In 1931 my uncle Louis J. Cleage was a senior at Northwestern High School in Detroit, Michigan. He was the second of the seven children of Dr. Albert B. and Pearl (Reed) Cleage. He graduated cum laud and went on to become a family doctor in his father’s practice. Years later he became a ham radio operator.
You can read more about Louis in this post and there are links there to even more posts! L – Louis Cleage
Today I am previewing my paternal grandparent’s, Albert and Pearl Cleage’s, household in 1950.
In 1950 the Cleage household consisted of Albert B. Cleage, his wife Pearl and five of their seven children. Albert was a Physician. He was 66 years old and had retired from his medical practice, my Aunt Gladys remembers. He was born in Tennessee and both of his parents were born in the United States. He had completed over 5 years of college. He and his wife had been married for 40 years. This was the only marriage for both.
Pearl D. Cleage was 64 years old. She had given birth to seven children. She was born in Kentucky and had completed 12 years of school. She kept house and had not worked or sought work outside of the home during the past year. Her parents were born in the US.
Louis Cleage, their son, was 36 years old and also a physician in a private practice. He had completed over 5 years of college and never been married. He worked 52 weeks. Henry Cleage, a son, was 34 years old. He had worked 52 weeks as an attorney in private practice. He had been married once and divorced about 6 years. Hugh Cleage, a son was 32 years old. He had never been married. He worked 52 weeks as a postal worker at the US post office. Not sure of his salary yet. He had completed 2 years of college. None of them had been in the military.
Barbara Cleage, a daughter, was 30 years old. She had worked the previous year as receptionist her brother’s doctor’s office. She had never been married and had no children. She had completed a year of college. Anna Cleage was the youngest daughter at 26 years old. She had completed over 5 years of college and had worked the previous year as a pharmacist in her brother’s doctor’s office. She had never been married and had no children. All of the children were born in Michigan. Everybody in the household was identified as Neg(ro).
By 1950 the Cleages had moved from their house on Scotten Avenue to 2270 Atkinson. This three story brick home with full basement was built in 1919. Because it was bought only 2 years before, in 1948, I believe there was a mortgage.
There were two full and two partial bathrooms. There were four bedrooms on the second floor and two in the attic. On the first floor there was a kitchen; a breakfast room; a dining room; a living room; a library and a sun room, adding another six rooms and making twelve rooms in total.
The house was heated by steam heat, with radiators in every room. The house was fully electrified, had hot and cold running water and indoor plumbing. There were two bathtubs and 4 flush toilets in the various bathrooms. In the kitchen there was an electric refrigerator. The stove was gas. The sinks all had hot and cold running water. There was a radio and probably a television. A friend who lived across the street from my grandparents says that his parents bought their house for $15,000 in 1952. My cousin Jan found papers about 2270 Atkinson. When my grandparents bought it early in 1949, the cost was $12,600.
Louis Cleage Responds Poetically to “Two Songs” by Gary Grimshaw
During the 1960s, my uncles owned and operated Cleage Printers. It was what was known as a “job printer,” meaning that it didn’t print books, but rather printed handbills for neighborhood markets and flyers, newsletters, magazines and pamphlets for various radical groups, including the black nationalist Group on Advanced Leadership (GOAL), the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the Detroit Artists Workshop, a countercultural collaborative.
The printing plant was a place where people came to find discussion of the issues of the day and there were plenty of issues to discuss. My uncle Henry loved to hold forth on a variety of topics and his arguments were always well thought out and convincing. Hugh didn’t talk a lot, but he would have something to put in, maybe just a quiet shake of his head over what Henry was saying.
Their brother Louis Cleage was a doctor and his office was about 10 feet in front of the printing plant. When he came back, he would join in with his sarcastic comments and distinctive laugh. And surprising to me, my uncle Louis wrote poetry.
On Oct. 6, 2019, my good friend historian Paul Lee, who likes to consider himself an “honorary Cleage,” sent me an email with a copy of a poem that my uncle Louis had written.
I was so surprised because with all of Louis’ talents, I never knew that he wrote poetry. I immediately began to search for the poems that he was responding to, which were written by Detroit graphic artist and radical political activist Gary Grimshaw.
After Googling and looking for Work 4, where Grimshaw’s poems appeared, I found that the Flickr photostream of “jwc 3o2” (Canadian “cultural factotum” jw curry) had a copy of the cover (designed by Grimshaw) and wrote to ask him if he had the whole work and could send me a copy of the poems. He very kindly dug out his copy of Work 4, made a copy of the poems and sent them to me. You can see the cover and the poems by both Grimshaw and Louis below.
Two Songs by Gary Grimshaw
You’ve made your responsibilities To wash your car and mow your lawn While I’ve made mine To stay excited about being alive And you don’t understand Why I won’t stay home
Without seeing it happen You’ve slipped into the norm While I’ve kept my eyes open For the pleasure of new things And you don’t understand Why I am different from the rest
In the name of reason You’ve drained the joy from life While I make mistakes Because I won’t listen to advice From a dying generation And you wonder why I stare at the floor when you speak August 2
“Prove yourself!” yells the Queen of Morality In her castle on the hill of broken dreams “But there’s nothing to prove!” I yell back From my midnight ancient cellar As the King slips off to the prison factory.
The Queen’s daughters know the virtue of work They dream of an effortless struggle Against inactivity and doubt Carried on in calm organization Won by merciless repression.
The King once was young, like me I often think of him this way Before he volunteered to die His funeral went unnoticed In the steady hum of the factory Where he surrendered to Chief Reason And succeeding days drove out whim and fancy Leaving him with What Is and nothing more What Is, the terrible master. August 12
A Comment on “Two Songs by Gary Grimshaw“
I heard your song, my son so clear and yet so lonely in the night. The enchantment of its melancholy beauty Transported me through space and time to moon-lit waters of a blue lagoon.
In the quiet of the night, a golden maiden played a dulcimer. A nightingale sang a song of youth and beauty that stirred my senses with such violence as to test the very sinews that bound me to my reason. I was once again the young King in the timeless land. The golden maiden was my queen.
Though now, we are as strangers when we meet, I understand that you are different from the rest. In the quiet of the night, when the beauty of your song stirs my heart, My lonely soul cries out to you, my son, —-for understanding.
Louis J. Cleage, M.D. Detroit 3/27/67
Header photograph is of the Cleage Clinic (front brick building) with Cleage Printers (gray cement block building) in the back. I photoshopped it from a Google Maps view from July 2009.
I would like to thank Paul Lee for the additional information that he sent me, which I have incorporated into this post.
While reading about Dr. Turner, who I talked about in Part 2 of this 3 part series, I became interested in the story of his wife, Leota Henson Turner and her uncle, Frederick J. Loudin. Frederick Loudin, although not a student at Fisk, became a member of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers. They toured the United States and Europe singing Spirituals and other songs that came down from slavery, to raise money for Fisk College. When the tour ended and the Fisk singers were disbanded, Loudin decided to keep the group together as the Loudin Jubilee Singers and under his direction they went on a six year tour of Australia, New Zealand, India, Burma, Japan and sang before the crowned heads of Europe. (Aside – My father used to tell us that he danced before the crowned heads of Europe so I like writing that. He was joking.). Loudin’s niece, Leota Henson trained for two years in Germany as a pianist. She later joined the group and toured with them as their pianist. There are a lot of articles about the tour out there and they received almost universal acclaim with full houses and bravos everywhere. She kept a detailed diary of the trip and wrote a series of articles for The Gazette after her return.
There is a lot more to tell about Loudin – how his ancestors were enslaved in the north and free by 1850, how he became a printer but could get no business, how he went to Pennsylvania where he met his wife Harriett. I could talk about the time the group sang spirituals in the Taj Mahal. I could write about the relative lack of discrimination the singers faced everywhere else in the world and the overabundance of it they found in the USA. I could tell about his invention of the key chain and how for a short period of time he owned a shoe factory in Ravenna, Ohio. However, I am going to tell only one more story, which ties into my family.
While reading the book “Out of Sight – The Rise of African American Popular Music 1889 – 1895”, I came across the following passage on page 77 describing Frederick and Harriett Loudin’s home in Ravenna, Ohio.
“Facing one as they enter the beautiful stained glass door of the house, stands a clock similar in size and form to the grandfather’s clock of ye olden time, which is made of teak wood and was brought by Mr. Loudin from Burma. It was made in Rangoon at the government prison..by a Burma convict. The wood is almost as heavy as iron, and resembles the polished face of dark granite. A year and a half was requird to make it…The clock stands eight feet in height and is one mass of bas-relief, gods, dragons and various monsters…”
As I read it, I realized that I had heard this story before, it was one my Aunt Barbara Cleage Martin had told me several years ago about a clock that stood in my Cleage Grandparent’s dining room for as long as I could remember and which now stands in my cousin’s home. When I turned the page, there was a photograph of the very same clock!
At my Aunt’s 90th birthday party, I asked her how we came to have this clock in the family. She told me that Dr. Turner’s wife had been a pianist who played all over the world. While traveling in Burma, they bought this clock. When the Turners were leaving Detroit they asked my Uncle Louis to keep the clock for them.
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”.
For many years my uncle Louis communicated with ham operators throughout the world using his short wave radio. In this photograph he is in the sun room that ran across the back of the family home at 2270 Atkinson in Detroit. Later the radio was moved down to a room in the basement. I do not remember hearing him talk or receive messages, but I seem to hear his voice giving his call letters W8AFM – W 8 Able Fox Mary. At one point we talked about learning the Morris Code so we could get licensed as ham radio operators, but we never did.
The Illustrated News was a weekly newsletter put out by my family and some of their friends in Detroit from 1961 to 1964. This issue dealt with the violence in Birmingham, Alabama during 1963 when the violence continued, uninterrupted. I was a sophomore at Northwestern High School in the spring of 1963. This is my offering after watching Episode 5 of Many Rivers to Cross. For links to other bloggers writing their response to this series, as well as the other posts I’ve written for earlier episodes, click this link – Many Rivers To Cross – Responses. To enlarge the pages for easier reading, please click on them.
For the 4th and final wedding we celebrate the marriage of Paul Payne and Betty Ileen Shreve. They were long time family friends. Paul was born in Ohio but raised in Detroit. Betty was born in North Buxton, Canada. North Buxton was settled in 1849 by formerly enslaved Black Americans. I was told years ago that Betty was related to the Shreve side of my family. The Maid of Honor was Betty’s sister, Doris Mae Shreve. Unfortunately I do not recognized the Ring Bearer and Flower girl. I do recognize Best Man Louis J. Cleage. Always the Best Man, never the groom. He was Best Man at 3 out of 4 of the weddings I’ve shared this month. The wedding took place in Detroit on July 25, 1949. Betty was 18 and Paul was 28.
How do they fit into my family tree? Betty Shreve Payne is the second cousin of my uncle Winslow Shreve who was married to my aunt Anna Cleage Shreve.
I don’t know who the bride and groom are. I only recognize my uncle Louis Cleage and the woman second from the right, Velma Payne. I miss being able to send these mystery photos to my aunts for identification. I wrote about Louis as one of the 7 in a boat.
Velma was born on August 4, 1919 and passed away in 2010 at the age of 90. She was the wife of George W. Payne. They had two children. She was a librarian in the Detroit Public Library system for 32 years. She was a librarian at the Oakman branch library when I used to go there as a child. I remember one evening going there after school with my mother and sister and finding the book “Bed knob and Broomstick: or How to be a Witch in 10 Easy Lessons.” It turned out to be one of my favorite books.