This afternoon I spoke with Denise Oliver-Velez, a cousin of the late Bernice Stone, Negro Leaguer Ed “Ace” Stone’s ex-wife, in my ongoing effort to discover exactly when Stone died, where he died and, most eerily, where he’s buried.
I found and contacted Denise via her Web site on her family. Our conversation didn’t yield any solid clues about Ed Stone’s fate. That’s partially because — and this is something I didn’t know — that Bernice and and Edward divorced and went their separate ways. That resulted in Denise never meeting or knowing Ed Stone at all because he was out of the picture for Denise’s entire life.
However, that doesn’t mean Bernice Stone never talked about her husband. Denise started by noting that she was significantly younger than her cousin, so much so that Denise always viewed Bernice as a de facto aunt and even called her Aunt Bernice.
Denise grew very close to her “aunt,” who, while not knowing much about baseball and was very reticent to discuss what happened to Ed post-divorce, frequently talked about her relationship with her ex-husband. Bernice especially regaled her family and the frequent trips she took with Ed to various points in Latin America, where Ed often plied his trade as a fairly talented outfielder.
A ship manifest to Puerto Rico featu
On that count, Denise said the stories told by her aunt revealed a great deal about the racial dynamics of our society and the drastic differences between the way African Americans were treated in the U.S. compared to Latin America.
In essence, Denise said, her aunt was thrilled to travel to the Caribbean or Mexico because in Latin America, black Americans were treated fairly and equally.
“She loved to talk about what it was like when they would go to Mexico, Puerto Rico or Cuba,” Denise told me. “It was a relief from dealing with the racism that we had in the United States. The one thing she missed [after Ed’s career and their marriage both ended] was traveling. That was the one thing she talked about.
“We weren’t allowed to mention the Yankees in our household because of the racism of the Yankees,” she added in describing an example of the bitterness her family felt as a result of the unfortunate social conditions. “We grew up Brooklyn Dodgers fans and went to a lot of their games.
“People today have to learn what it was like, because few of them do,” she continued. “People don’t understand now. They take [improved racial conditions] for granted.”
Denise said her household and other relatives were sports fans, and they inherently knew that for African Americans, success in athletics didn’t translate into respect from society.
“All of the issues of race and sports are just things you grew up accepting,” she said.
When our conversation steered back toward details of Ed and Bernice’s lives, Denise said she never knew very much, including, for example, where and how her aunt and Ed Stone even met. While Bernice was originally from Virginia and, later in life, Delaware — “as long as I knew her, it was in Delaware,” she said — New Jersey and, eventually Las Vegas for her final years, Ed Stone’s past was somewhat of a mystery to Denise and the rest of her family.
1940 Census page with Ed and Bernice Stone
“I knew he was a Negro Leaguer, but that’s about it,” Denise said. “I wasn’t totally clueless. I knew he was a baseball player, but I never knew him personally.”
Because of that, Denise doesn’t know anything about Ed Stone’s fate at all, including his burial location. According to Social Security records, Ed Stone died in March 1983. Those records state that his last residence was in New York City and that his last Social Security benefit was received in Long Island City in Queens.
However, the Find-A-Grave listing for him states that Ed died on April 11, 1983, in the Bronx. I have yet to find any obituary for him that might give a clue to his cause of death or the disposition of his remains. I’m looking into whether I’d legally be able to get an official death certificate from NYC.
Sadly, though, Denise doesn’t even know where her Aunt Bernice is buried; Bernice lost touch with her family in the East when she moved to Las Vegas, where she died in November 2007 at the age of 95. I haven’t found any obituary for her, either.
Denise told me she has been in contact with Ed and Bernice’s two sons, Edward Jr. and Russell, and she even emailed Edward about me and my efforts in hopes that he would contact me. However, I haven’t heard from him, and neither has she, a situation that doesn’t really surprise her.
“If he doesn’t get in touch with you,” she said reluctantly, “there’s nothing I can do about it. That’s his decision. I’m powerless in this situation.”