okay. i know you always deny saying this, but here’s how i remember it.
you said somebody who worked with you in the wayne cafeteria said you have to meet this guy. I think you two would really hit it off and you said cool and then on a subsequent day, the person said there he is and he was at the top of one of those school building stairways and you said — i swear you said this to me because at the time i thought “woah! she’s got it bad!!!” — you said the first time you saw him “it was like he had a glow around his head or something.” i stole that for the “in the time before the men came piece” when the lil’ amazon says almost those exact words…
amazing that i remember this so clearly, have even told it to people, and it doesn’t ring a bell at all. I don’t know why. maybe the glow had to do with memory erasure and he erased it from your mind so you wouldn’t know he was from another planet or something… who knows? all i know is, if i dreamed it, it was an amazing dream. ….
What really happened…includes the cafeteria, the actual meeting and a stairway. No glow.
The first time I saw Jim, I was working in the Wayne State University cafeteria, behind the food counter. A woman who worked with me, who wasn’t a student but a regular employee, said her boyfriend was coming through the line and she always gave him free food. It was Jim who came through and got his free food and didn’t make any impression on me to speak of. I didn’t think about him again until I met him later. This must have been the winter of 1966 or the fall.
The Northern high students walked out in the spring of 1966. Northwestern high organized a supporting boycott and my sister Pearl was the head of it. I used to study in the main library’s sociology room. As I was leaving to go to my next class, a guy came up and asked if I was Rev. Cleage’s daughter. I said I was. He asked if I was leading the Northwestern boycott and I said no, that was my sister. We made arrangements to meet after my class on the picket line in front of the Board of Education Building. We did and later sat around for several hours talking in the ‘corner’ at the cafeteria in Mackenzie Hall. I felt very comfortable with him, which I usually didn’t do with people I just met. He tried to convince me to join a sorority and convert the girls to revolution. There wasn’t a chance I was going to do that. He also told me that he was “nice”. I asked if he meant as in some people were revolutionaries and he was “nice”. He said yes, that’s what he meant. We saw each other almost everyday after that.
One day during the fall of 1967, I was going to a creative writing workshop that was on the third floor of State Hall. The stairway had ceiling to floor windows and I saw him, Jim, walking down the sidewalk across Cass Ave., in front of the library. Before I knew what I was doing, I was down the stairs and on my way out the door when I realized I needed to go to class and went back up the stairs.
The photograph for today was taken during the Black Arts Convention in Detroit. It was 1966. I was 19 and Jim was 21. This was LaSalle Park, which was located a few blocks from my father’s church on Linwood. I don’t remember why this session was held at the park, but I do remember walking back to church where other closing activities were held.
During that week, from Thursday through Sunday, The Black Arts Convention was held at Central United Church of Christ. There were workshops on the visual arts, theater, literature, religion and politics. There were arguments and sincere discussions. People from all over the country attended. I was going to write it all up, but I cut my finger last night while cooking dinner and typing is s-l-o-w today.
In the spring of 1970 the Black Conscience Library was evicted from 12019 Linwood so that the League of Revolutionary Black Workers could have the space. We temporarily moved into the basement of friends, Stu and Gloria House. They had been members of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and worked for voter registration in Lowndes County, Alabama.
That summer, we had high school students working with us. One of their tasks was to sell the Malcolm X posters you can see on the wall behind me in the photo above. Sometimes on Saturdays there was an organized trip to the rifle range so people could learn to shoot. I never went due to being in the last months of pregnancy. I remember all those steps from the basement to the attic and how many times I climbed them. We had received a grant from somebody and that summer two of us got paid.
Our living quarters were in the attic. I was about seven and a half months pregnant with my first child. My bedroom was in the cedar closet up on the third floor. It was large enough for a bed and the baby’s little crib later. I remember the light from the streetlight on the trees below my window those warm summer nights. There was another bedroom towards the front of the house. Phil had that room. Phil was a former Black Panther who worked with the library. He kept playing “Bitches Brew” by Miles Davis all summer long.
There was a claw foot bathtub and a window that looked into the neighbors attic. We had globe top refrigerator and a hotplate in the hall that the two bedrooms and bathroom opened out to. I babysat the 2.5 year old when his parents were at work or school. There wasn’t a lot of library work to do aside from running off flyers and newsletters because we weren’t really open to the public. I remember lots of meetings. Meetings between the people that shared the house. Meetings between members of the library staff. Meetings about meetings.
Usually the house was full of people but the night that I went into labor, nobody was home. Jim was teaching a “Survival and Defense” class somewhere else. I don’t know where the other 5 adults and the 2 year old that lived in the house were. I waited and walked around and waited. Finally I called my doctor to say the contractions were 5 minutes apart and he said to come to the hospital. It was 10 PM. I called my mother and she came and drove me down and waited with me until Jim arrived. Baby Jilo wasn’t born until noon the next day so I could have waited a bit longer.
One night soon after I came home with Jilo and everybody had gone to bed, neither Jim or Phil were there, but the downstairs people were. A woman started to scream for help from the alley behind the house. Stu came upstairs looking for one of the rifles from the trips to the range. As I remember they had been broken down and cleaned but not put back together. He went back down and hollered out of the back door that he was going to come out there with a “30 aught 6” and shoot somebody if the woman wasn’t released. She was and she came into the house and the police were called. I learned this later because I was upstairs in the bed with my new baby girl thinking about the dangerous world and glad that Stu had been there to shout out the door.
“I was happy to hear that Jim and Chris (sic) were well. In the times when I question my own dedication to the struggle i remember them up in that loft, with the child, cooking dinner on a hot plate. It is something i can never forget and it brings me back home when i begin to trip too hard. It is a constant source of inspiration.”
We were there about 6 or 7 months before a new location was found for the library. By that time everybody was happy to get their own space again.
This is the 18th post in the February Photo Collage Festival and the Family History Writing Challenge. I am doing four posts about some of the places that I didn’t cover in the Alphabet Challenge last year. Today I am going to remember 4315 Third Avenue, Detroit, where my husband, Jim, lived for several years while I was a student.
When I met Jim in 1966, he was sharing a flat near Wayne State University’s campus with Eizo. Eizo was slightly older than we were, taught math at WSU and was an artist. He was a Japanese American who had spent part of his childhood in a concentration camp during WW2. Jim and Eizo met when they were both members of the Congress Of Racial Equality. They organized tenant strikes and demonstrations against absentee, ghetto landlords. The store front downstairs was empty. One of Jim’s friends, Cebie, an art student and friend from Missouri, lived in the basement for awhile before he moved out and into the Artist’s Workshop.
One Friday, Jim asked me to go to a party with him but first he had to go do a radio play he was working on. We went to his flat and he left me there while he went for an hour to practice. This was the first time I had been there. When the phone rang I was afraid to answer it, not only because it wasn’t my place, but because I was half sure my mother knew I was there and was calling to fuss. It actually was Jim trying to call and tell me it was going to take longer than he thought.
As I was waiting night came and his roommate, Eizo, came home and asked if I was waiting for Jim or Bernard. Bernard? I didn’t know who Bernard was. While we waited for Jim to return he showed me his drawings. I said they reminded me of Cuba. He asked if I’d been to Cuba and I had to admit I hadn’t. I had just spent my high school years reading about and dreaming about it. His drawings were of California.
That summer, I worked at the Center for Applied Science and Technology. It was several blocks from Jim’s flat. Every morning before work I went by his house and everyday after work we would meet either at the student center in Mackienzie Hall and play chess or sit around the snack bar or at the Montieth Center, an old house that served as classrooms for Montieth College and also had a mimeograph machine and a lounge area. A friend of ours and fellow member of the African American’s Action Committee was the person in charge for the summer. We published A Happenin’ using their equipment.
I remember standing at the back door watching the kids come home from the swimming pool at the rec center down the street and the winos looking through the bottles in the alley for one that still had a sip in it. And the man in the apartment across the alley practicing the trumpet, badly.
I remember the colorfully painted wall over the kitchen table and the squash left in the oven way too long. I can see the room full of television sets in the little room with the skylight, that Jim was going to repair.
On August 30 I turned twenty. That evening I was at Jim’s, he had once again invited me out to a party. There were other people there too, five or six. After awhile he told me that he had planned to give me a surprise birthday party but not enough people had come. We sat around and talked for a bit and then all went to another party.
At the beginning of September there was a trip to New York planned. Several people were driving over for something. I wanted to go but my parents said absolutely not. Jim went and the people he was riding with had car trouble and he ended up stranded there. I don’t remember how he got back but I do remember I was waiting and waiting for him to get home. I was at his flat and his friend, Cebie was there. While we were waiting, Cebie made some mashed potatoes and we ate them with olive oil instead of butter. Finally Jim called and he had gone straight to the AAAC meeting without coming home first.
In the fall of 1966 Eizo moved out and got another place where he didn’t have to be surrounded by Jim’s bizarre friends. Not including me, of course. At that point Jim moved in some of Cebie’s cousins who, he says, were Robitussin addicts. They worked in downtown hotels. After they moved in, I stopped going by. Eventually Jim resorted to drastic measures to get them to move out – he stopped paying the heating bill. By that time it was November in Detroit and cold. One night he decided to build a fire in a trash can to heat the place up. Amazingly, it didn’t burn to the ground but there was so much smoke that he coughed his way outside. He made it across the freeway to the student housing at the edge of the Jefferies projects and found refuge with a couple of student sisters. That takes us to a whole different chapter of the story that we won’t be covering here.
We moved to Simpson County, Mississippi in November of 1975. Jim was in charge of the Emergency Land Fund’s Model farm. Our daughter Jilo was 5 and Ife was 2.5. I was 29 and Jim was just about to turn 31. This was before we had goats, chickens or rabbits. The
greenhouses weren’t in production. I remember several of the farmers Jim worked with gave him gifts of money for Christmas. It didn’t amount to more than $30 total but it paid for all the gas we used.
We decided to drive up to share the holidays with Jim’s family in Rock Hill, MO. They lived at #1 Inglewood Court, right outside of St. Louis. 17 year old Micheal, 15 year old Monette and 12 year old Debbie were living at home. We made the 8 hour trip in the little gray Volkswagon that came with the job. We took food to eat on the way, left early and drove straight through. I don’t remember anything specific about driving up. As I recall we got to St. Louis before dark. Jim’s parents gave us their bedroom. They were always so nice about that. Jim and the kids and I shared the pushed together twin beds. There weren’t presents for us but Jim’s mother looked around and came up with some. I don’t remember what she gave Jilo and Ife but she gave me two copper vases and Jim two glass paperweights. I don’t remember what we took as gifts.
I remember going to see Jim’s brother, Harold, at one of his jobs. He had several, just like his father always did. We also stopped by his studio where he made plaster knick knacks. Or was it cement bird baths? Or both? There was a Salvation Army or Goodwill store nearby and we stopped and I got some shirts for the kids and a dress that Ife wanted. Mostly we stayed around the house and visited.
We stayed until New Years Eve and left in the evening. There is never enough food or time to prepare it for the return trip. We stopped at Howard Johnson’s somewhere on the way home and I remember getting fried oysters. It was cold and dark and clear. There were stars. And there are always trucks. We listened to the radio and talked and maybe sang some. The kids eventually fell asleep in the backseat and we welcomed the New Year driving through the night.
In late April of 1966 I was 19 and a sophomore at Wayne State University in Detroit. Northern High students walked out of school on April 25 to protest the way they were being (or not being) educated. Several other inner city high schools walked out in sympathy. Northwestern organized a supporting boycott and my sister, Pearl, was a leader. My father and others were providing adult support.
I usually studied in the sociology room of the Main Library, which was in the middle of Wayne’s campus. As I was leaving to go to my next class that day, a guy came up and asked if I was Rev. Cleage’s daughter. I said I was. He asked if I was leading the Northwestern boycott and I said no, that was my sister. We made arrangements to meet after my class on the picket line in front of the Board of Education Building.
We did and afterwards sat around for several hours talking in the “corner” in the cafeteria at Mackenzie Hall. The “corner” was where black students congregated. I felt strangely comfortable with Jim. Strange for me, anyway, since I didn’t feel comfortable with anybody, unless I was in a political discussion. He tried to convince me to join a sorority and convert the members to revolution. There wasn’t a chance I was going to do that. He also told me that he was “nice”. I asked if he meant as in some people were “revolutionaries”, he was “nice”. He said yes, that’s what he meant.
Michigan State Police Additional Complaint Report Page No. 2 Complaint 99-133-66 file 1.15 Date 4-25-66
(note: seems to be continued from a lost page)…students take part in the meeting and form plans by themselves. Representatives from the following Detroit High Schools were present and pledged to back the walk-out, Cass Tech, Central, Chadsey, Cooley, Denby, Mackienzie, Mumford, Northwestern, Southeastern and Western.
Advisers to the students at this meeting were; Reverend Albert Cleage and Reverend Cameron Wells MED. The school representatives most active at this meeting were; Micheal Bach____, 17, Negro male of Northern HS, Pearl Cleage, 17, Negro female of Northwestern HS and Stanley Parker, 17, Negro male of Southwestern HS.
April 25, 1966: The “Freedom School” session (sic) were held in the day. No police incidents.
At 4:oo PM a demonstration and picket line formed at 5057 Woodward Avenue, the Board of Education building. The demonstrators carried signs demanding upgrading of the education at Northern and other inner-city high schools.
There were about 75 persons demonstrating. About 14 adults appeared to be parents of students, about 12 young people appeared to be high school students, the remainder of demonstrators were persons identified as members of such groups as SNCC, Young Socialist Alliance, Detroit Committee to end the War in Vietnam, Students for a Democratic Society and persons seen at Socialist Workers Party Forums.
The following persons were identified in the picket lines: _____ Allen, Kenneth Cockerel, Edward D’Angelo, Todd Ensign, Robert Higgins, Derrick Morrison, Marc ____, David Neiderhauser, Sol Plafkin, Micheal Patrick Quinlin, Harvey Roes, Sarah Rosenshine, Charles Simmons, Mark Shapiro, Tom____, Peter_______, Jackie Wilson and James Winegar.
April 26, 1966: The students met at the “Freedom School” at 8:00 PM a meeting was held. They returned to the classes at Northern High School. Representatives of the students and the school authorities are going to continue meeting to improve conditions.
__________FAST FORWARD TO APRIL 26, 2012_________
Today, April 26, 2012, I received this email from a community organizer in Detroit about a student walkout yesterday.
“Today, 180 students were suspended for walking out of Western HS yesterday. Their cell phones were taken from them and messages and numbers were gone through by security. The police deleted numbers and messages from the students’ phones.
This month, Frederick Douglass Academy students walked out over constant turnover of teachers and shortage of supplies. The principal being fired was the catalyst in this student lead walk out. The secretary of the school was ultimately fired, as well.
Mumford HS students walked out, refusing to have Mumford put into the Educational Achievement Authority (failing district). The students were suspended and the teacher who told them they are not failures was fired for allegedly encouraging them to walk out.“
To visit a website with information by the involved students about the freedom school that starts today (Friday, April 27) and more, click Southwest Detroit Freedom School. The article is on the left side and there are more links at the bottom of the article. I’m cheered to find organizing going on in response to what happened. Almost makes me wish I was in Detroit.
There is no May Pole in this post but there are a couple of Demonstrations that I think will represent May Day.
His brother, Harold, always calls my husband, James, on Veterans Day. Harold said that it was a long time ago and the memories almost don’t bother him now. Almost. Harold’s hands still bleed sometimes from the Agent Orange. Both agreed they’d take “Option B” if they had it to do over again.
A father’s day card for my husband. Children across the bottom, grandchildren down the side. Photographs and other items from our early years, 1966 to 1970. Including, the Detroit riot 12th and Atkinson, Jim in the Coast guard, Revolution Begins in the Mind poster from the Black Conscience, friends, some of my art work and a drawing of a man and child in a leisure suit by Jim, a brochure from the black Conscience Library. Jim with the red checked shirt. Me leaning forward with the sleeveless shirt and afro.
While looking through a box of photographs the other day, I came across some negatives from the 1970s.
The first strip was taken in 1970, when I was a revolutionary librarian at the Black Conscience Library in Detroit. I was pregnant with my first daughter, Jilo. Uri grew up to be an engineer. Phil later confessed to being a snitch, Miriam is Tyra’s mother. I was 23.
The second strip was made in 1974 in Atlanta. Shirley was visiting from Detroit, as was Tyra. Jim, my husband, was a printer with the Atlanta Voice. I was at home full time. Ife, my second daughter, was about to turn one year old. Jilo was 3. Tyra was 2. I was 26.
Although this is not a clock, which was the theme for this weeks Sepia Saturday, it does reflect time. You can see more timely entries here.