Beyond the Rhetoric
By Harry C. Alford
On April 14, 2017, Aurelia Jane Priscilla Stuart DeBow was declared deceased. It was a very quiet departure and I am certain that St. Peter stated, “Job well done, come on in.” She will be greatly missed by her six children: Jane, Charles III, Kayanne “Kay,” William, Emily and Jon. She is preceded by her loving husband, Charles Henry DeBow Jr., a house full of her beloved grandchildren and a growing number of great grandchildren. God blessed her with 91 years of vibrant life.
Miss DeBow was more than a wonderful person to me. She was the mother of my love and wife, Kay DeBow Alford. She gave birth to her, raised her in a very loving way and molded her into a mature, principled and caring person (perhaps one of the most attractive ladies ever born – inside and out). For this fact alone, I could not help but love and respect “Mama DeBow.” It was she who prepared Kay for me. I had been a natural born “player” who had broken the heart of every love affair partner from high school on up. But with Kay it was so different. A few weeks after we first met, Kay told me, “I appear to be falling in love with you. That is a very new thing for me and I only want to do that once. Therefore, if you accept my love you must reciprocate. That means our love will be unconditional and includes a DEATH CLAUSE.” After accepting her love I asked, “Explain death clause.” She replied, “If you ever try to leave me I will have to kill you.” “What happens if you leave me?” I responded. She gave me a great big smile and said, “I will never leave you daddy.” We are going on 36 years of bliss and looking forward to a brighter future. I ain’t going nowhere!
Kay’s father, Charles DeBow Jr., comes from an all American family. His father served our nation during World War I, a Cavalry man – spurs and all – carrying on the tradition of the famous Buffalo Soldiers. He himself became one of the original four Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. His specialty was divebombing. Pop gave German General Rommel’s tanks fits over the North African desert. He led the annihilation of German artillery during the invasion of Sicily. Then he and his fellows knocked out German radar stations in preparation of the Normandy Invasion. I imagine when Mama DeBow first saw her Tuskegee Hero she put that same mystique on him like Kay did me.
Mystique indeed. Mama DeBow was part of the prestigious Indianapolis, Indiana Stuart Family. Her parents, William Weir Stuart and Mae Llewellyn had four daughters and five sons. A very productive family with entrepreneurial accomplishments. All the children married well and were considered a very prestigious group throughout the segregated Indianapolis community. The state of Indiana was lobbied by the Ku Klux Klan and had “Race mixing laws.” Indy was as segregated as Birmingham, New Orleans, etc. until the mid – 1960’s. Much of the Black segment of the Indy population relied on the services, counsel, etc. of the Stuart family.
Patriarch William Weir Stuart had a great productive life. He was born in northern Alabama and journeyed to Indianapolis. It was there, as the story goes, that he met the famous bandleader John Philip Sousa. Sousa took him in and employed him as his valet. Grandfather Stuart made a diary of their tours to Russia, Europe, etc. I had a chance to look at it and it was fascinating. A young Black traveling around the world with a Marine Corps band and accompanied by the world renowned John Philip Sousa.
When grandfather Stuart became of age, he dreamed of being a dentist. That would have been just a dream but his benefactor John Philip Sousa forced his admission into the Indiana Dental School and paid full tuition and board. Thus, this kid from northern Alabama became the first Black dentist in Indiana.
His dental practice was quite successful. He had the market on the growing Black population. He was the only Black dentist for a while. His nine children all had “mulatto” features. One of the daughters had natural blonde hair while another was a red head. One of his sons had grey eyes. Kay’s brother has those same grey eyes today. They all were born with very light yellow skin. Their mother had normal Black features. One night two of Kay’s aunts were arrested and jailed with their husbands while dining at a classy restaurant. They were accused of violating the Indiana Race Mixing Law. Their father, William Weir, went off and made the authorities apologize. That incident led to the demise of the stupid law.
We all wonder where did these strong features come. The question is this: Could it be that William Weir Stuart was more than just a close associate of the senior John Philip Sousa. Could they be related? Another clue, John Philip Sousa had a daughter named Jane Priscilla. Mama De Bow’s given names are Aurelia Jane Priscilla. Just a coincidence? Why were these given names special to Grandfather Stuart?
Time will tell!
Mr. Alford is the co–founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®. Website: www.nationalbcc.org Email: [email protected]