Legacy Matters! Period.
From 1973 through 2013, Detroit enjoyed a 40-year run of electing African American mayors and was seen as a Mecca for Black political leadership. That wasn’t by accident. That was the well-planned and intentional impact of The Black Slate.
What follows is our story.
In the beginning
In the 1950’s, Blacks were told - and believed - that Black people were not qualified to hold elective office. They voted accordingly. It was during this period that the Rev. Albert B. Cleage Jr. stepped up efforts to create a more politically aware Black community. In 1957, Rev. Cleage (who flatly rejected the myth that church, politics, and economics were separate) waged a battle to save the 13th Congressional District from being gerrymandered and thereby denying the area’s Black population their first Black representative.
When Black parents at Balch school were angry about the poor quality of their children’s education, Rev. Cleage gave them a meeting place and guidance. He even engineered the first effort to turn Detroit’s black population into a voting block. In 1961, Rev. Cleage called for more organizing and educating through such avenues as The Illustrated News or the “Pink Sheet”, founded in that same year to deliver important issues to the Black community.
The staff consisted of: Editor, Attorney Henry Cleage; Associate Editors Barbara Martin, Barbara Smith, and Ronald Latham; Editorial Board members William (Billy) Smith, Jones Foster, Doris Cleage, Hugh Cleage, and Gladys Evans; Contributing Editor, Rev. Albert B. Cleage; and Contributing Writer, Dr. Louis J. Cleage. The Illustrated News was a powerful organizing tool, uniting Black people not only to vote but to march 100,000 strong with Dr. King in 1963, and to boycott such corporate giants as Borden’s Milk Company, Tip Top Bread and A&P Food Stores. This resulted in hundreds of jobs for Black people.
“The Pink Sheet” was the first to call for Black voters to vote for Black candidates. In 1962, for example, Rev. Cleage utilized The Illustrated News to run a campaign entitled “3 Plus 1”, promoting Russell S. Brown, Charles Diggs, and Frederick Yates for US Congress in the 1st, 13th and 15th Districts respectively; and Joe B. Sullivan (a white man) for Wayne County Prosecutor. This was the first attempt to get Blacks in Detroit to incorporate the sophisticated process of “plunking” to get our preferred candidates into office, a tactic regularly utilized by Detroit’s minority white community.
In 1965, the Pink Sheet was again used to initiate Rev. Cleage’s “4 And No More” campaign that catapulted Rev. Nicholas Hood, II onto Common Council. Complaints were made about the organizers to the Michigan Fair Election Commission by some of the so-called Black ‘leaders’ of the time. They (the Pink Sheet) were cited for racism and in response raised so much hell that the governor refused to send them a copy of the citation. Their slogan was, “We earned the citation and we demand that we get it”. They were not ashamed of their determination to place Black candidates into office.
In 1964, Rev. Cleage, along with a formidable group of supporters, including James Boggs, his wife, Dr. Grace Lee Boggs, Attorney Milton Henry, and his brother, Richard Henry, joined forces with the Harlem-based Freedom Now Party (FNP). Against all odds, the Michigan FNP gathered more than the required 200,000 signatures statewide to be officially recognized as a political party in Michigan. That same year, the Michigan FNP launched its own slate of 30 candidates. Heading the slate was Rev. Albert B. Cleage, Jr. for Governor and Dr. James Jackson of Muskegon as his Lieutenant Governor. This marked the first time a Black man had vied for gubernatorial office since reconstruction.