Passed On: African American Mourning Stories, A Memorial

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Duke University Press, Sep 3, 2003 - Biography & Autobiography - 232 pages
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Passed On is a portrait of death and dying in twentieth-century African America. Through poignant reflection and thorough investigation of the myths, rituals, economics, and politics of African American mourning and burial practices, Karla FC Holloway finds that ways of dying are just as much a part of black identity as ways of living. Gracefully interweaving interviews, archival research, and analyses of literature, film, and music, Holloway shows how the vulnerability of African Americans to untimely death is inextricably linked to how black culture represents itself and is represented.
With a focus on the “death-care” industry—black funeral homes and morticians, the history of the profession and its practices—Holloway examines all facets of the burial business, from physicians, hospital chaplains, and hospice administrators, to embalming- chemical salesmen, casket makers, and funeral directors, to grieving relatives. She uses narrative, photographs, and images to summon a painful history of lynchings, white rage and riot, medical malpractice and neglect, executions, and neighborhood violence. Specialized caskets sold to African Americans, formal burial photos of infants, and deathbed stories, unveil a glimpse of the graveyards and burial sites of African America, along with burial rituals and funeral ceremonies.
Revealing both unexpected humor and anticipated tragedy, Holloway tells a story of the experiences of black folk in the funeral profession and its clientele. She also reluctantly shares the story of her son and the way his death moved her research from page to person.
In the conclusion, which follows a sermon delivered by Maurice O. Wallace at the funeral for the author’s son, Bem, Holloway strives to commemorate—through observation, ceremony, and the calling of others to remembrance and celebration.
 

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Contents

Whos Got the Body? The Business of Burial
15
Mortifications How We Die
57
The Ends of Days
104
Funeralized The Remains of Our Days
150
The Promise of Hope in a Season of Despair A Funeral Sermon by Maurice O Wallace
189
Epilogue
193
Bibliography
213
Index
223
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Page 5 - He died at eventide, when the sun lay like a brooding sorrow above the western hills, veiling its face; when the winds spoke not, and the trees, the great green trees he loved, stood motionless. I saw his breath beat quicker and quicker, pause, and then his little soul leapt like a star that travels in the night and left a world of darkness in its train. The day changed not; the same tall trees peeped in at the windows, the same green grass glinted in the setting sun. Only in the chamber of death...
Page 5 - the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line...

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About the author (2003)

Karla FC Holloway is William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of English and Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences at Duke University. She is the author of Moorings and Metaphors: Culture and Gender in Black Women's Literature and Codes of Conduct: Race, Ethics, and the Color of Our Character. Karla Holloway is also Associate Faculty Scholar in the Duke Institute for Care at the End of Life.

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