Built for the Living: African American Funeral Homes on the Tennessee Landscape

No Thumbnail Available
Miller, Brad Reed
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Middle Tennessee State University
African American funeral homes are an understudied part of the historic built environment that provide a unique window into the African American experience from Reconstruction to the present. The extant funeral homes of Tennessee today emerged on the landscape following World War One, but stem from a longer history of professionalization in the funeral business starting in the 1880s. African American funeral homes were expressions of entrepreneurial spirit and cultural responsibility forged in the midst of Jim Crow segregation to serve communities in their toughest times of loss.
The adapted and purpose-built buildings that served as funeral homes became deliberate physical statements that bordered the white and black communities and anchored neighborhoods, serving as an integral space for the needs of the community. Specific case studies of African American funeral businesses in Maury and Rutherford Counties highlight the buildings and their location on the landscape that made funeral homes a community asset for stability and pride. Today, these funeral homes—operational and no longer open—serve as effective tools for understanding the segregated past and require heightened attention from historians and historic preservationists to capture their stories.
African American, Funeral Home, Historic Preservation, Jim Crow, Tennessee