Marion Stuart, a prominent African-American entrepreneur in Indianapolis and one of the few surviving community leaders from the World War II era, has died.
Stuart, founder of Stuart’s Household Moving & Storage Co., passed away Jan. 23 at the age of 97.
Stuart formed his company in 1936, during the Great Depression, the worst economic crisis in United States history. In what became an inspiring story of success, he overcame economic and racial diversity to build one of the state’s most stable enterprises.
Born in Indianapolis, Marion Henry Byrd Stuart was the second child of nine born to Dr. William Weir Stuart and Mae Lewellyn Stokes Stuart.
Stuart came from an enterprising family. His father was a dentist, and his brothers, Charles and Joseph, were co-founders of Stuart Mortuary. At an early age, however, Stuart realized he could not take his family’s stability for granted, and sought ways to generate an income of his own.
He embarked on entrepreneurial efforts at a time when individuals could not rely on much government assistance and pervasive racism was found even in Northern cities such as Indianapolis.
In a 2011 interview with the Recorder, the Crispus Attucks High School graduate recalled how he once worked several jobs, including cleaning up a haberdashery (shop with clothing materials) on Monument Circle for $3.80 a week. He and a friend then formed a window washing enterprise for stores on Pennsylvania Street.
“We washed windows in the morning, and I would go back and trim windows at night,” Stuart said. “Back then you could go in places and request work. You didn’t have people standing around waiting for someone to give them a loan. You did whatever work you could find and worked hard.”
In 1936, Stuart purchased a truck out of a pawn shop for $85 and formed Stuart’s Household Moving & Storage Co. Eventually, the company would expand to a fleet of trucks and over 60 employees able to ship items anywhere in the U.S. or Canada.
Stuart, who attended Indiana Central Business College and Butler University, developed his skills further while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. As a sergeant stationed at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Stuart led a motor pool of over 100 vehicles.
Stuart’s company, now led by his nephew Anthony Stuart, has transported items for a variety of clients, including governors moving in and out of the governor’s mansion, as well as universities and Wishard (now Eskenazi) Hospital.
“I appreciate everyone who has supported me and the company over the years,” Stuart said. “It has been a great journey. To have success, you have to be prepared to work hard, and never, ever give up.”
Reared at Bethel AME Church, Stuart was most recently affiliated with Covenant Community Church.
Stuart’s wife, Cordie King Stuart, was one of the original Ebony Fashion Fair models and one of the first Black women to appear in national advertising campaigns for television. The dashing entrepreneur and beautiful “singing model” made the picture perfect couple. They had been married 48 years when she died in 2004 at age 80.
Stuart is survived by a sister, Jane Stuart DeBow, nieces and nephews and cousins.
Funeral services for Stuart will be Feb. 1, at 10 a.m. with visitation on Friday, Jan. 31 from 5 to 7 p.m. at Stuart Mortuary Chapel and interment at Crown Hill Cemetery.
A unique view: Stuart’s Memories
Early business success
“I graduated from Crispus Attucks High School in 1933, and thought I was going to dental school. During the summer, I needed a job, so I got a little job on Monument Circle for cleaning up a haberdashery (shop with clothing materials) for $3.80 a week.
I had to be there at quarter till’ eight in the morning and got through at noon. There was a lady next door who had a dress shop and asked me to come down and wash her windows. I told her I would, and then the next she told me she had to more stores on Pennsylvania Street and asked if I could take care of those as well. When it was all said and done, I ended up having work in 19 stores with two employees helping me. We washed windows in the morning, and I would go back and trim windows at night.
Back then you could go in places and request work any time if you wanted it. You didn’t have people standing around waiting for someone to give them a loan. You did whatever work you could find and worked hard.”
Forming Stuart’s Moving & Storage (1936)
“We went downtown near Indiana Ave. one afternoon to eat and we saw a little truck for sale. I bought the truck for $85 out of the pawnshop. The guy wanted me to take it then, but I had to get my license first and get it the next day. A little later, after being asked to move different items, I formed the moving business, and we have done some major jobs. We have moved governors in and out of the Governor’s Mansion, as well as the state police, and major theaters and universities. Even now, we still get good jobs. Materials that are being used for that hospital downtown the one- that’s having its name changed (Wishard to Eskenazi) are being stored by us.”
Racial discrimination and segregation
“It was part of every day life. I remember going to that theater they had near the Circle. I can’t think of the name of it right now, but it was a big theater. The white patrons would go on in and get their box seats or whatever. But when we got our tickets we had to go back out, go around the corner and up an alley, enter a small door on the side and then climb the stairs to the fourth floor. That’s where you went and that’s what you had to do if you wanted to see the show.”
Dr. King and the FBI (1961)
Dr. (Martin Luther) King came here to speak to the ministers, because a lot of them, outside of Rev. (Andrew J.) Brown did not have respect for him yet. I owned a nice car – a Cadillac – so they asked me to get him from the airport. I thought it was a big honor
I called my wife (the late Cordie King Stuart) and told her I was bringing Dr. King and Rev. (Ralph) Abernathy home from the airport. They stayed there for the rest of the evening. My wife fixed a nice dinner, and some of the other ministers came and we talked until midnight.
The next morning, Dr. King had to speak at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, and I drove him there. I’ll never forget how large the crowd around the church was. I pulled up to the back door, and Dr. King said, ‘Stuart, I’m not going in unless you go in with me. You’ve been kind to me.’ I said ‘well, I’m not a minister so I’m not going to sit up there with the ministers. But I saw that he meant what he said, so I locked up the car, went with him and stood with the ministers by the pulpit. That guy you see standing on the right of that picture with King, Abernathy and Brown (holding photo) – that’s me.”
I took Dr. King back to the airport, and we saw each other a couple of times after that.
When Dr. King was with us that morning, I had gone out to the store, and when I came back to the house an FBI agent jumped out of the garage. I had to drop my stuff and put my hands in the air. He looked at my packages and then told me to go in the house. After I woke everybody, we decided to see what the guy wanted, but he had already left. They (King and Abernathy) knew they were being followed. The FBI had already cornered him at that point. They were right on him.”
“We could get some more things done in this city if we had stronger leadership. I’m looking at all these schools being taken over and shut down, because some teachers are letting kids pass through with no education. If we make education a priority and we all help students succeed, we can expect a good future.”