The black funeral home in history

In this case, you’re Chester Miller, a funeral director, and a family is in need of your services.

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Indianapolis IN Recorder-November 5, 1938
In response to a reference question, I discovered that 10% of undertakers/morticians/funeral directors were African-American in 2016. But that fact doesn’t get to the historic import of the black funeral home.

US Funerals notes: “In the United States there is a rich cultural heritage of black-owned and operated funeral homes. Indeed black funeral parlors were some of the first businesses to be set up by African-Americans after the abolition of slavery.”

Funeralwise agrees: “Since few white undertakers would serve the African American community, black undertakers created independent businesses to fill the need. During the Civil War black soldiers were often assigned to burial details, recovering and burying the dead, but also assisting with keeping death records and finding ways to preserve remains to be sent home to other parts of the country for interment…

“These experiences prepared many soldiers for work in the burial industry, not only allowing them to serve their brothers and sisters in their time of grief but also allowing them to preserve numerous funeral customs associated with their African heritage.”

Edwin Jackson, a licensed black funeral director, and embalmer, shares a more recent history: “The local sheriff is on the other end and says he needs you to pick up a body… You’re used to putting your evenings and sleep on hold. In this case, you’re Chester Miller, a funeral director, and a family is in need of your services. Today you have been called to pick up a body that was found floating in the Tallahatchie River. You arrive on the scene and immediately you see the battered, broken, and decomposed body of a young boy…

“I use this story surrounding Emmett Till’s death to show how death has been used as a catalyst within the civil right movement and emphasize the role black funeral directors have played in such movements. Sixty years later, we see the maturity of a new movement that now flies under the banner of Black Lives Matter. We also see a new generation of black funeral directors… looking to support our community in the undertaking of such movements.”

While cultural changes are hitting black funeral homes, the institution has long been a business of loyalty, especially in the South. When they died, both my parents were tended to by the nearby African-American mortician in Charlotte, NC.

There is a group, the National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association, founded in 1924. Though by 1957 it had taken on the new name, its history makes clear that it is geared to the black funeral director.

The penultimate pre-election Trump link dump

Trump says he insulted women ‘for the purpose of entertainment’

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I haven’t written about Donald Trump lately. It isn’t that he hasn’t ticked me off. In fact, after about a week of not saying too many irritating things a while back, he has returned to form, and that was before the 2005 tape was revealed.

But I haven’t the energy to rant on him. Other sources are doing that for me. So I’ve cleaned out my email with this link dump.

There are basically two narratives about why the mainstream media is finally spending more time analyzing The Donald:

1) He is the nominee of a major party, not just one of 17 candidates for the GOP nomination. The media were counting on someone who was a grownup would defeat him in the primaries – surely they won’t nominate HIM – and they could pretty much go with the entertainment/ratings of the sideshow. But when that didn’t happen – and it’s been at least likely since March 15, when Marco Rubio lost Florida. – they were then obliged to do their jobs.

2) The media is out to get him because they’re all Hillary Clinton supporters.

I think 1) is true, but I also believe Continue reading “The penultimate pre-election Trump link dump”

The Curse of Canaan (or Ham)

The explanation that black Africans, as the “sons of Ham”, were cursed, possibly “blackened” by their sins, became increasingly common during the slave trade of the 18th and 19th centuries.

When we were investigating some aspects of black history this year at church, I was intrigued by the fact that, for a time in the mid-17th century, slavery based on race wasn’t really codified in the United States. There were white indentured servants and black slaves, but the former were often given ever-changing terms of servitude, making them functionally little better off than slaves.

In the 1670s, Bacon’s Rebellion “demonstrated that poor whites and poor blacks could be united in a cause. This was a great fear of the ruling class — what would prevent the poor from uniting to fight them? This fear hastened the transition to racial slavery.”

The status of blacks in Virginia slowly changed over the last half of the 17th century. Continue reading “The Curse of Canaan (or Ham)”

The Cosby Show, Black-ish, and how 30 years has seemingly vanished

It deeply bothers me that we’ve basically erased all of the cultural gains made by The Cosby Show and a well-off suburban black family is suddenly a big mystery again.

cosby_oneWhy write a blogpost when you can steal from others?

Every week, or usually more often, writer Ken Levine, whose television credits include MASH, and importantly for this context, CHEERS, answers question from his readers. From Charles H. Bryan:

“I was thinking today, a little, about THE COSBY SHOW of the 80s. I think if you mention the show to someone who was watching TV then, they’ll say they liked it and think well of it, but it won’t pop up on a list without the prompt. I think people more likely remember SEINFELD, or FRIENDS, or CHEERS as being part of NBC Thursday. I think more people would recall the Keatons than the Huxtables. Do you think THE COSBY SHOW gets the discussion that it should?”

THE COSBY SHOW was one of the most influential television programs in the history of the medium. Continue reading “The Cosby Show, Black-ish, and how 30 years has seemingly vanished”

S is for the Staple Singers

This century, Mavis Staples, who was the primary voice on so many of the Staple Singers’ songs, has been putting out several well-received albums.

Staple-SingersA major competitor of Motown serving up black music in the United States in the 1960s and early 1970s was STAX Records, which I wrote about extensively HERE.

One of the great groups on the label was The Staple Singers, “an American gospel, soul and R&B singing group. Roebuck “Pops” Staples (1914–2000), the patriarch of the family, formed the group with his children Cleotha (1934–2013), Pervis (b. 1935), Yvonne (b. 1936), and Mavis (b. 1939)… While the family surname is ‘Staples’, the group used the singular form for its name, ‘The Staple Singers’.”

They had appeared on other labels before joining STAX, releasing songs such as For What It’s Worth [LISTEN], a cover of the Buffalo Springfield hit, that went to #66 in 1967 on Epic Records.
Continue reading “S is for the Staple Singers”