THE LAST SUNSET IN HAVANA

Article and Photography by Amberly Alene 

Right: Rufus Lowrey as a young military man. Left: Henry Delpozo as a baby in the 1950’s. 

After 60 years of separation, an African American family fights to uncover the mystery of their missing son in Cuba 

It was the late afternoon in Centro Havana, Cuba as I pushed my way through the crowded P5 bus to get off at my stop. The sun was brutally hot, and it was a day in the city, like any other day, but today I was feeling nervous. I was getting another step closer to discovering the clues to a mystery that has left a man heartbroken and without answers for the past sixty years. 

As I stepped out into the street, I looked at the notes in my phone again, while taking a deep breath. I felt unsure that I would be able to provide answers to the unsettling situation that has kept a family suspended in the pain of loss for decades. The thought seemed to riddle me with each step of my sneakers against the concrete of the city. Despite my nerves, something kept pushing me inside. It seemed to guide me as I made my way closer to my destination. I have never been the kind of person to start something and not finish it, and I was determined to get answers.

My journey into this story began about a year ago. It was summer when I was first introduced to Jerrell Lowery, a man born and raised in the state of Florida. He is the son of a proud mother and a close knit Southern family. He called me on the phone for the first time in July of 2018, and told me everything he knew about his uncle, Rufus Lowery Sr. 

Jerrell Lowery informed me that the year 1959 was the last time that his uncle Rufus was in Havana and had contact with his son Henry Delpozo. The story of how his uncle, the American born Rufus Lowery became connected to the island of Cuba in the first place is a pure twist of fate and coincidence. His story rests at the crossroads of an inevitable shift between the United States and Cuban relations, and the bittersweet unpredictability of life. 

In 1931, Jerrell's uncle, Rufus Lowery Sr. was the third of seven children born in Georgia to an African American family. Upon coming of age, Rufus became a trooper in the U.S military. During that time, he began visiting his oldest sibling and only sister who attended Bethune Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Florida. Bethune Cookman College is the historically black women's university now known as Bethune Cookman University.

Right: Young Rufus Lowrey at some time in the 50's. Right:  Gloria Delpozo as a young woman in Cuba. 

It was at Bethune Cookman University that Rufus would first meet his sister’s best friend Gloria Delpozo. As the couple fell in love, the world around them was falling into social unrest. The 1950’s and 60's were a turbulent era to be an African American in the United States. All across the country, people were mobilizing in defense of their civil rights which mirrored to the state of social change that was also occurring on the island of Cuba where Gloria Delpozo was from.


Gloria, the then love interest of Rufus Lowery was born on the island of Cuba in the capital of Havana. She was the daughter of a well-known doctor, Almondo Delpozo and Sylvia Delpozo. Her mother, Sylvia Delpozo, also known as “the Jamaican” for her beautiful dark skin was one of many black Cuban women raising their families in the middle class neighborhood of Centro Habana, close to Zanja Street. When I would later speak to her neighbors in the area, they would tell me stories of a vibrant neighborhood of full of festivities, music and parties. It was a thriving cultural time for Cuba in the 1930’s and 40’s, the decades in which Sylvia raised her daughter Gloria. The neighbors recall the family to be well cultured and greatly respected. 


It was evident that the Delpozo family was also a black family of means that could afford to send their daughter away to the U.S for an education. Their family was a part of an elite class of black Cuban doctors, lawyers, writers, and professionals that flourished in the years before the 1960’s. It was also said that the Delpozo family extended outside of Havana, and Jerrell Lowery believes that it was possible Gloria Delpozo may have spent some in the city of Camaguay, Cuba to visit relatives. Neighbors speculate that Sylvia may have been from Camaguay. 


After our first phone call, I agreed to meet up with Jerrell in Southern Florida to speak with his Uncle Rufus for more information. Rufus has been in search for his son since 1959, coincidentally the year of triumph for the socialist revolution in Cuba. 


I rode in the car to Rufus’s house with Jerrell and his mother as they shared with me some more of their family history. I found it to be fascinating. Here was a story of Rufus and Gloria, of a black couple amidst such challenging times in both U.S and Cuban history that found love despite a perilous social climate. 


Jerrell told me that when his uncle Rufus graduated from college, he married Gloria Delpozo in the state of Florida. They first had a son, named, Rufus T. Lowery Jr. born in 1957. Sadly, their first son was later murdered in Oklahoma in 2006 at age 49. In 1959, they had another son Henry Delpozo, who Rufus has not had contact with for since his son's infancy. 

    Rufus T. Lowery and Gloria Delpozo Marriage license in the state of Florida, 1959

As I stepped into Rufus’s home, I could tell from all the family photographs that lined the walls of his living room, that Rufus is undoubtedly a family man. With the help of his niece and nephew he would recount the story of how his son went missing.

Back in the 1950’s in the U.S, when Gloria Delpozo was pregnant with her second child, it became evident that she was very, very sick. A physician in Florida examined her and notified Gloria’s father in Havana of her illness. Dr. Almondo Delpozo then traveled from Havana to Tallahassee to see about his sick daughter. A talented physician and hospital administrator himself, Almondo would inform Rufus and Gloria that his daughter had cancer and that it would be best for her to return to Cuba where he could take care of her.

Florida State Hospital Records of Gloria Delpozo, recorded as Gloria Lowery.

Right: Gloria's Mother Slyvia Delpozo Left:  Old postcard sent to Rufus  from CUba dated sometime in the 1950s 

Rufus would also return to Cuba with Gloria, but later receive a notification that he would be required to the U.S in order to secure a job opportunity. While Rufus was in the United States working, he would wait for letters from Gloria and her mother, Sylvia from Havana. While in his home, I marveled with him at the photographs of the handsome, chubby faced baby Henry who was born in Havana and lived with his mother Gloria and his grandmother Sylvia. Even now, the photos brought a warmth to the face of Rufus. He is now in his mid-eighties and struggling with memory loss.

Suddenly, things took a turn for the couple. While in the U.S, Rufus would receive the message that would change the course of his life forever. In a telegram, he received the news that his wife Gloria had died.

Postcard for Rufus from Gloria and Sylvia dated 1960 when Henry was 8 months old 

Rufus traveled back to Cuba for the funeral, but history would now play its course in the story. At the funeral, gunshots began to ring out in the air. A disruption had erupted in the city as the battle for a policial turnover in Cuba ensued. Rufus and family members escaped from the gunfire and quickly began making plans for Rufus to return to the U.S.

With much worry and fear in the atmosphere, the Delpozo family felt Rufus’s American citizenship would only further compromise his safety. So Rufus was sent away back to the United States at the first possible opportunity. Rufus fled from the outbreak of violence in Cuba, with the hopes of returning soon for his son. He had no idea that the turn of events would result in decades of separation and loss.

Despite many attempts, Rufus was never able to return to Cuba. And then, as tensions rose and the Cold War ensued, it became illegal for American citizens to travel to Cuba. Mail between the two countries was shut off, and eventually Rufus became unable to contact any of the family members in Cuba that had once been his lifeline of contact with his son.

Over the years, he would continue to recall his last day in Havana. He remembered the sea of not being too far from the funeral as the shots rang out. It was unimaginable to think that the day of Gloria’s funeral would be the last day that he saw the shorelines of the Havana.

It was not until almost fifty years later, under a new U.S administration, that a new hope sparked in Rufus around the year 2016. Maybe there was still a chance for him to find his son.  He wanted to give it a try, so enthusiastically, his nephew Jerrell Lowery began to compile all of the information that he had about his uncle’s story. And that is how the story found its way to my hands in Havana. 

Images of the apartment building on San Jose Street in Centro Havana in 2018 photo credits: Amberly Alene

A one sheet piece of paper titled “A Father’s Cry” made its way to Cuba when it was passed to me on a rolled up sheet, from a traveler on one of my ecological farm tours in Havana. I read the story and could not stop thinking about it. I was perplexed by all of the coincidences of the story and how it rested upon the crux of history and political changes in both Cuba and the U.S. Most specifically I was lured by the ways in which the story reflected a unique international experience of blackness and love in the 50’s and 60’s.

So this was how I found myself on an extremely humid day in Havana, searching for Henry Delpozo, or at least for the chance to find a clue about where he was, and if he has also been looking for his father.

After many weeks of waiting and investigation, we had been able to uncover the address of the Delpozo home in Havana, found in a Bethune Cookman University school record. It was that address that was typed up in the notes of my cell phone, and led my way to the Delpozo home in Centro Havana.

As I left the former Delpozo home after my first day of searching for people to interview for the story, a feeling of hope came ran through me. I stared at the stairway of the apartment building in Centro Havana and wondered what the steps looked like when Gloria walked up them years ago. It all seemed like a part of a dream, somewhere far away.

It was then that I realized that there simply are some stories that reach us to rattle the core. They arrive at our doorsteps to teach us that we are all in some ways connected as human beings and yet they allow us to see how time, circumstance and fate can keep us separated in distant worlds so far apart.

This story has awakened me to a new perspective of the ways that our lives intertwine, and how harsh borders between nations can be constructed, and the years that it takes for them to crumble.

A stairwell in the old building where Henry may have played as a child

Although I was able to find neighbors who knew the Delpozo family, none of them were able to tell me what happened to baby Henry after Gloria died. They told me that his grandmother Sylvia passed away shortly after Gloria, but by that time the family had since moved from the houses in Centro Havana. The mystery remains, as I have continued to search with the Lowery family for Henry without any more leads.

I ask that friends and family members of people living in Centro Havana, on San Martin Street ( which has now been renamed San Jose) from the 1950-1960s, ask about the doctor Almondo Delpozo and his daughter Gloria. The address that I have, where Gloria spent her last days is 917 San Jose, Habana, Cuba. The last living person that can recall seeing Henry, is a neighbor named Nenita who lives in the apartment complex 917 San Jose. If you have any information at all regarding the missing Henry Delpozo, please help us uncover the mystery to this story and send an email to the writer, Amberly Alene at  amberlyalene@gmail.com.

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