Generations return to the funeral homes serving Toledo’s African-American community for the measure of solace their forebears found, solace built on the distinct place funeral homes have occupied in the black community.
“The black funeral home was like a beacon in the night,” said C. Brown, who was born in Arkansas, grew up in Toledo, and opened C. Brown Funeral Home in 1980.
In decades past, new arrivals from the South realized they could ring the bell of a funeral home — even at 3 a.m. — and get a cup of coffee and a couple dollars to stay at a rooming house. Some homes have opened their doors to wedding ceremonies. Others offered a hiding place to civil rights activists seeking refuge from those intent on doing them harm.
“We cherish those who assist us in times of bereavement,” said Richard Brown, 44, founding pastor of Rock Church on Airport Highway. “We want to go someplace we have a relationship with. Funeral homes in our community have been that for us.”
Three Toledo funeral homes, in a line down Nebraska Avenue within 2 ½ miles, are operated by African-American directors and embrace that role. C. Brown Funeral home is the newest. In 1964, Dorothy and James Day opened what is now the House of Day Funeral Service. The oldest, Dale-Riggs Funeral Home, traces its lineage to Toledo’s first black-owned mortuary, opened by Elvin Wanzo in 1912.
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