This is my tenth A to Z Challenge. My first was in 2013, but I missed 2021. This April I am going through the alphabet using snippets about my family through the generations.
Fannie Mae Turner Graham was my maternal grandmother. She kept a journal and a scrap book for many years. The recipe for the birthday cake she mentions and always made for our birthdays when we grandchildren came along will appear in “N”.
Feb. 5, 1940 Dear God and Little Book: the mail has just brought us the long looked for letter from Wayne University and the Board of Education that Doris has received the yearly scholarship to Wayne… I shed tears of joy… for more reasons than one or even two and the main reason is she deserves it for being such a sweet little “trick”…even if we do say so ourselves.
February 12 – Doris’s birthday – 17 today. We had a nice dinner, cake, ice cream and gifts for her from all.
March 12, my birthday, among all a purchase certificate from JL Hudson’s from our daughters and dad
April 3 – Mary Virginia is 20 today. We had nice dinner cake and ice cream and gifts from us all – also Aunt Daisy never forgets with money. Dad celebrates Christmas day.
This is my tenth A to Z Challenge. My first was in 2013, but I missed 2021. This April I am going through the alphabet using snippets about my family through the generations.
My mother and grandmother in the kitchen doing the dishes and cleaning up after Thanksgiving dinner in 1963. Unlike in the everyday world, my sister and I didn’t help with the dishes at my grandmother’s house. The adults did it all
Below is something I wrote in 2012. Since then I have found the answers to many of the questions I had then. Links are to posts answering some of the questions. But I still wish I had asked.
Questions I Wish I’d Asked
The generations gathered around my Graham grandparents dining room table in 1963 for Thanksgiving dinner. There was turkey with cornbread dressing cooked by my grandfather. There was white rice, cranberry jelly, green beans, corn pudding and sweet potatoes. There was my grandmother’s finely chopped green salad and her homemade biscuits with butter and with a relish plate holding olives, sweet pickles and carrot sticks.
One thing there wasn’t, was talk about the old days. My grandparents were born in 1888. My grandmother was born Fannie Turner in Lowndes County, Alabama. My grandfather was born Mershell Graham in Elmore County, Alabama. They met and married in Montgomery. My great great Aunt Abbie was born in 1877 in Montgomery, Alabama and was the second to youngest child of Dock and Eliza Allen. My mother told us stories she had heard from her mother, mainly about Dock and Eliza and their children. I remember once my older cousin was trimming Aunt Abbie’s toenails when Aunt Abbie mentioned that she used to trim her grandmother’s toenails when she was a girl. And that her grandmother also had arthritis. And that they called her “The African.”I have always remembered that, but I didn’t ask any follow up questions about her grandmother, Annie Williams who was born a slave and was full grown and the mother of a fully grown woman when she was freed. And Aunt Abbie didn’t say anything else about it.
My grandfather, who we called Poppy, was a mystery. My mother only had little parts of stories she had gotten from her mother, things that just made the mystery deeper in most cases. What were his siblings names and what happened to them? Are the ones I’ve found that I think are his siblings, really his siblings? In 1900, I found these possible siblings living with a man who is listed as their father but has a name not listed on any of their death certificates, was he their father with a different name? And where was he, my grandfather, in 1900? Why wasn’t he there, or anywhere else I can find? Where was their mother? What was the name of the little white girl he was servant of when he was a boy? The one he slept on the floor outside of her bedroom door? The one who changed his name from Michele to Mershell because Michele sounded too “foreign”? How did he learn to read? Did he go to school? Did he know his grandparents and what plantation did his parents come off of? There was a photograph of his sister and her children in the album. I would like to ask him what their names were. Are they the ones I’ve found in the census?
I would like to ask my grandmother some of the same questions about her father’s family. Howard Turner died when she was 4 and her mother moved away from that community and went back to her family in Montgomery. I was able to find her father’s family because I knew his name, his age and the community he came from but I have no stories about his parents and siblings or what plantation they came off of. I only know that his father, Joseph Turner of Hayneville, Lowndes County was a farmer and owned his own land and had given his son some land which he didn’t want him to sell and the two of them argued about it.
Unfortunately, I can’t go back to 1963 and sit around the table and steer the conversation around to who was where and when and how and why. I can only use the information I do have to keep looking and hope that one day some cousins from those mysterious lines will turn up and perhaps have some of the answers to my questions.
My mother in the spring of 1934 standing on a box by the cherry tree in the backyard.
I’m not sure what kind of cherries these were, but here is a picture of my grandfather picking cherries the year before. If they were pie cherries, I’m sure my grandmother made pies. There was also an apple tree, a garden and chickens in their Detroit backyard.
My aunt Mary Vee was 13 years old. My grandmother Fannie was 46. My mother Doris was 11. Bonzo was five years old. It looks like they are just back from church service at Plymouth Congregational Church.
In 1934 they got their first car, a model A named “Lizzie”, which I wrote about a few weeks ago. My grandfather worked as a stock keeper at the Ford Motor Company Rouge Plant. My grandmother didn’t work outside of the home. Mary Vee attended Eastern high school and Doris attended Barber Intermediate school.
I remember a summer in the 1990s when my husband worked for the Michigan Department of Transportation. One year they were building Highway 31 from Pentwater to Ludington. The route went through some orchards which were doomed to be bulldozed. One July weekend we went and picked so many cherries! There were red and black and yellow and they were fully ripe. We went a few times. Never have we eaten so many cherries. So delicious and so sad the trees were destroyed.
On a Sunday in December, when my aunt Mary Virginia was eight months old, my grandmother held her on a tricycle for a photo opp.
The baby doesn’t look very happy about it. She looks cold, or terrified.Even though the weather called for rain instead of snow which made it rather warm for Detroit, I imagine it was still pretty cold.
I don’t know if the tricycle was an early Christmas gift or if it belonged to another child, a friend of the family because Mary Vee was the first and oldest child of my grandparents, Fannie and Mershell Graham.
Another photograph with a story I don’t know.
This is not the first time Bicycles have been a sepia Saturday prompt. Here are some of my past responses:
Jennie Virginia Allen Turner was my maternal grandmother’s mother and Eliza’s daughter. This photo was taken about 1918, before my grandmother Fannie, married my grandfather. They lived in Montgomery, Alabama.
Jennie was a widow and was a seamstress, working for herself. Fannie managed her Uncle Victor Tulane’s grocery store. Daisy was a teacher and Alice was at home.
After her marriage my grandmother moved to Detroit with her new husband, Mershell C. Graham. Several years later, the rest of the family joined them.
During the time of the Edelweiss Club – 1918 – 1919, a flu pandemic raged. Schools were closed and then opened. Students returned to Montgomery from Fisk and Tuskegee due to the pandemic. People appeared on the sick list in The Emancipator newspaper. Some died.
The United States became involved in the first world war. Times were far from calm and peaceful, but the women met and ate delicious refreshments, played whist, went to work, and lived their lives a hundred years ago.
Who were the members of the Edelweiss Club? Thirty-seven women attended the monthly meetings judging from news items that appeared in The Emancipator, beginning on January 12, 1918 and continuing monthly during the school year, until May 3, 1919. Some were members and some were guests and not all were present at every meeting. Thirty of them were teachers. One was a seamstress. Three worked in family businesses. The other three were not employed and were relatives of members. Most of the members were single, some married as time went on. Some moved out of town. A good number never married.
All of them came from literate homes. Most of their parents owned their homes, either free and clear or mortgaged. Their fathers tended to work for themselves as barbers, carpenters and plasterers. Bertha Loveless’ father was an undertaker. Madge Brown’s father was a farmer. Alberta Boykin’s father was a mail carrier. Several lived with their widowed mother or an aunt. Most had multiple siblings.
Their parents were born in the mid 1850s to 1870 and would have been teenagers when slavery ended or were born during Reconstruction. Several were from families that were free before the Civil war. There were several clusters of cousins descended from unrelated women who were free and living in Montgomery before the Civil War.
There were no more reported meetings after May 3, 1919. The last event was a picnic dance given on June 16, just 3 days before my grandparents, Mershell and Fannie (Turner) Graham married and immediately moved to Detroit.
This photograph was taken in Montgomery, Alabama, during my grandparent’s engagement in 1919. I animated it using My Heritage, Deep Nostalgia.
My maternal grandmother, Fannie Mae Turner Graham, was born 133 years ago today. She was born in 1888 in Lowndes County Alabama, the oldest child of Howard and Jennie (Allen) Turner. Here is something my mother wrote about her in about 1980.
Somebody’s Daughter My Mother
By Doris Graham Cleage
Yes, I’ll tell you, I am somebody’s daughter. My mother was really SOMEBODY.
She was the first child of my (who else?) grandmother who was one of seven children born to a woman freed from slavery at seventeen and a free man. The woman had been trained as a seamstress in the “Big House” and she taught every one of her five daughters to sew. And so my Grandmother earned her living as a seamstress for white folks in Montgomery, Alabama.
It was fortunate that she had an independent spirit as well as a skill because she lost her husband when my mother was four years old and a younger sister was two. While grandmother was out sewing, the two children stayed with their grandparents who were very strict.
One of my mother’s earliest memories was of a spanking with the flat of a saw by her grandfather because she made footprints across the dirt backyard which he had freshly swept to a marvelous smoothness!
She also remembered him complaining often about their behavior to their mother when she came home. She spanked them too. But mother said she learned early that if they cried loudly, the spanking was shorter and less energetic. Armed with this knowledge, she and her sister made it through childhood and in due time graduated from Normal school (high school).
Mother finished in 1906 and she refused scholarships to college. She chose instead to clerk in her uncle’s general store and eventually managed it. I think she valued this and her marriage above all other experiences in her life. I think they held vastly different meanings for her. I think one represented what she really wanted to do and to be and the other represented what she thought she ought to want to do and be.
I never knew her very well. There never was time to talk to her until she was very ill and I took care of her. This seems very strange to me. My mother never worked after she married. She was always at home taking care of her family. I lived at home until I married. When I lived at home in Detroit I saw her at least once a week. When I lived in other cities, we exchanged letters at least once a week. For the last seven years of her life we shared a two-family flat. But I never knew her as a person until she was dying.
Stereotypes and structures. Forms and duties. Oughts and shoulds. How things are supposed to be. Never how they are. Cages and gags and straightjackets. And we don’t know they’re there.
When I could see and hear my mother as a person, and not as MY MOTHER, I was delighted and dismayed. Delighted that we had so much in common and that I liked her. Dismayed that she was eighty-six and ill and that life had made me wait so long to know her.
She and my father were happily married for fifty-one years. They loved and respected each other. Even in delirium I never heard either one say anything but good and loving things about the other. Mother spoke with peace and sureness about my father. But her face lit up, her back straightened, her voice got louder and she was alive when she talked of managing Great Uncle Victor’s general store. She never tired of telling me about taking inventory, counting money, keeping books, dealing with the help and customers and demanding respect from the drummers.
Drummers were white salesmen trying to get orders for their products and you can imagine how difficult it was for a handsome black woman doing a man’s job to get respect from them. But she knew the power of her ability to give or without orders and she used it without apology. Her whole tone when she straightened her back and raised her head to tell it was not of asking for respect, but demanding it – and loving the demanding!
She managed the store for the twelve most satisfying years of her life. Then she married in 1919. My father never wanted her to work. She suggested a small business several times.
He said, “A MAN supports his family. I am a man. My wife will never work.”
She knew he was supposed to be right so she didn’t press it. She wrote that all a woman needs to be happy is “a baby to rock and a man to please.” And that’s the way she acted. She kept the house, cooked the meals, rocked the babies and pleased the man. But she never believed that woman was meant only for this because she raised her two daughters by word and deed to believe that women should be whatever they wanted to be. I don’t remember her ever saying, “But women can’t be freighter captains, or airplane pilots or doctors or engineers.” she believed I could be anything and I believed it too.
How restricted she must have felt doing most of the jobs that go with keeping house and raising babies.
Today I’m going to write about my mother’s parents, Mershell and Fannie (Turner) Graham grandparents in my preview of the 1950 Census.
In 1950 Mershell and Fannie Graham were still living at 6638 Theodore Street. The single family frame house was built in 1913 and was probably worth about $7,000. The Grahams bought the house in 1923. If they had a 30 year mortgage, they would have had 3 more years until it was paid. I like to think that they had already paid it off. The house probably cost less than $2,000 when they bought it in 1923.
The house was heated with forced air using a converted coal to gas furnace. There were three bedrooms and a bathroom complete with indoor plumbing and running water upstairs, including a claw foot bathtub and a flush toilet. Downstairs were three more rooms, making six in all (not counting the bathroom). The kitchen had an electric refrigerator and a sink with hot and cold running water. There was also a full attic and full basement. They did not own a television but did have a radio, probably more than one. I remember one in the kitchen and one in my grandfather’s bedroom.
Mershell Graham had worked 52 weeks as a stock clerk in an auto factory. His annual wages were probably about average, $3,210. He had completed 8 years of school. He was not a veteran. Mershell and Fannie had been married once and this marriage had lasted 31 years. Fannie had birthed 4 children. She had completed high school, and had not worked outside of the home.
Abbie Allen Brown
Living with them was Fannie’s 75 year old widowed aunt, Abbie Allen. Abbie had birthed 2 children and her 1 marriage occurred 46 years ago. She hadn’t worked in the past year. She had completed 7th grade.
All three of them would have given “Negro” for race, but if the census taker didn’t ask and assumed, they may have been enumerated as “white”. All three were born in Alabama and all of their parents had been born in the United States.
Helpful links for figuring out costs and wages were:
After church about 1927. Grandfather Mershell Graham holding my mother Doris, Grandmother Fannie next to him. In front: Mary Virginia and Mershell Jr.
2nd baby -Mershell C. Graham born June 10th – 1921 at 7:45 P.M. on Friday. Detroit, Mich, Dunbar Hospital 8 1/2 # Dr. Turner . Died 11/1/27 killed by Auto
Mershell Cunningham Graham Jr was born at 7:45 pm on June 10 in 1921, a Friday, He was the first son and second child of Mershell and Fannie (Turner) Graham. He was delivered at Dunbar Hospital by Dr. Turner. Mershell was a big baby, weighing 8 1/2 pounds. He joined older sister, 14 month old Mary Virginia. Twenty months later his younger sister, my mother Doris, was born.
Mershell was an active boy, falling down the clothes chute and breaking a window during a game of “who can hit their head against the window the hardest” with his younger sister, Doris. In family photographs, he shows no fear of the ferocious puppy or the family chickens.
On November 1, 1927, he was hit by a truck on his way back to school after lunch. He died just after midnight on November 2. My sister, cousins and I grew up with warnings to be careful crossing the street and to remember what happened to Mershell.
Baby Mershell sitting on the picnic table with Grandmother Graham, big sister Mary Virginia, mother Fannie on the right and Clifton Graham at Bell Isle 1922
Mershell Jr and pal Toodles – 1923 , 2 years old
Clifton, Mary Virginia, Lewis and Mershell Jr. Siblings and cousin/friends
MV – MC Jr – Doris – Mother with chickens -1923
Doris, M.V. Mershell, Toodles. Dated 1926 and 1927. Maybe it was January.
May 1927. Mary V., Mershell, Doris. In back: Aunt Daisy, Grandmother Jennie T., Mother Fannie
Mershell’s school books 1927
My mother wrote on the page of practice writing above “Mother teaching him to write his name.”
Maternal grandmother Fannie (Turner) Graham and friend Mignon 1920 pregnant Mary Vee.
Paternal grandmother Pearl (Reed) Cleage. Albert, Hugh, Henry & Louis. Barbara in arms 1920
1920 was the first election that my grandmothers, Fannie Mae Turner Graham and Pearl Doris Reed Cleage, were able to vote. It was also the first election in which my grandfather Mershell C. Graham was able to vote. Before that election he lived in Alabama, where black people did not have the vote until the 1960s.
My grandfather Albert B. Cleage had been living in the north since 1907, and so would have been able to vote in the 1908, 1912, 1916 and 1920 elections.
Family members who still lived in Tennessee and Alabama, men or women, still could not vote in the 1920 election.
With all the voting rights and demonstrations happening during the 1960s, I cannot believe I never talked to my grandparents about how they felt when they could finally vote.
An article from the Detroit Free Press about the women’s vote.
The 1920 election seemed to be about as confused and contentious as today’s election.