THE GENTLE ART OF
SEASON 2 HERO CASTING
Following the deaths of his siblings, a fixture of Austin's Black community is ready to make sense of the generational history stored in his garage.
Stuart & Sonja King
Mortician and Salon Owner
Transformation and Story Notes
Stuart and Sonja are married, best friends and business partners. They live and operate businesses in a historic black neighborhood in East Austin. Stuart is a mortician at King-Tears Mortuary, which has been in his family for three generations. Founded in 1900, it is the oldest black-owned funeral business in Texas. Sonja runs a hair salon just for kids, focused on helping African-American and biracial kids learn to embrace their natural hair. They are both leaders in their community.
They are overwhelmed by the items left behind by Stuart’s father, John Taylor King (who passed away in 2011). All of Stuart’s father’s belongings are sitting in boxes in their garage. John Taylor was a 3-star general and the longest-serving president of Austin’s HBC Huston-Tillotson University. Museums and the University want some of his stuff because they have great historical significance — but Sonja and Stuart need to organize it first!
Every time Stuart begins going through his father’s belongings he starts going down memory lane, and gets nothing done. Sonja is 41, and Stuart is “a young 68”; the possibility that Stuart might die and leave her to figure out what to do with all the belongings (without full knowledge of what they are or their significance) has Sonja very stressed out.
Stuart’s family has been living in Texas since 1901. He is a descendant of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings and has documents (and possibly items) dating back to Monticello. Stuart has yet to go through everything, so he isn’t even aware of all that has been passed down to him.
Stuart is the baby of the family, but he is the sibling who knows the most of this history amongst all his siblings. If he doesn’t organize and record these things, the history will become lost when he dies.
Sonja feels a sense of urgency about getting these objects organized and properly preserved. The local HCBU Huston-Tillotson as well as museums want some of the objects – but Sonja can’t get Stuart to go through it all. He doesn’t even know all that is there. Everytime Stuart starts to go through his dad’s belongings “he just goes down memory lane…and we get nothing done.”
Stuart is nearly 70 and Sonja’s very worried he might die before dealing with it all, and leave her with the responsibility. She’s recently started calling professional organizers because she knows they need outside help.
Stuart also just lost his sister in November. His grief makes it harder to go through the objects.
Sonja is so desperate to get Stuart to go through these items she’s established a new home rule: Stuart’s not allowed to throw any more parties at home until he’s cleaned out the garage…but then he can host as big a celebration he wants.
The stuff is all in the garage in boxes and tubs, and there is a room upstairs that is all storage and Stuarts closet is jam-packed with stuff as well.
Objects reflecting the personal family history, and history of African-American history:
Mordecai Wyatt Johnson’s Bible- President of Howard University / Stuarts (step) Grandfather
Large early Ebony and Jet magazines
Kennedy Campaign Memorabilia
One of the First Computers
Calculators from the 70s to 2000s / adding machines
Fancy hats - From Stuart's Dad
Stuart's and siblings' report cards and yearbooks
Original poll tax receipts saved by Stuart’s grandfather - from Jim Crow era, when African Americans in the south had to pay a poll tax to be eligible to vote.
Nat King Cole 78 record
Stuart’s collections of T Shirts (at least 500)
Vintage record players
Belongings of Alice Woodson (Stuart’s grandmother) who was a descendent of Sally Hemings
Military objects from Stuart’s father’s time in the army (he was a 3-star general)
The house is filled with antiques. It was decorated by Stuart’s parents in the 1970s and Stuart won’t change anything. Sonja calls it “the Brady Bunch house”
Who is getting their stuff?
Local Museums and the local HBC want some of the stuff
Some of the antiques Stuart and Sonja hope to sell
Black History Archive
Some saved for Grandkids
Their Thoughts on Death
Stuart is a mortician – it’s his family’s business. So he’s comfortable around death. But, as Sonja points out, he’s used to being the strong one to help others through their grief. He’s not used to dealing with his own grief.
Stuart wants to talk about death and learn from the Swedes; he wants Americans not to be afraid of talking about it. He wants to take what he will learn on the show and apply it to his business.
Sonja is going to mortuary school. She is in the death business by accident and she is not afraid of death anymore.