From our Six Feet Under desk:
Coincidentally or not, the New York Times has run two pieces in the past few days about the racial divide in the burial business.
From Friday’s Times:
JASPER, Tex. — For more than 100 years, a rickety iron fence separated the black graves from the white ones at a cemetery in this East Texas town. Months after the brutal murder here of James Byrd Jr., a black man chained to a pickup truck and dragged to death by three white men on June 7, 1998, the fence was torn down by residents as a sign of unity and reconciliation.
Fourteen years later, Jasper City Cemetery remains segregated: blacks, including Mr. Byrd, are buried near the bottom of the hill, while whites are buried at the top.
“It’s our custom, here in the South, here in Jasper,” said Albert K. Snell, 80, a retired teacher who is white and a member of the cemetery’s board of directors. “We have the same cemetery, but we don’t mix the white and the black graves. They’re separate. Put a black up here? No, no, we wouldn’t do that. That would be against our custom, against our way of doing things.”
MADISON, Ga. — When a black person dies in one of the rural counties around here, chances are the body will end up in the hands of Charles Menendez.
First, he offers a little prayer and asks the person on the table to help him make the job go smoothly. Then he gets down to work, embalming the body like an old-school craftsman.
“You don’t want the family to touch Grandmama and feel it cold and hard,” he said. “You want flexibility in the skin. The idea is to leave a good memory picture for them.”
All of his cases are black. They always have been. If Sunday remains the most segregated day in the South, funerals remain the most segregated business. In the same way that generations of tradition dictate the churches people attend, the races tend to bury their own.
“That’s the way it has always been here in the rural areas,” Mr. Menendez said. “White funeral homes employ white embalmers, and black funeral homes employ black embalmers. That’s the South.”
Post-racial America? Sorry, Barack – not so much.