I preached on the same text. Samson is a good Biblical
figure and he fits into the framework of riots and rebellion.
The Book of
Judges has to do with the early leaders of Israel who presided over the young
Nation Israel and were called “judges.” Samson was never a leader of Israel in
the sense of having an official position. Yet his story is included in the Book
of Judges because he was a leader in the fight against the Philistines. …
period when Israel was in bondage to the Philistines, Samson was the person
people looked to. He was a kind of center, the outstanding personality. Yet he
was different from all the other judges, essentially because the times were
different. Israel needed somebody like Samson.
I remember when
the riot in Watts was going on, the front page of Life Magazine pictured a young black militant with a do-rag around
his head. He was a symbol of what was happening. He represented rebellion against oppression.
So I have
selected the same Scripture lesson now because that which started in Watts two
years ago and which is now sweeping the nation is the same kind of rebellion
against oppression which Samson represented in Israel. The same kind of hoodlum
character emerges as some kind of peculiar hero because he does the things
which have to be done at a particular time in human history.
any hero kind of person in normal circumstances. Normally people would have
frowned on him. They would have called him a hoodlum. They wouldn’t have listed
him in their religious scriptures as a “judge” of Israel. But during this
particular time, he had what everybody wanted. He wasn’t afraid, he didn’t mind
dying, he was emotional, he struck out against oppression. So everybody called
him a judge of Israel. …
A riot becomes a
rebellion when people tend to support the little group of people who begin some
kind of violence. In America today, we have riots or rebellions taking place in
almost every city across the country. …
This is the kind
of times in which we live. We had our own riot here in the City of Detroit.
Riot or rebellion, you pick your own word for it. I think what we had is a
riot. I think it has been participated in by relatively few people — so far.
stations called me and asked if I wanted to issue a statement asking people to
cool it. I said I had been trying to get white people to do something that
would make it possible to cool it for years, and nobody had paid any attention,
so I didn’t have any statements about cooling it now.
I tried to
explain that if everything is alright in Detroit, if nobody is alienated, if
nobody feels oppressed, if all black people feel that there are other things
they can do to change the situation, if they are confident that they have
alternatives to violence, then it is just a little thing that broke out and it
won’t last for long.
But if all black
people in Detroit feel that they are helpless and hopeless, and that there is
no chance of solving their problems peaceably, that they can’t solve them by
the ballot or by organizing or by economics, then you have a rebellion on your
hands — because, in that case, more black people are going to join in, once it
There is a
difference then between a riot and a rebellion. A riot is a little group,
perhaps more interested in looting than in freedom. But a rebellion is a
community that has decided that it will no longer tolerate the kind of racial
oppression that it has been forced to tolerate.
So across the
country we are getting a combination. In some communities there are riots.
Little bands hear about what is happening somewhere else and think it might be
good to have one here. And in other communities, it is not a riot at all; it is
around and say, we are tired of these slums. We are tired of all the conditions
that we have to put up with. We are tired of the whole situation and we are not
going to tolerate it any longer. And then a whole community erupts, and other
people say, we don’t know why it happened. That is a rebellion. And more and
more of these eruptions are rebellions, rather than riots.
Now in any
period of rapid social change … you are going to get all kinds of people
participating, and everybody who participates is not going to be a great
freedom fighter. If you start a fight on a corner because your freedom has been
transgressed, there is going to be somebody who comes up just because there is
a crowd of people and picks all the pockets he can.
mean that freedom wasn’t involved in the first fight. That just means that
somebody else who was broke or knows how to pick pockets utilized the situation.
But when that
happens, and we all stand back and say, “there was nothing going on but some
people picking pockets,” that isn’t true. And usually that is not true in a
community, no matter how much emphasis is placed upon the looting. Usually
there are other things that are important to the people. There are people who
loot, just as there are people who do every other kind of thing that they want
to do for their own personal satisfaction. …
As long as we
had a place and we knew where it was (the man had made it for us), and we were
afraid to get out of it, there was no possibility of a riot or a rebellion or
whatever you call it.
I point this out
to show you that there is some good in what is going on. It must mean that a
whole lot of black people no longer believe that they “have a place.” And
whether you like the expression that this new feeling takes or not, this change
is a fact, and that is good.
I prayed for,
lo, these many years that there would come a day when we wouldn’t know our
place, and if that’s what is indicated throughout the country, that
increasingly black people no longer know their place, then I say that is good.
If not knowing
our place leaves us for the moment confused so that we do some things that are
not constructive in the sense of planned campaigns for freedom, then that is a
part of the struggle, an inevitable part of the struggle. …
In a rebellion
or riot, a lot of people are concerned about things other than self. I am not
talking about the looters now — those who are trying to steal what they can and
get it home for themselves. They are just like the middle-class. I am talking
about those who are outraged, whether it is a sensible outrage or an irrational
outrage, outraged at the indignities that black people have to live with.
strike out not selfishly but because they identify with a group. They identify
with black people, and a policeman doesn’t have to shoot them before they are
outraged at police brutality. A policeman doesn’t have to beat them over the
head personally before they become involved in a reaction against police
is a complex thing, this struggle for freedom. It is so easy after we become
involved in a struggle to say, “Well, we have gone far enough now, let’s cool
it. I got some of the things I wanted. I got my job, I have been promoted, I
got a poverty program job now. Let’s call it all off now.”
what we were trying to get from the very beginning wasn’t something for you. It
was equality for all of us. And when we once started it about 13 years ago,
there wasn’t any calling it off.
Now you have
been talking all this time about “I want freedom, I would give anything for
freedom, I am tired of whitey, I am tired of him being on my back, I want to
run my own community.” You have been saying it, but it is harder to say it now
because they have fought on 12th Street and it may be on your street
soon. It is not over by any means. …
We were all for
the people in Newark [during the uprising in mid-July 1967] because we said
they were striking a blow for freedom. We said, “Isn’t it wonderful, what they
are doing?” And this Sunday some of you say, “Are those Niggers crazy? There
they go, just acting a fool, up and down 12th Street, robbing and
Plenty of them are acting a fool up and down 12th Street. And soon
they are going to be acting a fool up and down Linwood Street. They are going
to be acting a fool all across town, up and down Dexter, up and down Joy Road.
But that is a
part of what you started. You didn’t think you were going to have a rebellion,
a freedom struggle, and nobody was going to get hurt, did you? Did you think it
was going to go on everywhere else, and they were coming to Detroit in the end
and say, “You all are black, too. We are going to give you the things that
these other people were fighting and dying for. We are going to give it to you
because you all were so good.” It doesn’t happen like that. When it started, it
started for everybody.
Some of the
people who holler so much about violence had a part in starting it. [NAACP
executive secretary] Roy Wilkins doesn’t want to be reminded of it now, but
when they started taking these cases to the Supreme Court, when the NAACP won
the case to outlaw segregation in schools throughout the South, that was one of
the first gunshots of the rebellion.
And Wilkins can
say now that he doesn’t like what is happening, but he had a big part in
starting it because at that time we didn’t know what we were. We didn’t know
what the possibilities were in human life. We didn’t know what we could do.
When the Supreme Court said [in its school desegregation decision on May 17,
1954] you have to give equal education, we said if we have to have equal
education, there are a whole lot of other things we have to have too.
King said he didn’t believe in a whole lot of things which are now going on.
But when he had the bus boycott in Montgomery [from Dec. 5, 1955-Dec. 20,
1956], that was the second shot. When black people started marching in
Montgomery and white folks couldn’t stop them, black people all over the
country said, “Look here, the man hasn’t got as much strength as we thought he
had.” That was the beginning of our changed conception of ourselves, and a
changed evaluation of the white man.
Then some people
said, “We are not going to ride in the back of the bus anymore.” So we had the
Freedom Riders [beginning in May 1961]. The whites burned up busses, they
turned them over, they whipped black men and women over the head, but the
Freedom Riders didn’t stop. Another shot. The rebellion is going on, people’s
ideas are changing. …
A few years ago
a black man stepped off the sidewalk in one of those Southern towns if a white
man looked like that was what he wanted him to do. When you come from the stage
where you step off the sidewalk to the point where you are ready to let police
dogs and everybody else try to stop you but you keep on, you have come a long
way in your mind. …
Even in Detroit,
provincial and backward as we are, we have been thinking differently the last
few years. … You remember the Freedom March in Detroit when more than 300,000
black people marched down Woodward Avenue [on June 23, 1963]? What happened at
Cobo Hall when we got there is something else.
But we marched
in protest, 300,000 of us. Even then, we were in the process of changing. Our
thinking was changing. When you start this process, when you start black people
deciding that they are going to be equal; that they are going to change
conditions; that the white man is not going to keep them in bondage and slavery
and oppression; that if be does, he is going to have to do it with force and
naked power, then a whole new world is being born. That is what we are in the
midst of now.
Carmichael [chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] screams
“Black Power,” he is only putting into a phrase the change which has been going
on for almost fifteen years. Things had reached the point where the change
could be put into a phrase. And so Stokely said “Black Power,” and everybody
screamed “Black Power,” and the white man said — “uh-uh.”
Then the white
man began to ask, “What is Black Power, what do you mean? What is the
philosophy of Black Power?” But the white man knew that some big and basic
change had already taken place, or Stokely Carmichael could not have cried
“Black Power” and gotten a Black Power response.
This is the kind
of thing that we are in the midst of everywhere in these United States. You
look at the paper now and you wonder at the places that rebellions or riots are
breaking out. Little communities that don’t have enough black people for you to
feel comfortable in are fighting — 3,000 in a community of 80,000, and they are
tearing up the town.
But those 3,000
have been systematically mistreated and oppressed, and when they get ready to
strike back, they don’t always care whether they win or whether they lose. This
we have got to understand.
Most of you are
rational. You are for freedom, for justice, for equality. You make rational
decisions, you are going to fight in a rational kind of way, you realize that
there are certain things you can do.
But you know
this freedom thing is exploding in people’s heads. And everybody is not going
to be rational about it. When someone decides, “They have been mistreating my
momma and my grandmamma, they have been mistreating all of us, and I don’t like
it,” they are not all going to be rational about it. …
happens in a rebellion is not sensible. …
You try to give at every step a sensible alternative to violence, as we
do here at the Shrine of the Black Madonna. We believe in political action. Now
a lot of black people say, “I don’t care about political action, that is just
the white man’s bag.” Well, that is what they think.
We have got to
try political action because that is an alternative to violence. We have got to
use picket lines, boycotts, all the things that offer the possibility of power
without the necessity of violence. We try to do those things. That doesn’t mean
that at the same time we look with disdain on these other people who are
fighting in this country for the same cause that we are fighting for.
We have got to
understand that it takes all kinds of people to fight a rebellion, and a lot of
them are not going to be doing it the way you are doing it at any single
moment. And a whole lot of people are not going to agree with the way you are
doing it, either.
It won’t be too
long before they will be calling you “Uncle Tom,” because unless you throw a brick
you are an Uncle Tom. That would be a logical development, wouldn’t it? But you
understand why people do what they do.
essentially we are trying to get free and we want justice and we are no longer
talking about love and all those other things that cluttered up people’s minds
for so long. We want justice and we are going to fight for it. But there are a
lot of ways to fight. Because we fight one way, let’s not join in some
universal denunciation of people fighting in some other kind of way.
goes on. There is no halfway revolution. When it starts, it is going to go to
its logical conclusion. Either we get free or we end up in concentration camps.
You can understand that. There is no turning back, no stopping. You may wish
you hadn’t started, but you did. It is going on and there is no way you can
stop it. You can try to utilize reason, you can channel power, but you can’t
stop it. …
years now we have been engaged in a process of trying to break the black man’s
identification with the white man, so that a black man says, “I’m a black man
and I am not ashamed of it. I am a black man and I don’t feel I have to go
along with anything the white man says.” …
determine our heroes. Recall, again, in the Book of Judges, how Samson was
considered one of the judges of Israel because he lived at a time when they
needed that kind of person, fearless, strong, with a deep hatred for the enemy.
And how Samson fought. And remember the end of the Scripture lesson this
wonder, “What are they trying to do, what do they hope to accomplish?” Remember
when Samson was in the Temple and the Philistines were all around, making fun
of him, robbing him of his dignity. They brought him out because be symbolized
the enemy whom they had fought against, the enemy who had humiliated them so
many times. …
And a little boy
brought Samson out and put him in between these two big pillars that held up
the Temple. His hair had begun to grow back because he had been down in the
dungeon so long, and with it his strength returned. He asked the little boy to
put his hands on the two pillars because he couldn’t even see. They had blinded
him. And the little boy put his hands on the pillars so Samson could support
himself. And when Samson got his hands on the pillars, he knew what he was
going to do.
You may not like
it, you may not agree with it, but Samson spoke right out to God about it. “Let
me die with the Philistines. Oh God, that I may be avenged upon the Philistines
for one of my eyes.” You have to understand that indignation, anger, hatred,
all of them stemming from systematic oppression, can develop to the point where
an individual says, “I am willing to die if I can take a whole bunch of them
That is what
Samson said. I am not quoting from anybody in Detroit or Newark. That is the
Bible. “‘Let me die with the Philistines.’ Then he bowed with all his might and
the house fell upon the Temple and upon all the people who were in it. So the
dead he slew at his death were more than those he had slain during his life.”
This you are
going to have to understand because this is a part of the rebellion. There are
people like this in Detroit, Newark, Birmingham, California, New York, Chicago
who are willing to destroy even themselves if they can express antagonism, if
they can strike out against oppression. So to the Hebrew people, the Jews,
Samson is a great hero.
Who knows but
that a hundred years from today we may remember as heroes some of these very
individuals we call hoodlums today, who are striking out for freedom? We don’t
know. But they fight for freedom in their way and we in ours, confident that
God will see that freedom comes. …
(Source: Albert B. Cleage, Jr. The
Black Messiah [Kansas City, Kan.:
Sheed Andrews and McNeel-Universal Press Syndicate, 1968], pp. 122-28)
Edited by Paul Lee
Other posts relating to the Detroit Riot/Rebellion
My father, Albert B. Cleage Jr aka Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman would have been 107 today if he had not made his transition in 2000. I am re-posting a collage with 100 photographs of him that I did on 2011 today.
Here are links to some of the posts I’ve done about him:
The Fellowship Dinner – One of my favorites, a letter home in which he describes the first church supper after he became Pastor of St. John’s Congregational Church in Springfield Mass. in 1945.
The only things I knew about my parent’s wedding was that my mother wore blue and they were married at Plymouth Congregational Church. My parents separated when I was eight years old and apparently the clippings that my grandmother’s must have saved, disappeared.
When I found an archive for the Detroit Tribune Newspaper, published by my publishing poet cousin James McCall, I was hopeful that I would find an article that described the wedding. And I did! Unfortunately the article is so faded as to be almost blank. To say this was frustrating, is an understatement. The archive is housed at the Library of Congress – Chronicling America. Maybe one day Newspapers.com will add The Detroit Tribune to their collection and find better copies.
Here are the pieces I found. The first one, about a before the wedding event.
“Doris Graham is being feted, because Wednesday evening she will say “I do” to Todd Cleage, after which they will go to Lexington, KY. The local chapter of Iota Boule fraternity honored Doris Graham and Todd Cleage Friday night at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Gamble on Willis street. Among those who came with heart loads of good wishes were: Mr. and Mrs. Henderson, Dr. and Mrs. James Moore, Mr. and Mrs. M. Graham, Atty. and Mrs. P. Piper, Dr. Lloyd Bailer, Mr. and Mrs. H.S. Dunbar and their petite daughter Margie, Dr. and Mrs. Peyton Johnson, Mr. and Mrs. Winburn and Dr. and Mrs J.A. Moore and others.”
“These young people composed the bridal party of the Graham-Cleage wedding which was solomnized at Plymouth Congregational Church Wednesday evening, Nov. 17. They are left to right – Mrs. Frank Elkins, Jr. matron of honor; center the bride and groom, the Rev. and Mrs. Albert B. Cleage, and Dr. Louis Cleage, best man.”
Bringing this back from 2011. The Illustrated News was published during the earlier 1960s by my father’s family and family friends. Two of his brothers, Henry and Hugh, started a printing business because the family was always looking for ways to be economically independent. The main business was printing handbills for small grocery stores. And they started several newspapers. First they did The Metro but the one I remember best is The Illustrated News. It was printed on pink paper (that was what was left over after printing the handbills) and distributed to churches and barber shops around the inner city. Some people had subscriptions. My father wrote many of the lead articles. My Uncle Louis wrote Smoke Rings, which was always on the back page. Billy Smith took most of the photographs.
This issue is from June 24, 1963. The focus is the Walk To Freedom which took place in support of the people in the south who were fighting for equality. I was a high school junior at the time and I remember the crowds and crowds of people downtown for the march. It was very well organized and as the main march went up Woodward, to Cobo Hall, the side streets, filled with people who joined as the march went by. Estimates of the number went from 100,000 to 200,000. It was an amazing feeling to be in a peaceful crowd, most dressed in their Sunday best, marching for FREEDOM NOW! At the end of the newsletter there are several photographs from the day of the march.
My father is behind the first row, third and a half from the right.
My maternal grandfather (poppy), Mershell C. Graham, has his finger by his nose, my uncle Hugh Cleage, smiling with the glasses next to him and my paternal grandmother, Pearl Reed Cleage, smiling with the hat on. Older people who couldn’t walk all the way in the huge crowd went in earlier and got good seats. I don’t remember where I was sitting.
My father giving them hell about conditions in Detroit in 1963. They finally unplugged his mike to shut him up.
Below is a link to a video by Paul Lee about the “Walk to Freedom”.