“Camp Atwater is a cultural, educational, and recreational camp designed for the children of African American professionals. The camp, founded in 1921 by Dr. William De Berry, was located in North Brookfield, Massachusetts. Initially named St. John’s Camp, in 1926 the name was officially changed to Camp Atwater when Ms. Mary Atwater donated $25,000 with the stipulation that the camp’s name honor her late father, Dr. David Fisher, a well-known and distinguished physician in the town. The camp is the oldest American Camp Association (ACA) accredited African American owned and operated camp in the nation.”
When I saw the theme for this weeks Sepia Saturday was film, I wanted to post a photo from a movie I remember wandering into one evening when I was about 4. We lived in St. John’s Congregational Church parsonage/community house in Springfield, Massachusetts where my father was pastor. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of the movie. I remember waking up from my nap and going down the hall to a big room where the movie was being shown. There I saw a larger then life, green genie coming horrifyingly out of a bottle. Perhaps it was “The Thief of Bagdad“, released in 1940. By 1950 it could have been available for showing in darkened rooms full of folding chairs to community groups. I did not stick around after the Genie started coming out of the bottle.
However, this movie is not sepia and it’s not from my family photo stash, so I kept looking. Finally I remembered finding an envelope of negatives (film) of me, my bear, Beatrice, and my grandfather, Dr. Albert B. Cleage Sr. They were taken in the Summer of 1948 in our backyard.
St. John’s Congregational Church
210 King Street
November 21, 1945
It’s Thanksgiving eve…Doris is out to the Ballet with Mrs. DeBerry. We were planning to go but some of my folks are trying to organize a “Community Council of Negroes” and they called a meeting for tonight and I thought I’d better be there to see that nothing was pulled off… and when I arrived on time (for once) there was nobody present but me and another po’ cold Negro… and eventually two or three more showed up…but not the man with the key to the building so we adjourned without a meeting. It was just as well that a way since I am interested in organizing a “similar” Council under the N.A.A.C.P. sponsorship…and that can’t be accomplished until the new president takes office December 1st.
Everything goes along…Our kitchen is now furnished except for the Frigidaire…The Ladies Progressive League finally got the “Breakfast set” in…and another lady contributed an electric wall clock..and other little nick nacks for the kitchen. The guest-room is furnished with a bed and dresser…and the rest of the equipment is “on the way”. Before Louis gets here and reports…I’d better mention that the house is still as empty as a barn….The living room has nothing in it….and the rest of the house has the uncoordinated look which a house has without curtains … drapes … pictures … n’ that … but its livable … and our credit is exhausted … The treasurer hands me my check and I hand it to the white-folks. I guess I mentioned the couch we bought for the dining room … It’s “light oak” … modern’ n’ that … and sort of goes with our dinning-room outfit … we went down-town to get a studio couch that could be used as a bed for company … but saw this marked down from $129.00 to $89.00 … and it being what we wanted (and couldn’t afford) we couldn’t resist a bargain … and put a nickle down on it.
The church is going along nicely. Sunday morning attendance is holding up … and quite a few visitors are dropping in. We have seven new members waiting to be fellowshipped in. I’m trying to get fifteen before having an “in-gathering”. The members are trying to make us fat with their Turkey dinner invitations … We ate out twice last week … great BIG ELEGANT dinners from soup to nuts n’ that. We are also eating two Thanksgiving dinners out this week. One tomorrow, Thanksgiving … and another Saturday with a family who have all their celebrations on Saturday when the father can be home from work. We are still “ORGANIZING CRAZY” … We are organizing the entire church into “activity-groups ” of eighteen members each…About 25 or more groups. These groups will meet monthly…The group leaders will “encourage the participation” of their members…check up on financial obligations (collect back dues) etc. and will raise their group-financial quota of $100.00. They will, at least make it possible for more people to actively participate in the church program. We are also organizing a Men’s Brotherhood consisting of all the men in the church. They, too, will meet once a month with a Forum or banquet. or something “interesting”. I’m trying to gradually get everybody DOING SOMETHING…and they seem to like the activity. We had a recital at the church last Friday. It was sponsored by the Choir. The girl is studying at Julliard in New York and use to sing in the Choir. Her father is on the Standing-Committee n’ that. The admission was $1.20 which made me fearful… but a goodly crowd was out…and the girl got her $100.00 and the church cleared about $100.00 so everybody was happy. (See enclosed Program)
We went down to hear Hazel Scott Monday night at the Civic auditorium. It was jammed and packed … and she rocked them. All of my members were out in a body … I didn’t recognize the scoundrels in them furs and diamonds..all sitting in the five dollar seats. AND IT WAS RAINING CATS AND DOGS. Doris is taking a class in “Make-up” at the Springfield Playhouse … and I had to go by for her … and we had to run about ten blocks in the rain to the auditorium. A sailor and his girl sat next to us … During the first half of the program he sat with his head down on his knees … I thought the music was just too much for him … Just as she got to the Modern music … he heaved once or twice … and turned out the balcony … (I was sitting next to him) … The woman sitting in front of him liked to died … and she came just that close to being drowned … it was a sorry mess … His girl friend was LOYAL … and I do mean LOYAL … she stuck right with him … as we good neighbors fled in wild panic … wiped his face and helped his stinking hulk from the room … We enjoyed the program, however … The critic here was a little critical … she played too fast … had too heavy a hand … etc. with which I agreed … but anyhow … she sho’ rocked Springfield one time! The Negro “Ministerial council” asked me to preach their Thanksgiving Sermon … But I had already agreed to say the Benediction for the White Folks at a city-wide Unity service at the civic auditorium. Negroes do love to have their own little affairs. They were all invited to participate in the downtown service … but they preferred to have their own “segregated service”.
The women’s missionary division of the State Congregational Conference is going to meet at St. John’s Church next week … to learn of our great work … and to consider possible expansions. We are getting ready to receive them with open arms … and dreams of a parish house for them to chew on …
Church Choirs from here, there and everywhere are holding forth at our church next Sunday afternoon … at a Thanksgiving Vespers … Should be quite an affair.
Tell Louis and Hugh the girls having been notified of their coming are champing at the bit…with impatience. One little girl said she’d hold up announcing her engagement until she had a chance to look them over … ’cause after all. We are EXPECTING THEM on the morning of December 1st. the last dinner party we went to (last Sunday afternoon) … had places for them all set-up … The good lady understood they were coming that week-end.
This is part 2 of the letter from November 10, 1945. Part 1 talked about the Fellowship Dinner. This part is about other things they were involved in – Missionary Society meetings, NAACP meetings and invites to the family to come on over.
Friday afternoon the Missionary Society had a meeting…They had a round-Table discussion on International Problems… and had me… DeBerry, and the Methodist preacher to talk. They had the white ladies from the Congregational Association here, also. We had quite a meeting. I undertook to explain the RUSSIAN SITUATION and why we good Christians should be sympathetic toward Russia… and stop WORLD WAR III before it starts. We argued and argued. DR. DEBERRY AGREED WITH ME! (Even in front of the white folks) Doris head like to bust… (She don’t like white-folks) I “spoke freely”… there are times when “Uncle Tom” just got to go. My good Missionary Ladies were so happy that their pastor wasn’t afraid to argue with the White Ladies their head’s like to busted. It was a very good meeting… the best the Missionary Society has had for a long, long, time. Even the young girls were out serving and that. They asked me to speak at the college. The International College is located in Springfield and several of “our young people” attend. So everything is going very well… I don’t know how much good we’re doing… but we’re having a lot of fun… and its interesting. It’s a little TIRESOME, however, in as much as we’re rushing about on some “important business” all day and far into the night. Doris claims to be exhausted… but she’s getting fat on confusion!
We went to the N.A.A.C.P. annual meeting (we joined this chapter)… Our buddy was elected President. It was a mess. We like to died at the folks… fussing and fighting. Dr. ****, Mrs. ****’s friend is a weird psycho-neurotic personality who has devoted his life to fighting DeBerry. He tried again (been trying for fifteen years) to take over the N.A.A.C.P. …. and failed again. My church members make up a good working majority of the N.AA.C.P. Both president and secretary are my members.
Well, so-long. I hope Louis can run down for a week-end!! Seems like Henry or Hugh could make that run with him! and GIRLS, we’re planning quite a round of events for Christmas-week. You must be here. I can’t promise that you’ll get married the first visit…but a New England Christmas should be interesting! Most of the people are nice and mean well. (Even those who are a little stuffy) And why doesn’t Daddy retire… instead of falling up and down the stairs. Mama, tell him to retire and get it over with. You know when we get something on our mind like that we ain’t no good ’till we do it. Retire and get a new car and he’ll be O.K.
November 10, 1945
Well, you-all know all the news (I told you everything over the phone)…but you-all should have been at the Fellowship Dinner!!! We (the Committee) started setting up the “dining-room” Tuesday evening. They ab-so-lute-ly refused to believe that there would be more than 150 people present… “Ain’t never had more’n 150 people.” they said…and that was that. So I had to start “setting-up” for the other 150 myself. A few of them… not wanting to hurt the preacher’s feelings… humored me and helped …We set up every old piece of table there was in the church …The supper-tables only seated about two hundred including those we had to fix with improvised legs and that…we then used the Sunday-School tables ( a little-low in as much as they were for the primary department!!) and the Sunday School Sand-box with a cover over it…and everything we could find. All of the time we were a-fixing my officers would “console” me by saying that “It just can’t be done even if 300 people did come…which they wouldn’t… We’ll just have to eat in shifts…and go up stairs for the ‘meeting’.”I tried to explain this was a FELLOWSHIP supper and there wasn’t going to be no “Church-meetin’ wringin’ and twistin’!!! But somehow they couldn’t hear me. They been a itchin’ for a “meeting” ever since I got here so they can argue about what happened eight and ten years ago and all get mad all over again. Things are going along too peaceful for them…Everybody is too happy and contented. Well, finally we got set up for about 285. I dragged some more tables out into the corridor at the foot of the steps and told them to set them up too…They drew the line there, that was just foolishness. There wouldn’t be over 150 people…and we had already set up for 285…and now the preacher was trying to set up little tables out in the hall! Well, I put chairs around them anyhow… I had insisted that we borrow seventy-five extra chairs from the undertaker. The women then set up the tables…and Doris and one of her buddies went wild with crepe-paper around posts and that. Then I took out all of the little “money-saving sixty watt bulbs” and bought a whole new set of 100 and 150 watt bulbs…and then some of the ladies brought flowers… and Doris brought her candle-sticks and candles n’ that…it began to look like a banquet! AND EACH STEP WAS TAKEN OVER GOOD PESSIMISTIC MEMBERS DEAD BODIES…BODIES WERE STREWN EVERYWHERE BEFORE WE GOT THROUGH. The man who was to cook the dinner was my buddy, however. He took my word for the number of people. I told him 300 people and he prepared for at least 300 and just went on carting in truck-loads of provisions while the rest spread gloom. We (me and Doris) got through “preparing” as though 300 were coming about 6 o’clock and rushed home to take a bath and rush back.
We got back at 7 sharp. A member stopped and picked us up as we waited for a bus or we would have been late…AND THERE WERE CARS FOR BLOCKS AROUND THE CHURCH…We could hardly get in! The dining room was already full!!! And people were lined up on the stairs trying to get down…and sitting around in the social room waiting for their turn. The Committee had just “gone all to pieces”!!! The lady who was in charge hasn’t recovered yet. Dr. and Mrs. DeBerry were sitting off in a corner looking big-eyed. The speakers table up front on the stage was empty. (Dr. DeBerry was to speak of “St. John’s History”. I collected the DeBerry’s …The Senior Deacon and his wife and the Treasurer who were to sit at the speaker’s table and set them down and then acted as head-waiter. I crowded people in where it didn’t look like another sardine would fit. The CHAIRMAN of the committee had about five girls (UNTRAINED) to serve!!! Other girls and men “VOLUNTEERED” and gradually the food began to issue forth in a growing trickle from the kitchen. The people were very nice about everything..Actually I think it was a better FELLOWSHIP dinner because more of the GUESTS had to pitch in and help…Well, finally we actually seated about 325 people. Some would eat and then get up and help serve the others. The place was JAMMED and PACKED. We had some group singing. Oh YES. The treasurer sat next to me on the platform whenever I could get to the platform…and even as we were eating dinner he “ADVISED” me that it couldn’t be done, we’d have to adjourn to the church auditorium for the “MEETING”. I told him we’d do it over my dead body…Finally we were all eating and we had group singing…Our Choir Director is a large uninhibited woman just made to lead group-singing…then we had a couple of numbers by two girls…and then Dr. DeBerry talked…He made an excellent talk…Told them little anecdotes about the church…and what a wonderful person I am…and how they had to get behind me and do what I said…and how the Lord had guided him to Springfield …and had guided him in his work…and when he had to put down the burden had guided me here to carry on, etc. etc. He struck just the proper light tone…and the proper PEP MEETING approach…Then I ANNOUNCED and THANKED…Those who had distributed tickets…those who had agreed to be Group-Leaders…and told ’em we’re going to build a parish house…buy a Moving-Picture Projector etc. etc. The Sunday School Superintendent showed them the Slide projector we just bought…(They were impressed). I introduced the CHEF and he made a little testimonial speech about the church being the best church in New England…and The Chairman of the Committee thanked those who had helped..and we sang Old-Ang-Syne (I ain’t even gonna try to fix this one!) and then Fellowshiped for a while. Everyone had a good time…Dr. DeBerry said there were people out who hadn’t put foot in the church since he left…etc. etc. Almost our entire membership was present. The men stayed and took down the tables etc. Some wanted to take up an offering but I refused.
Rev Albert B. Cleage, Jr., pastor-elect of St. John’s Congregational church will begin his ministry at the church, preaching his first sermon as pastor Sunday morning. The day will be observed by the church as Fall Rally day when the fall and winter work of the organization will he formally launched. In the afternoon between 5 and 8, the congregation will tender a public reception to Mr. and Mrs. Cleage in the social rooms of the church. The public is invited to this reception.
I found this article at GenealogyBank – The Springfield Daily Republican, Springfield Mass, Monday, Oct 1, 1945 – page 3.
On January 9, 1945, my father wrote home about finding a church to pastor. The next month on February 18, (Unbeknownst to him.) Rev. Haecock resigned from his position as pastor of St. John’s Congregational Church in Springfield, Mass. Springfield was one of the places my father had been trying to get information about an opening. On August 28, 1945, my father was appointed by the standing committee of St. John’s as pastor.
St. John’s Pastor Resigns Position; Remains in Army
Capt Roland T. Heacock thanks Parishioners for Cooperation – Church to Seek Successor at Once
Chaplain Roland T. Haecock, pastor of St. John’s Congregational church who has been serving in the army chaplains’ corps at three Teas camps since October, 1942, read his resignation as pastor at the morning service yesterday. He did so “In order that St. John’s may not longer be handicapped by having its pastor absent from the church and in military service for an uncertain length of time.”
Action March 15
Capt. Heacock’s letter of resignation will be formally acted upon at a church meeting March 15, Search for a new permanent pastor will begin at once. George Burr, chairman of the standing committee said last night.
Rev. Herbert L. Wilkins served as interim pastor at St. John’s until into last year when he left to take a Washington (D.C.) pastorate. In recent weeks ministers of Hope church have conducted the services.
Capt Heacock left last night for Camp Swift, Tex. by way of Tulsa Okla., where he will take part in a seven-day interracial institute held in the Tulsa schools by the Conference of Christians and Jews. Before becoming post chaplain at Camp Swift, he served at Camp Walters and Camp Hood.
Came here in 1927
Chaplain Haecock came to St John’s in 1927 as assistant pastor and became psstor in 1931. He and Mrs. Heacock have been active in many community activities, especially those contributing to inter-group understanding Mrs. Heacock and their three children will remain here for three children will remain here for some time, at least.
Chaplain Heacock’s letter of resignation as the pastor of this church to take effect immediately upon it’s acceptance by the church. I do this in order that St. John’s may not longer be handicapped by having his pastor absent from the church and in military service for an uncertain length of time.
“I would like at this time to express my appreciation to this church and to all it’s members for th years of confidence and good will, I have been enjoyed. I would like, specifically, to thank the loyal and faithful members of this church whose love and devotion have followed me through the nearly seventeen years I have lived among you.
“St. John’s Congregational churh has a place and a mission in this community. It’s history and it’s achievements have been notable and I am sure that in the days of the future its light will shine with even greater brightness than it has in the past.
“Upon the pastor, whoever he is, who shall be called to this pulpit I ask the blessing here and now of Almighty God. May he be wise, patient, and richly endowed with spiritual gifts. And I beg each and every on of you to give him the same confidence and good will and loyality, which you have, for so many years given to me.
“May the blessing of God continue to rest upon this church and its people.
St. John’s Church Elects Rev Albert Cleage Pastor
New Minister, Who Comes Here From San Francisco, succeeds Rev. Roland T. Heacock.
Rev. Albert B. Cleage Jr., former organizer and copastor of the Fellowship interracial church of San Francisco, Cal., has been appointed pastor of St John’s Congregational church, it was announced last night by the standing committee.
Mr. Cleage will succeed Rev. Roland T. Heacock, former army chaplain, who resigned his post here. Until recently he has been taking work toward his doctorate degree in the Graduate School of Religion of the University of Southern California at Los Angeles.
Following his graduation from Wayne university at Detroit, Michigan., Mr. Cleage worked as social caseworker with the department of public welfare before entering the Oberlin Graduate School of Theology. While at Oberlin he was director of youth work at the Plymouth Congregational church of Detroit and served a student pastorate at the Union Congregational church of Painesville, O.
He was ordained by the Congregational association of Detroit and accepted a call to the Chandler Memorial Congregational church of Lexington, Ky., before returning to Los Angeles to study.
The new pastor emphasizes that in his opinion has a profound responsibility for bettering the conditions under which people live “Religiously I feel that preaching should be based upon the Bible in as far as possible, and at the same time should have significant current application to the problems of the world in which we live,” he wrote. “I place considerable emphasis upon those aspects of the church program which touch children and young people.”
The appointment will become effective next month. Since February, St. John’s church has had several temporary pastors.
I was born in Springfield, Massachusetts and lived there until I was almost 5. We moved in April of 1951 when my father got a church in Detroit, Michigan. Here we are on moving day, my sister and I, with two little girls I knew then but I don’t remember their names. I have a photo of the oldest girl, my sister and myself, standing on the parsonage porch. I also have a memory of the oldest girl pouring milk in my dinner, which I wasn’t going to eat anyway, but still… we were sitting at the little table in our room eating. My mother said if I’d eaten it in a timely fashion it wouldn’t have happened. No sympathy there. I remember another time when this little girl hit me and my mother told me if I didn’t hit her back, my mother was going to hit me. I hit her back. Don’t remember that she ever hit me again.
|Me, sisters I cannot remember the names of, my sister Pearl|
I saw them one more time, after we moved to Detroit. In the winter of 1967 my father returned to Springfield to preach for the Men’s Club. I went with him. We also went to New York on this trip where I bought my first pair of bell bottom jeans. My grandmother was so disappointed that I didn’t get a nice dress. But that isn’t this story. I remember the living quarters in the parsonage seemed so small on this trip. Nobody was living in them at the time. I’m sure the next minister got the congregation to move him back into separate quarters. We stayed with the family of these two girls. I was 20 so they were probably 20 and 18. The oldest one was going to a party. Well, actually she wasn’t going to the party, she was going to meet her boyfriend there and they were going elsewhere. Her father had forbidden her to see this boy. I was never a big party person and I sure didn’t want to be left at a strange party with a bunch of strangers. Needless to say, I didn’t go. The adults tried to persuade me that it would be “fun”. Ha. I didn’t give away her plan but I didn’t go. Wish I could remember her name, I’d look her up on facebook and see what she remembers about any of this.
Yesterday I received a very important hint in the comment section from Angella Lister of 37 Paddington. She suggested that I post my photographs larger. I responded that I had tried but they would overlap the other column if I made them x-large. She pointed out that I could make the columns wider by going to design/columns. Voila, bigger columns and bigger photos! I’ve spent today going back to older posts and enlarging the photographs. I love it!
While looking through newspaper archives awhile ago, I unexpectedly found an article with a photograph of my mother. In the photograph below she is seated at the table checking people into the dance. I looked for a photograph of the hotel where the dance was held and found the old postcard. Next I looked for something about The Girl Friends Society. I had no luck at first. Items about the Girls Friendly Society kept turning up and it wasn’t the same group. After I dropped “Society” in my search, I found several things, including the history of the group below with a link to their website. The Springfield, Mass. Chapter was founded in 1935 and they celebrated their 75th Anniversary in 2010.
I never knew my mother to be part of any posh groups so this was all news to me. In February of 1951, my father was pastor of St. John’s Congregational Church in Springfield. I was 4 and my sister had just turned 2 in December. We moved to Detroit in the Fall of that year.
* Founded during the Harlem Renaissance in 1927 by eleven young women based on friendship and community involvement
* One of the oldest social/civic organizations of African-American women in the United States
* Incorporated in 1938 under the legal guidance of Baltimore attorney Thurgood Marshall (spouse of Girl Friend Vivian Marshall)
* Founders of the organization were Eunice Shreeves, Lillie Mae Riddick, Henri Younge, Elnorist Younge, Thelma Whittaker, Dorothy Roarke, Helen Hayes, Connye Cotterell, Rae O. Dudley, Anna S. Murphy and Ruth Byrd
* Bessye Bearden, newspaper columnist, civic leader and mother of celebrated artist, Romare Bearden, served as the groups chaperone and advisor.
* Currently there are 45 chapters across the country, and over 1400 women of prominence in membership
*The first chapter expansion was in 1928 with the formation of the Philadelphia chapter, with Baltimore (1930), Boston (1931) and New Jersey (1932) and New Haven (1932) soon added
*The first Conclave (national meeting of chapters) was hosted by New York in 1933
*Organization colors are apple and emerald green, its flower is the Marshall Neal rose (now called the yellow tea rose)
*Since those formative years, the chain of friendship has grown to embrace a continent. Girl Friends have founded schools, headed colleges, earned all manners of academic and professional degrees, written books, headed their own businesses, saved lives, been elected to Congress and named to the cabinet of the US President. They have also been devoted wives, mothers, sisters and friends, and involved members of their communities.
*Currently there are 45 chapters across the country, and over 1400 women in membership.
Copyright 2007, The Girl Friends,® Inc. The Girl Friends® is a registered service mark of The Girl Friends, Inc.