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The Evolution of the National Black Chamber of Commerce – Part 5

Beyond the Rhetoric

By Harry C. Alford & Kay DeBow

Oh, when love is new it is so darn good. The key is to keep that euphoria continuing forever. It became apparent to me that Kay and I had made up our minds to make our newfound love something that would stand the test of time. She could do no wrong and made it evident that she thought the same of me. My friends saw that something was coming over me. They were in disbelief when I told them of my Kay Kay.

She was anxious for me to meet her father. She obviously idolized him, and it was important to her that he would approve of me. Charles H. DeBow Jr. was one of the original four Tuskegee Airmen. A war hero by any standard. I was a little anxious when she set up the visit to our new apartment for her parents. Within a few hours of their arrival she set up a visit to the roof of our apartment building – The Parkstone. It had a beautiful view of the Detroit skyline and Belle Isle (a park in the middle of the Detroit River).

Kay took us up to the roof, poured a couple of shots of Jack Daniels for each of us, and then left us alone for a couple of hours. It became a very precious moment for me. I shared my background and he poured out his. It became very impressive when he talked of his times during World War II. He told me that he was flattered of my offer to put him and mom up at the Sheraton Cadillac hotel during their visit with us. He then explained why he declined. Upon returning from the war he went to the hotel to check in wearing his uniform with captain bars and aviation wings. The front desk turned him away saying Blacks were not allowed. The hurt was immense, and he was still bitter about it. That was just one example of a Black veteran returning home to a Jim Crow nation. Still he remained proud of the service he gave to his country.

Pop and I hit it off superbly. Mom was all smiles too! Kay’s two sisters were cool, but her brothers Chuck and Bill were very cautious and inquisitive. In the end “trust” was in the air and the introductory period was successful. Now it was time for me to take my Kay to California to meet the large posse known as the Alfords and Browns – my relatives. Before that I took her down to Louisiana where my parents had retired. That trip was quite a success also. My California crew was quite particular about the possibility of new relatives and I was a little worried about how that might turn out.

My worrying was overrated. My male cousins were excited that I had chosen such a beautiful and fine woman. My female relatives slowly favored the one who had stolen my heart. While out on the West Coast I decided to give Kay a big surprise. We rented a car from Avis – LAX and then drove to Las Vegas to spend a few days at the brand-new MGM Grand Hotel and Casino. It was a move that would have a profound effect on our future.

All things were going well until one morning we were awakened by fire engines continuously driving by. Suddenly we heard a lady screaming in hysteria: “Get out now!! We are all going to die!!!” I didn’t know what was going on. I got out of bed and went to the window. Firemen were running up and down the street. I went to the restroom and noticed that the air conditioning vent was pushing out black smoke. This was the beginning of the infamous MGM Fire.

Kay and I quickly got dressed and prepared to exit the building. There was just one big problem. The elevators were dead, and we were on the fifth floor. I went to the stairway and to my shock black smoke was billowing. The hallway was starting to fill up with smoke and my military training started to kick in. There was only one way to escape this situation. We had to go and jump out the window onto the garden area below. I told Kay we had no choice. We would get broken up but should probably live through it. I informed the people standing out in the hallway that they should do the same. They elected to wait instead.

As the smoke started to become unbearable, I broke the locks off the windows and asked Kay to jump out first (I didn’t want her to freeze after I jumped out). Courageously she jumped out. I followed right behind her. My prediction that we would live through it was correct. However, Kay fractured her L1 and L2 vertebrae along with her ankle. I broke by ankle along with all five toes on my left foot. We survived but the future was dubious. The people out in our hallway who refused to follow us did not survive. It came out in the depositions that all six of them died right there. Eighty four other persons died that day in the MGM Grand Hotel.

Kay and I were mangled. However, we had each other and that was going to get us through this major tragedy. Will love get us through this?

Mr. Alford is the Co-Founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Ms. DeBow is the Co-Founder, Executive Vice President of the Chamber. Website: www.nationalbccorg. Emails:[email protected] [email protected]

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