Limón Says Goodbye to Beloved “Mister King”

May 20, 2005

LIMÓN –We should all receive such arousing sendoff when our time comes.The Caribbean port city of Limón laidAlfred Henry Smith, the patriarch of itsblack community, to rest last weekend cappinga four-day period of mourning thatcombined ornate Anglican ritual, old-timegospel music and a bit of the community’sfamed Carnaval.Henry, better known as Alfred King, or“Mister King,” died May 8 of anemia anda heart attack at the city’s Dr. Tony FacioHospital. He was 87 (TT, May 13).King is best known among CostaRicans for founding Limón’s OctoberCarnival celebration in 1949, and, indeed,a few comparsas (carnival bands) serenadedthe funeral procession at the entrance tothe cemetery.BUT King’s carnival connection playeda minor role at the observances, with speakerafter speaker praising his other accomplishments,primarily his work with theCosta Rican chapter of the Universal NegroImprovement Association (UNIA).Originally a back-to-Africa movementfounded by famed black leader MarcusGarvey, the association revised its goalswith the passage of time.“King changed his focus as he grewolder,” UNIA treasurer Ernesto Sinclairtold The Tico Times before the funeral,admitting that the transition was difficultfor the older generation.“Mister King eventually realized theimportance of incorporating ourselves intosociety,” he explained. “But he saw theneed to rescue that which the black communityhad lost, namely values, manners,history and language.”THE hours before the funeral sawgroups of people reminiscing at King’slongtime barbershop on the first floor ofLimón’s Black Star Line building, today anAfro-Caribbean community center. ChrisHenry, one of King’s 17 adult children,scurried around, asking, “Have youeaten?” and offering lunch to the visitors.“Sadness and happiness at the sametime,” said son Enrique Henry, describinghow the family’s grief was tempered by theoutpouring of affection from the city of90,000 that his father had called home.A green, red and black pan-Africanflag covered the casket as it was bornefrom the Black Star Line’s second-floorcommunity hall to the church. A lone harmonicaplayer led the procession, with apolice escort bringing up the rear.The two-and-a-half-hour funeral, conductedmostly in English, drew a standing roomonly crowd, with many mournersspilling over into the street in front of St.Mark’s Episcopal Church, one of the city’soldest.Congregation members fanned themselvesmightily on the sweltering afternoon.Many of the women brought theirown decorative fans; others used church providedfans depicting U.S. civil-rightsleader Dr. Martin Luther King, while mostimprovised with the funeral programwhose cover portrayed an undated photo of Alfred King looking quite dapper in a dinner jacket.“ONE word describes Mister King,” FlorenceCrawford said between waves of her fan. “‘History.’”“I’d say it’s ‘culture,’” chimed in Rhona Johnson, seatednext to her.Crawford added, “Then there’s ‘folklore.’”Both women finally agreed there were many words todescribe King.The service concluded with King’s 17 children accompanyingtheir father’s casket from the church with a stirring,swaying, hand-waving, hand-clapping rendition ofthe traditional gospel anthem “When we all get to heaven,what a day of rejoicing that will be.”The handclapping continued outside as residentscrowded the streets to pay homage to King as his funeralprocession passed by on its way to the cemetery.

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