Archive for the ‘Black Women’ Category

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Celebrating Black Life Through Death

For centuries, African Americans have been forced to deal with DEATH. We use and have been used to celebrate and protest with our bodies. From the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade until the present Black Lives Matter Movement, Black bodies have been placed at the forefront of movements, memories, and significant moments in American history.

At approximately age 12, I experienced the death of a family member for the first time. One of my great uncles, Bill died after an aggressive battle with cancer. Before his death, I spent every weekend with him. I watched as his sisters, my grandmother, great aunts, and older cousins cared for him, laughed with him, and encouraged him until his final breath. They ensured his exit was as delicate as his arrival.

As in most African American families, the “Homegoing Service” can be quite an event. You’ll have the storytellers that stand before the church and tell stories of “remember when ” we will laugh. You’ll have the family member that stands in front of the casket as ask, “WHY?!” in the most antagonistic and depressing manner towards God; they’ll be carried off. You’ll hear the pastor or some stranger sing a song without knowing all the words, which becomes a topic of discussion during the repast. In any event, funerals are an incredible asset and aspect of Black culture, thus, we pride ourselves on making them memorable.

Quite often, a funeral can feel like the one moment when Black Lives Matter. The spirit of protest and appreciation can burgeon around death. For example, Black Lives Matter, in my opinion, gained momentum after the death of Trayvon Martin. His violent death resonated in a manner that ignited memories of Black tragic deaths throughout the United States, sparking a movement. Our memory of Trayvon is eternally tied to the Black Lives Matter movement and protests against the treatment of Black Lives in America.
Albeit, I can, unfortunately, list a litany of Black names that have occurred in the course three years, I want to focus on the celebration of Black Death.

There’s a deep history here.

The following is an excerpt on African American home-going services:

“It is a celebration that has become a vibrant part of African American history and culture. As with other traditions, practices, customs and norms of African American culture, this ritual for dealing with death was shaped by the African American experience.” 

“The history of the homegoing service can be traced back to the arrival of African slaves in America. Early during the slave trade, slaves believed death meant their soul would return home to their native Africa. They were not allowed to congregate to perform any ritual for burying the dead because slave owners were fearful the slaves would conspire to create an uprising during any such gathering. Later, to control the slave population, slave owners introduced slaves to white Christianity to placate and subdue them.

The Old Testament stories of God and Moses freeing a captive and enslaved race resonated with the slaves. The New Testament stories of Jesus and promises of glory in heaven and a far better after-life allowed slaves to forge through the turmoil of mortal life and look forward to the day when they would return home to the Lord. They fully embraced Christianity and death, for slaves, was viewed as freedom. Their death rituals were jubilant, and it became one of the earliest forms of African American culture.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, there were few, if any black funeral homes. Survivors of deceased blacks were forced to depend on white funeral homes for embalming if they agreed to service them. Jim Crow laws and white bias required blacks to enter these white funeral homes through back doors and basements, a degrading experience that added to the tragedy of losing a loved one.

Although the embalming was mostly done by white funeral homes, the homegoing service took place in the black Christian church. The churches began forming burial societies to collect money for funerals. Black businessmen who opened funeral homes during the early-to-mid-twentieth century saw not only a business opportunity but a way to help the community. Funeral parlors were among some of the first black-owned businesses, and the black funeral director was a trusted friend and neighbor in the community. The tradition of the black community funeral director and the support of the black Christian church exist in many black communities today.”

The unique business model of Funerals that emerged and presently exists within the Black community is to be commended. While the Black experience is not always joyful, we laugh through our pain and celebrate even in our death.

While researching this topic, I came across an incredible book and PBS documentary over Black Funeral Parlors that is worth watching.

Black Homegoing Services 

To Serve The Living Book Review

A Small Example of A Black Funeral 

Incredible Atlantic Article on The History of Black Funeral Homes

In closing, I find Black Death fascinating because it’s arguably the one time in our lives when the Black body is honored. While the media discusses the way in which a Black life was taken or how one lived, we move forth in planning an event that eliminates all of that and focuses on honoring the Black body. We will NEVER forget the life one has lived. We honor and uplift our dead. From Emmett Till to Sandra Bland we recognize that the Black bodies have been used to deter progress, but also promote it. We also understand that no matter HOW one died, at this moment, we uniquely celebrate LIFE through their DEATH.

And that is a moment worth noting in Black History.

Ke’

Submitted To The Scholars,

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