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Africa/Canadian-Media: Black owned and operated funeral homes with a rich heritage and culture were among the first family businesses established by African Americans after the abolition of slavery, Library of Congress (LoC) reports said.
Traditions surrounding death that cater to the needs of the black community are maintained in the African American funeral homes, including burials, wakes, and home visit
Horses and carriages in front of funeral home of C.W. Franklin, undertaker, Chattanooga, Tennessee, ca 1899. Image credit: LoC
The death services industry developed during the Civil War when the bodies of soldiers needed to be embalmed for transportation for burial, moved from a trade to a professional business and by viewed by many within the industry as a spiritual calling and are honored to do counseling and helping people at a difficult time in their live including comforting their families; providing information on funeral service options; and filing death certificates and other legal documents.
Burial traditions are maintained by the African American funeral directors as home-going or celebration of life ceremonies with a distinctive way of grieving, often including a level of theater and pageantry and sound recordings of funeral sermons from the late 1890s are maintained by the the LoC.
A collection of digital Funeral Services Workers in the Carolinas, and these interviews are available in American Folklife Center’s Occupational Folklife Project (OFP) of LoC which highlights funeral directors’ role as a pastoral counselor offering support, guidance, dignity, respect, and making a difference in people’s lives under very trying circumstances. To date, fieldworkers across the United States have recorded more than 900 audio and audiovisual oral history interviews with workers in scores of trades, industries, and crafts.
The National Association of Negro Funeral Directors was established as a professional organization affiliated with the National Negro Business League, founded by Booker T. Washington in 1900. The League worked to advance the commercial and financial development of African Americans to bring African American families into the middle class through a variety of professional careers. The organization continues to exist today as the National Business League.
National Negro Business League Executive Committee, Bain News Service, publisher.
Image credit: LoC
The funeral director and his family often lived upstairs in the funeral parlor, and without access to traditional credit markets, the business was a family affair with the the majority of the funeral businesses remain small, local, and typically family-owned independent businesses.
Carnie Bragg, owner of Bragg Funeral Home, poses in front of the business, 1994. From the Working in Paterson Project Collection. Image credit: LoC
Generally college educated, having studied mortuary science serve as undertakers, who are apprenticed to learn their craft. The resources of African American funeral directors, who provided financial support and gathering spaces to the movement led to the Historical Civil Rights movement progress.
Label from a promotional water bottle distributed by Don Brown Funeral Home, Ayden, North Carolina, 2016. Part of the Occupational Folklife Project, American Folklife Center. Image credit: LoC