Eminent Domain Shutters Black-Owned Funeral Home

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Commentator John McCann explains the hardships a black-owned funeral home went through when the government stepped in to take the property without consent of the owner. McCann is a columnist for The Herald-Sun in Durham, N.C.

ED GORDON, host:

Small businesses face many challenges. Now some entrepreneurs say the U.S. Government has become a concern. Losing a business to eminent domain is becoming a growing issue for many business owners and some communities as well. Here's commentator John McCann.

JOHN McCANN reporting:

The post burial play by play of funeral was going to feature analysis about an uncle's improperly trimmed mustache. Was somebody talking about, Big Mama never wore her lipstick like that. She sure didn't look like herself. Well, I guess not, the woman's been dead for a few days, so give the undertaker a break. Although the mark of a good mortician indeed is the ability to bury folk in fine fashion, so put them away real nice.

It's why my people kept patronizing the little round hut in Durham, North Carolina when our family members died. There was my great granddaddy, Lodus(ph) Landis. He wore bib overalls and gave my brother and me a quarter and a stick of Beechnut gum when we'd ascend the wooden porch where he sharpened tools to earn more quarters.

Because of his diminutive stature we called him Small Granddaddy. Now John Parker Sr., that was my granddaddy. We called him Rubber because I'm told he gets drunk and his legs would become elastic. Now Small Granddaddy and Rubber were enemies, yet they lived in the same rental house on Roxboro Street. Each kept to his side of the porch. My grandmother, Elvera(ph) Parker, we called her Mama kept them from killing each other.

They all died eventually and J.C. Scarborough the third buried every last one of them. Put them away real nice, the way it's been done at his funeral home for the century since his grandfather became the first black licensed funeral director in the state. Just trying to give his kind a decent burial J.C. Scarborough Sr. found himself in that fraternity esteemed, in part, because undertakers were the few black people in the community who wore suits all day.

See once upon a time black funeral directors were the business men who did everything from providing extra chairs for a civic club meeting, to driving important people, like Martin Luther King Jr., in fine cars known as combinations, because a hearse could double as an ambulance.

Black funeral directors were steeped in the history of the community; kept tabs on his current pulse, and stayed up with the news of the day. The likes of CNN have diminished that role, so we're able to get the news on our own, which is why everybody around here in Durham knows that Scarborough and Hargett Funeral Home is fixing to get cremated. Forced to move both in 1914 and 1968, the funeral home has another relocation date of September 2007.

Mr. Scarborough is working on a deal with the county, meaning his circa 1970 structure will come down. The county doesn't care. It wants a new courthouse in that spot. For his trouble Scarborough wants a fair deal that includes prime relocation space where he grew up, where his granddaddy established the family name in the funeral business.

Mr. Scarborough told me, if you're going to put me out of my house, I at least want to stay in my backyard. In other words, don't just bury the many any kind of way, put him away real nice.

(Soundbite of music)

GORDON: John McCann is a columnist for The Herald-Sun in Durham, North Carolina.

(Soundbite of music)

GORDON: This is NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from