Tag Archives: #Churches

Fellowship Church – Adventure in Interracial Understanding

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.

“Fellowship Church: Adventures in Interracial Understanding” NOW, first half October 1946, p. 4. Click to enlarge or transcription below.

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.”

Clipping in my grandmother Pearl Cleage’s archives, date and newspaper unknown.

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.

________________

The only article I found from the time in San Francisco.

My Parents Time in San Francisco
Newspaper Clipping of My Parents in San Francisco 1944
Hanging Up Laundry

My Parent’s Time in Lexington, Kentucky

Group portrait of a large gathering of African-Americans in Lexington, KY, 1944.

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.

Invitation to my father’s Ordination. My personal archives

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.

The Detroit Tribune, Saturday November 27, 1943
These young people composed the bridal party of the Graham-Cleage wedding 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.

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.

Present view of the former Chandler Memorial and parsonage as they appear on Google maps. The barracks like buildings surrounding parsonage and church were built as Lincoln Terrace Housing Projects.
The parsonage with Chandler Memorial church in the background. Formerly this was the teachers’ home (foreground) and Chandler Normal School (background, right) at Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky, as it appeared ca. 1920

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

The Lexington Herald, Dec. 29, 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

The Lexington Herald, 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. The Detroit Tribune
My father was called “Toddy” by family and friends in Detroit and was sometimes called “Toddy” in social items in the Detroit Tribune.

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.

“It’s me again…”

2130 Hobart Blvd. #4
Los Angeles 7, California
January 9, 1945

"Albert B. Cleage"
“Toddy”

Hi Folks:

It’s me again.  I heard from the Board of Pulpit Supply in Boston this morning… and as I “suspected” there ain’t no vacancy. Reverend White has not as yet contacted me regarding names and addresses… He was no doubt surprised that his “bluff” had been called.  The pastor is on a leave-of-absence and another pastor is serving for him. so that’s that.

You-all failed, apparently, to take my suggestion regarding the organization of a Detroit church very seriously. ‘Tain’t no use, however…in view of the absolute lack of Congregational openings I’m going to have to organize somewhere.  Let me present the matter again in an orderly manner so you can let me know your reactions immediately.

I think I can organize and operate a church in Detroit without any great difficulty IF either the Presbyterian or Congregational Board can be interested in contributing to such an undertaking.  By contributing for the purchase of an adequate plant in which the execution of a full church program would be possible.  The local Congregational Board does not think in those terms so I would prefer not to have to deal with them.  I have no way of knowing what the Presbyterian board would consider SO I WISH THAT DADDY and/or Uncle Henry would find out.  In my previous letter on this matter I mentioned a small church on Forest near Brush.  After more lengthy consideration, however, I think organizing that close to Reverend White could not but be considered a declaration of war… and I would rather not start with any more declarations of war than necessary (Rev. Hill and the rest would automatically consider any such move WAR no matter where it was located.) So, the Church on the Blvd. and Warren being out of the question until the war is over…I end up with the only practical possibility, The Church building at the end of Scotten (facing Grand River) is available and adequate. It is offered for sale for ninety-five thousand, ($15,000 down) THE LOCATION is better than it would seem off-hand.  It is convenient to both the WEST SIDE and the NORTH-END (where any members I might pick up would come from for the most part)  The building has two auditoriums… club rooms… offices… and a gas station on the corner  (For a co-operative venture!) WOULD THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH LEND A MISSION THE DOWN-PAYMENT ON SUCH A BUILDING? If a membership of say 100 and pledges of $100 a week could be lined up?

You are no doubt thinking the idea “impossible”…but I should think that a Board without a Detroit Church, properly approached regarding such a “community church idea” would not consider the risk too great.  Talk it over with Uncle Henry and let me know as soon as possible. (So I can get Bud busy sighing up members!)

Everything is O.K. (Same as usual).

__________________________

I tried to find a photo of a church on the corner of Scotten and Grand River in Detroit, which was only a few blocks from the Cleage family home, but there is no longer a church there.

To the left is a photograph of Bud Elkins, who was helping my father look for a church building in Detroit. He was married to my mother’s sister, Mary V. Graham Elkins. At this time they had one daughter, Dee Dee, who is the 7 year old photographer who appears in this photograph.

Presbyterian Church Connections in the Cleage Family

Louis and Albert Cleage

Yesterday I was working like mad to complete an entry for the “Carnival of Genealogy – Our Ancestors Places of Worship”, by the midnight deadline when I came across two interesting pieces of new information.

First, even though I thought I had done this before with no success, I asked my cousins to ask their mothers what church they had attended as children in Detroit.  The answer came back – St. John’s Presbyterian Church. At first I thought there was some confusion because I knew that my father had been pastor of St. John’s Congregational Church in Springfield, Mass. and St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church in Detroit but St. Johns Presbyterian? I didn’t remember ever hearing of it before. So, I googled it and found that not only was there a St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Detroit but that my Cleage grandparents were among founders and that it was founded in 1919, the same year my Graham grandfather was participating in the founding of Plymouth Congregational Church, also in Detroit, also on the East side.  I looked for more information on St. Johns.  I searched for even one photograph of the old church. I came up with very little. I looked through the family photos for something that looked like it was taken at a church but also found nothing aside from a few where the family is on their way to church. I did find the information below.

Detroit and the Great Migration 1916-1929, by Elizabeth Anne Martin Religion and the Migrant

“We, the believers in Christ members, are very proud of our rich heritage. We rejoice always; give praise and thanksgiving to our Lord for His abundant blessings of the faithful shoulders we stand on. We accept our charge of ensuring an African-American Presbyterian witness for our Lord in the city of Detroit, Michigan and beyond to the glory of God! St. John’s Presbyterian Church was among the new congregations formed because of the migration. In the winter of 1917 Reverend J.W. Lee, “field secretary for church extension among colored people in the North,” came to Detroit hoping to establish a Presbyterian church. He was disturbed by the fact that many migrants of the Presbyterian faith had turned to other denominations because there were no Presbyterian churches in Detroit. In April 1919 Lee organized thirty-nine believers into a new congregation. He served as pastor until 1921, when he recruited a southern preacher front Alabama to take his place. By 1925 the Sunday services at St. John’s were so popular that some people arrived as much as three hours early in order to secure seats. Hundreds of persons had to be turned away at both Sunday and weekday services.”  One clarification, there were Presbyterian churches in Detroit but they were white.

Something the churches my grandparents helped found have in common is that they were both urban renewed and torn down to make way for, in the case of Plymouth, a parking structure and I’m not sure what for St. Johns but neither of the historic church buildings are standing today, although both churches are still going strong in their new buildings.

Next I decided to google the church my grandfather, Albert Cleage attended when he was growing up in Athens Tennessee. I found that he was too young to have helped start First United Presbyterian Church, it was founded in 1890 and he was born in 1883. However, his step-father, my great grandmother Celia Rice Cleage Sherman’s second husband, Rodger Sherman, is listed as the architect of the church on Wikepidia.  Amazed?  Yes, I was.  Mr. Sherman and Celia Cleage weren’t married until 1897,  First United Presbyterian church had been standing for 5 years by then.  The church is still standing and still looking good today.

First United Presbyterian Church - 2004

From the Website “J. Lawrence Cook – An Autobiography”
“After a short time at Fisk, just how long I do not know, my father (note: J.L. Cook) entered Knoxville College in Knoxville, Tennessee. [5] He worked to pay his expenses, and was also aided by donations from individuals back in his home town of Athens. In 1888 he received his bachelor’s degree from Knoxville College and entered Allegheny Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to prepare for the Presbyterian ministry. [6] On 9 April 1890 he was licensed as a minister by the Allegheny Presbytery, and with this credential returned to Athens to establish a United Presbyterian mission. Fresh out of seminary, he began holding services in an old dance hall. [7]”

Other posts about church founding in my family. 
From Montgomery to Detroit, A Congregational Church – COG Our Ancestors Places of Worship

Witherspoon United Presbyterian Church 1909, Indianapolis Indiana

From Montgomery to Detroit, A Congregational Church – COG Our Ancestors Places of Worship

Northern Congregationalists came south to Montgomery, Alabama after the Civil War.  First Congregational Christian Church was founded in 1872.  They also supported a school nearby. My grandmother, Fannie, attended both the school and the church. She met her husband, Mershell, in the church.

When Mershell Graham, my grandfather, migrated north to Detroit in 1918 many of his friends, who were also members of First Congregational Church, were also leaving segregated Montgomery.  In 1919 a group of nine gathered together to form Plymouth Congregational Church.  They first met in members houses and in borrowed space  until they were able to purchase their own building, a former Synagogue, in 1927. They moved in, in May 15, 1927.

 

Plymouth Congregational Church – September 1928. Detroit, Michigan

Plymouth had been in the building a little over a year when this photo was taken. My grandfather, Mershell C. Graham, is standing behind his daughters, Mary V. and Doris (my mother).  Their cousin, Margaret McCall, is standing between them.  They are in the front row, towards the left side of center.  The minister, Rev. Laviscount, is standing behind Mary V.  My grandmother, Fannie, had just given birth to their youngest son, Howard, so she was not able to be there.

You can read an online history of Plymouth Congregational Church of Detroit Michigan HERE.
A post about the Cradle Roll my grandmother Fannie filled out at Plymouth  HERE.
You can read about Witherspoon Presbyterian Church which my paternal grandparents were founders of HERE.
Learn about the Presbyterian Churches founded by the Cleage side of my family HERE

Witherspoon United Presbyterian Church 1909

Witherspoon Presbyterian Church 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. Three people over from Henry is James Cleage, their sister Josephine’s husband.  He was from a different Cleage branch.  In the second row, second from the right is Henrietta Cleage, oldest daughter of James and Josephine. Although the woman 4th from the left, front row, looks like Josephine to me, I’m told Josephine was not there for the photo but was home pregnant with Hattie Ruth, the youngest of her five children.

In the 1909 Indianapolis City Directory Witherspoon United Presbyterian Church is listed as located in Realty Hall with Rev. David White as Pastor.

Here is another photograph in front of the church.  Also from my cousin Vivian’s collection.  Josephine Cleage is on the far right, wearing a dark dress.  The history below if from the Witherspoon web page, however they seem to have taken the history section down.

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.

For other fine Sepia Saturday photographs dealing with windows or lights or who knows click here.  My family seems to have a habit of starting churches.  To see a photograph of the congregation of a church started by the maternal branch of the family click Plymouth Congregational Church.

Cradle Roll Certificate Plymouth Congregational Church 1921

This is a certificate for my mother’s oldest sister, Mary V. that her mother filled out.  She also wrote information on the back.

Transcription:
Cradle Roll Certificate
To be given by the Cradle Roll Superintendent to the mother of the child and carefully kept until the child is grown.
This is to certify that Mary Virginia Graham
was enrolled as a member of The Cradle Roll
of the Plymouth Congregational Sunday School
at 2141 St. Aubin, Detroit, State of Mich.
on the 27th day of March 1921 born on
the 3rd day of April 1920 at Detroit State of Michigan.  Parents Names:  Father Mershell – Mother Fannie Graham
Signed Pastor Harold M. Kingsley
S.S. Supt. Mrs. S. I. Barnette
Cradle Roll Superintendent  Mrs. E.E. Scott
Jesus said “Suffer the little children to come unto Me, forbid them not, for to such belongeth the Kingdom of God.”  Mark – 10 – 14.

Reverse:
Mershell and Fannie Turner Graham were married June 15 – 191(9) at Montgomery, AL– were the first couple to marry after Plymouth was founded – and Mary Virginia was the first baby to be born into the new church, organized by about a dozen Montgom(ery__)
4 children were born to this union – 2 girls and 2 boys
Mary Virginia Graham – (Elkins) — April 3, 1920 — married Nov 9 19(41)
Mershell C. Graham Jr — June 10 – 1921 — Killed at 6 yrs aut(o)
Doris J. Graham —- Feb. 12 – 1923 — Wayne University
Howard Graham —-Sept. 7 – 1928 –died – scarlet fever Mar – 4 – 193(2)
Doris Diane Elkins – M.V.’s 1st and our 1st grand baby — Sept 7, 1943.