African American funeral service is Black History. Funeral customs are among the most important practices for any group of people and remains true throughout the history of Black people in America. When Africans were forced into slavery and brought to the Americas, they came with different ways of seeing the world, the afterlife, and handling death.
Historians and archaeologists who study African American burial sites tell us that funerals were commemorations that reflected various customs. Old and new funerary traditions became a vital part of creating an African American culture during that era. For example, people wrapped their loved ones in delicate fabrics secured with shroud pins and placed meaningful objects in coffins before burial.
During enslavement funerals not only honored the dead, but they were also social events that celebrated life and nurtured resistance as these gatherings were one of the few places Black people could congregate freely.
It was during the Civil War, that major innovations changed funeral service forever. Inventions like embalming allowed bodies to be preserved much longer and transported if necessary. Funeral service was becoming a highly skilled profession and funeral homes became the location for death care services. However, African American morticians were not only business owners who prepared the body and assisted families, they were also well-respected leaders in their communities often working closely with the church, other businesses, politicians, and others. Funeral work was crucial for the culture!
Considering the importance of honoring the dead, Black funeral homes grew to be important businesses in the diverse and changing landscape of Black life in America. Today, the influences of African American funeral service reach beyond the funeral home and into the sectors of education, professional associations, philanthropy, politics, and social clubs while maintaining its roots in caring for bereaved families in their time of need. Funeral service has evolved with the times but its rich legacy and its place in African American history is one that connects our past, our present and, our future.