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 birth of my tenth grandchild earlier this week made me wonder how many grandchildren the women in my family had in the past. I combined this with when they had their first child and how many children they had. Here is what I found.
I was born in 1946. My oldest daughter was born in Detroit in 1970 when I was 23 years old. My youngest son was born when I was 41. My first grandchild was born when I was 52. I was 68 when my youngest grandchild was born. I have six children and ten grandchildren.
My mother, Doris Graham Cleage, was born in Detroit Michigan in 1923. She gave birth to two daughters. The oldest (me) was born when she was 23 in 1946. My sister was born in 1948 when my mother was 26. I had 6 children and my sister had 1. My mother was 47 when her first grandchild was born and she would have been 64 when her youngest grandchild was born. Doris had two children and seven grandchildren.
My maternal grandmother, Fannie Mae Turner Graham, was born in Lowndes County, AL in 1888. She gave birth to 4 children, all in Detroit. The first was born in 1920. The fourth was born in 1928 when she was 40. Both boys died in childhood. Fannie’s oldest daughter (my aunt) had 3 children and my mother had 2. My grandmother was 56 when her first grandchild was born. She was 65 when her youngest grandchild was born. Fannie Mae had four children. Two died in childhood. She had five grandchildren.
My paternal grandmother, Pearl Reed Cleage, was born in 1886. Her first child was born in 1911 when she was twenty five. Her youngest child was born in 1924 when she was thirty nine. Her first grandchild (me) was born when she was sixty years old. She was seventy six when the youngest grandchild was born. Pearl had seven children and nine grandchildren.
Pearl’s mother, my great grandmother Anna Allen Reed She was born about 1849. She gave birth to her first child when she was 16, in 1865. She gave birth to my grandmother Pearl, her youngest child, when she was 37. Anna was 40 when her first grandchild was born. She had been dead for 15 years when her youngest grandchild was born in 1924. Anna had eight children and thirty-six grandchildren.
My great grandmother, Celia Rice Cleage Sherman was born about 1855 in Virginia. She was taken to Tennessee as a small child. Her first child was born in 1873 when she was eighteen years old. Her youngest child was born in 1883 when she was 28 years old. Celia’s first grandchild was born in 1897 when she was 42 years old. She was 69 when her last grandchild was born in 1924. Celia had five children and twenty-one grandchildren.
My maternal great grandmother, Jennie Virginia Allen Turner, was born free in 1866 in Montgomery, AL. She gave birth to three daughters. The first two daughters were born in Lowndes County. My grandmother was the oldest, born in 1888 when Jennie was 22. Daisy was born in 1890. In 1892 Jennie’s husband died. She later remarried and her youngest daughter was born in Montgomery, AL in 1908 when she was 42. Of her 3 daughters, only my grandmother had children. Jennie Virginia Allen Turner had three children and four grandchildren.
My maternal 2X great grandmother, Eliza Williams Allen was born into slavery about 1839 in Alabama. She gave birth to 13 children. Eight survived to adulthood. All were born in Alabama. The oldest daughter was born into slavery in 1856. Eliza was about 17 years old. Her other children were born free in Montgomery, AL. Her youngest child was born in 1879 when Eliza was 40. Eliza had thirteen children and eighteen grandchildren.
My 3X maternal line great grandmother, Annie Williams, was born into slavery about 1820 in Virginia. I only know of one child, Eliza above, who was born in Alabama in 1839 when Annie was about 19. Annie died before the 1900 census so did not answer the question “How many children did you give birth to?” There is no oral history of Eliza having siblings. Annie had one daughter and eight grandchildren.
My 2X great grandmother Emma Jones Turner was born into slavery about 1842 in South Carolina. She was later taken to Alabama. She gave birth to ten children. Six of the children survived to adulthood. Her first child was born when she was about 18 years old and the youngest was born when she was 30. Emma had ten children, and sixteen grandchildren.
For this year’s April A-Z Challenge I am blogging a series of sketches about the free people formerly enslaved on the Cleage plantations in Athens, Tennessee. Most are not related to me by blood, although our families came off of the same plantations – those of Samuel, Alexander and David Cleage. Click on any image to enlarge.
This post is about my relationship to the Cleages of Athens, Tennessee. Kristin Cleage (that is me) was born free in Springfield, Mass. in 1946. My only sister was born when I was 2. My family moved back to Detroit when I was four. I finished high school and graduated with a degree in fine arts from Wayne State University. I worked as a pre-school teacher, a doll maker and a librarian. Eventually I married James Williams, who had an Associates Degree and worked as an organizer and an inspector of asphalt for the Michigan Dept of Transportation. We had six children. All of our children attended college, lived to be adults and most now have children of their own. At various times we have shared our home with children and grandchildren, and other relatives. We owned a variety of homes over the years, some with and some free from mortage. We often lived around extended family. I was the third generation of my Cleages born out of slavery.
My father, Rev. Albert B. Cleage Jr (aka Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman) was born free in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1911 to parents born in Tennessee and Kentucky. His family moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan and eventually Detroit. He had six siblings. All of them lived to be at least eighty years old. He attended public schools in Detroit and graduated with a BA from Wayne State University, followed by a Divinity Degree at Oberlin College and doing post degree work in film at the University of Southern California. He married my mother, Doris Graham and they had two daughters. Both daughters lived to be adults, graduated from college and had seven children between them. My father pastored churches in Lexington, KY; San Francisco, CA; Springfield, MA and Detroit, MI. He was active in politics and with friends and family, published newsletter, advocated self determination and black power for black people. He founded the Shrines of the Black Madonna with churches in Detroit, Atlanta and Houston. He died at the age of 88 in 2000 in South Carolina. He was the second generation born out of slavery.
My grandfather, Dr. Albert B. Cleage Sr, was born free in Hackberry, Loudon County, TN in 1883. He was the youngest of 5 children born to Lewis Cleage and Celia Rice. Eventually the family moved back to Athens, TN and his parents were divorced. He and his siblings all graduated from high school. Several attended college. My grandfather graduated from Knoxville College in Knoxville, TN and the University of Indiana medical school, Indianapolis, IN. He married my grandmother, Pearl Reed and they had seven children who all lived to age 80 or beyond. After completing his internship, the family moved to Kalamazoo, MI. There he set up his medical practice. After several years they moved to Detroit, Michigan where he opened Cleage Clinic and practiced medicine. Three of his siblings and his mother eventually moved to Detroit. One brother remained in Athens. My grandfather regularly traveled back to visit. During his life, my grandfather helped found three churches and two black hospitals. This was in the days when black doctors could not practice in most white hospitals. In the 1950s my grandfather retired and in 1957 he died in Detroit. He was the first generation born out of slavery.
My greatgrandfather Lewis Cleage was born into slavery on Alexander Cleage’s plantation in McMinn County, about 1852. He was fourteen when freedom came with the end of the Civil War. He married Celia Rice in 1872 in Athens, TN and they had five children. They all lived to adulthood and attended high school and/or college. He worked as a farmer, in the steel mills, on the railroad and did other hard labor all of his life. He never learned to read or write. He died in 1918 in Indianapolis, Indiana. He lived free for 52 of his 66 years.
My 2X great grandfather Frank Cleage was born into slavery about 1816 in North Carolina. I do not know how he came to be on Samuel Cleage’s plantation, but he was there by 1834 when he was mentioned in the letter to the overseer. My 2X great grandmother Juda Cleage, was born into slavery about 1814. She came to Alexander Cleage’s plantation with his wife, Jemima Hurst. Juda was mentioned in both Elijah Hurst’s and Alexander Cleage’s Wills. Frank and Juda both gained their freedom after the Civil War and were legally married that same year. They had at least eight children. Frank worked as a laborer. I have not found them after the 1870 census. I can only trace 3 of their children so I am unable to give death ages. The three children I have found all did hard physical labor and were unable to read and write, as were Frank and Juda.
You can read more about each person by following the links or putting a name in the search box in the right hand column.
I am standing in front of my tent made of a quilt attached to the former chicken house, at that point storage shed, in Nanny and Poppy’s (my Graham grandparents) backyard. It was a June Saturday in 1958. I was 11 and would turn 12 in August. My cousin Barbara had her own quilt tent built over the wooden slide.
In the header we are eating lunch in the yard the same day. Sitting at the table from L to R is my aunt Mary V., my grandmother, my greatgreat aunt Abbie, my grandfather at the head of the table (of course) me, cousin Dee Dee and cousin Marilyn on the end. My mother probably took the picture.
More posts about my grandparent’s house on Theodore.
My sister sent me this postcard while I was waiting for my 4th daughter to be born. The midwife had given a date a month before my actual due date so there was an extra lot of waiting through the Mississippi summer of 1978 until she was finally born September 26.9-12-78
They had their hair bobbed awhile ago, but promised they wouldn’t cut it again until after the baby comes! You see them now, don’t you?? Hang in there!! Love – Pearlita
The story of Tulani’s birth – written shortly after she was born in Jackson, MS September 26, 3:36AM Tuesday (If you don’t want to read the details of a birth, stop right here.)
The midwives I used when my 3rd daughter was born had moved out of town. The two I found were not like the others. Neither had children of their own. They were scary about everything. They said the head was small and they hoped it wasn’t encephalic. To me! They wouldn’t believe that when I said conception probably occurred and placed the due date a month early, then said they didn’t want to do the delivery because I was overdue. They didn’t hook me up with a support doctor, so Jim called the doctor I had used as back up last time and she agreed to do it, although she fussed about the midwives not having a back-up doctor.
Woke up with contractions. Sat up to see if more were coming. They were. Woke up Jim, who timed a few – coming every 5 minutes. I was real glad. Labor was starting the day before the two week deadline ran out. Had dreaded dealing with that after fearing every abnormality possibly connected with pregnancy during this 9 1/2 months. Now, Jim called someone else to see if the kids could spend the day there since the other people worked. Then it was almost 10 o’clock so he suggested we call the doctor since the contractions were so quick. I was doing deep regular breathing which I did until transition, but blowing out rather harder than breathing in. I asked if he was sure we wanted to go in so soon since we probably had a 9 hour wait ahead of us. But finally I agreed. He called the doctor who was off that night and another lady doctor fills in for her. She said we better come on since fourth babies may come pretty quick.
I threw up once or twice as we were getting ready to leave. All loaded up and left. Dropped the kids down the road. Carrie Ann came out and said she hoped it came quickly so I wouldn’t still be waiting around in the morning. I said I hoped so too. But was mentally resigned to 9 hours of labor and didn’t expert to deliver until around 9AM.
Got back on highway. Had regular contractions all the way there. Pretty strong. Not looking forward to 9 more hours of labor but glad to be in labor. Threw up or gagged once or twice. Finally got to the hospital around 2AM or a bit before. Jim took me in and upstairs – a guard pushing the wheelchair. I was still breathing the same way, sometimes rubbing my stomach, had no back labor, during final 6 weeks of pregnancy had been told the baby was in posterior position and would cause a long labor by midwife.
On the delivery floor was wheeled into a labor room by one of the nurses on duty. There were 2, a white RN and a black LPN. I asked if the birthing suite was available and it was so we went there – a combination labor and living room where delivery can take place without being moved. I took off my clothes and peed and got into bed while Jim went to check me in. The white RN (while I was peeing) asked if I was having natural birth. I said yes and she (not trying to be unkind) made some comment like “ooohhhhh honey, that’s good, if you could stand it”. I told her I’d done it 3 times and I was sure I could. Glad it wasn’t my first. Continued this while continuing to have regular and strong contractions.
Got into bed and was shaved just a partial and checked. No enema and 5>6 cm’s dilated. I couldn’t’ believe I was that far along. Jim returned. The doctor came in. A little white lady, a bit older than I (I was 32), not 40 yet. She asked if we’d had any special plans we’d discussed with Dr. Barnes. We said just no drugs and keep the baby with us. She said you had to have a special nurse present to keep the baby.
She went back out. The RN kept making dumb comments, trying to be friendly. She said she’d be ready for delivery about 3AM. Ha! I thought. Told me to tell them if I felt like pushing. I felt like pushing a bit, but kept quiet, remembering last time and how I’d pushed mildly for hours before the real push. Then she must have checked me or the doctor did and said I could push when I felt like it. Contractions were almost continuous. So on one or two more pushes I had to push and did. The waters broke and I told them. The RN started saying “sit up, you can’t push laying down!’ I was in the middle of a push, and I was saying “just wait a minute, just wait”. So after that push everyone was rushing around getting ready for the birth. It was about 3AM. They had me sit on some little plastic seat to make it easier to catch the baby.
So, I started pushing, which was a relief. The rests between contractions were longer. I said now they’d probably stop. The doctor said rests were usually longer during 2nd stage. They started seeing head. I pushed harder and finally, actually 15 or 20 minutes I felt that big head coming through and down and made noise as I pushed. There was no pain through the cervix this time, like when Ayanna had her arm up, but the head against the perineum felt like I was going to pop. I was not relaxed. I saw that hair down there on the head, but the main feeling was yikes, I’m going to pop. The doctor said let the contractions deliver and don’t push, so after a years wait (not really) a contraction came, I panted and the head came out. I pushed and it all popped out. For some reason I didn’t look in the mirror while this was going on. But I immediately looked after she came out. And she was squirming around while the doctor suctioned her nose. Didn’t look like much mucus. Was no blueness to her. She gave a short cry. They cut her cord and I picked her up and she was a regular, whole baby, without even a club foot (smile).
Then Jim went to the nursery while they weighted her and examined her. He brought her back because her temperature was stable at 99 already. She nursed a bit then they took my blood pressure and said it was low so took the baby. Jim held her awhile. Then they pushed my uterus (ouch!) and some clots came out. Not firm enough so pushing and shot of pitocin, drip of something else. They didn’t hear about nursing firming up the uterus. Any way I went to sleep and didn’t bleed to death.
I wrote this soon after the birth of my second daughter, Ife in 1973. We had been in Atlanta almost a year. Jim was printing and I was working at the Institute of the Black World doing clerical work. My sister Pearl and her husband lived within walking distance. Jilo attended preschool at Martin Luther King preschool.
March 29, 1973 – 9am – 8lbs 3 ounces – Holy Family Hospital, Atlanta, GA
I continued working at the Institute of the Black World until Monday, March 27, when the braxton hicks contractions were too uncomfortable. For the next three days I slept until 1 or 2 PM or later. Jilo was at school and Jim at work. We were living in a duplex at 2600 Cascade Rd. SW in Atlanta.
At midnight of the 28th the contractions became regular. I threw up. They were not too hard. Jim timed them. He’d read a chapter of a book about birthing this time. Daddy called about 12:30. At 4:10 we called Dr. Borders. Contractions were 8 minutes apart. Pearl and Michael took us to the hospital. Jilo stayed with them. I had one contraction on the way, about a twenty minute trip.
I was checked in, shaved with a dull razor, given an enema. It seemed like the contractions were gone forever. They weren’t. Jim was a lot of help saying don’t panic, don’t breath so fast. I really didn’t need to pant except when they were checking the dilation then it was so cold. In fact the room was freezing and next time I’ll wear a sweater.
Dr. Borders checked every half hour. At 8:30 am, I felt a mild desire to push and told Dr. Borders. She said go ahead and I was moved to the delivery room. Although I had been drowsy I immediately woke up alert and not at all tired. However once again the contractions disappeared. No one panicked though, they just sat and waited. At this time I kept expecting Dr. Borders to say it was taking too long and she’d have to give me a spinal. The nurses tried to help find the right breathing breath, breath push and confused me at first. The contractions were mild and not strong, they said, so gave me something to strengthen them. The one nurse pushed down on the stomach while I pushed. Jim was there in blue but didn’t get to say much. I was quite discouraged, but Dr. Borders said it was coming along and finally THE HEAD CAME OUT! I didn’t feel it come down or anything, it just popped out, I had an episiotomy. The cord as around her neck, but Dr. Borders got it off and out came Ife. It was something as I said before. They showed her to me and they hit her heels and she started crying. She had dark hair. They took prints, cleaned her nose, etc. And it was cold again. I got a heated blanket and we all congratulated each other. It took awhile to get stitched. I felt fine. I didn’t go to recovery, just to the room. Ife was supposed to come with me, both my doctor and her pediatrician okayed it, but the nurses never brought her. They told me her temp had to stabilize.
I felt fine, excellent, never really bothered by stitches. Roommate was weird, had a c-section and kept saying morbid things and complaining. A real drag. I had rooming in. I nursed her when she wanted and was never engorged.
I hadn’t realized before that my first daughter’s birth had been so messed up by the hospital staff coming in every five minutes like it as a public event, my Doctor’s lack or interest and knowledge of natural childbirth, Jim’s absence and lack of knowledge of how to help, the length of labor.
In Ife’s birth all of these things had an influence on me, which I hadn’t realized until labor really started. If I had known I was only going to be 4-5 hours in labor at the hospital instead of 14 and that Ife would indeed get herself born without forceps, etc. I would have been more relaxed and could have enjoyed it more. Things to remember next time-take a sweater, take a bag or breath under covers to avoid hyperventilation, which puts you out of it. THE BABY WILL COME OUT! Get a single room, leave as soon as possible, the hospital that is.
When I saw Prompt 18 – Your First Gift, in The Book of Me, I was sure I had a list of what I received when I was born in my baby book. Unfortunately, when I checked there was a list of people who gave me gifts, but not a mention of a gift. I remember having a little silver cup and a silver fork and spoon but I have no idea who gave them to me. I don’t know where they are now and I can find no photographs of them.
Something I did notice was that the handwriting and the language used in the baby book appears to be my father’s and not my mother’s. I had always thought it was my mother who kept the book. Only a few pages were filled out at the time. There is some information I added years and years later when I was about 12 – When I started to talk and walk, what childhood illnesses I had, and a list of some of my elementary school teachers.
One last thing about the baby book – it was found in pile of trash to be thrown out with other papers from my father’s office at the church but someone saw it and saved it. Why was it in the office? Anyway, I’m glad it was rescued.
Looking again, I see that Dearie Reid brought my going home outfit to the hospital. I’m thinking that she bought it. I wonder what I wore home. It must have been the second week in September in Springfield, MA by that time. Maybe cool? Maybe hot?
I started taking piano lessons when I was about seven years old. We lived on Chicago Blvd. in the parsonage. Mrs. Fowler was our teacher. I remember her as a stern older woman who, according to my cousin, sometimes smashed her fingers on the keys when she kept making mistakes. I think of the room with the piano as the “Morning Room”. Maybe that’s what my mother called it. There was wall paper with fruit on it. My music book was “Teaching Little Fingers to Play” and I learned 3 note pieces with words like “Here we go, up a row, to a birthday party.” When played in a different order it became the piece “Dolly dear, Sandman’s here. Soon you will be sleeping.” I must have practiced between lessons because I remember being used as a good example to my cousin Barbara one time. The piano must have belonged to the church because when we moved, it stayed there.
Several years later we were living in the upper flat on Calvert. I told my mother I wanted to take piano lessons again. She bought the used upright piano in the photo above. We all signed it on the inside of the flap you rest the music on and raise to get at the insides. Our new teacher was Mr. Manderville, the church choir director at that time. He was my parents age and went in more for mean, sarcastic remarks as opposed to banging your fingers on the keyboard. I wanted to play “Comin’ Through The Rye” but he wouldn’t assign it and, for unknown reasons, I didn’t just learn it on my own time.
The only piece I remember by name was “The Wild Horseman”. I remember it as a complex piece that I played exceptionally well. Sort of like this.
Well, maybe I wasn’t quite that good, but in my memory, I am every bit as good. Eventually I told my mother I didn’t want to take piano lessons any more. She was not happy with that and mentioned buying the piano at my request so I could take lessons. She did let me stop. My mother played the piano much better than I ever did. She played it often after that. Pieces of classical music she played on the record player and those she played on the piano have become confused in my mind now. I will have to ask my sister what she remembers.
Another part of the prompt is pictures within the picture. You will notice three pictures on the wall and one of my sister and me on the piano, in my photo above.