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Kim and Jim Coleman

Memphis' first funeral home owned by black women opens in South Memphis

By Published: February 28, 2019 4:56 PM CT

When Madeline Lyles and Dana Taylor opened After Life Mortuary Services in Memphis last year, they were “the first African-American women to open, own and operate a funeral home in the city,” Lyles said. They may be part of a trend.

U.S. Census Bureau statistics for 2016 show 74 percent of morticians and funeral directors are men. But in 2017, nearly 65 percent of graduates from funeral director programs in the United States were female, according to the American Board of Funeral Service Education.

Opened in October at 2207 S. Lauderdale Street, After Life offers embalming, funeral services and directing, cremation, and international shipping and receiving of human remains, as well as insurance options.

“We also offer education to the community," Lyles said. "We are working to bridge the gap between families and funeral homes to better prepare individuals and families ... so they can alleviate a lot of the stress that they go through in the funeral arrangement process.”

Lyles and Taylor hold forums for older people about the legalities and preparations for funeral services, such as insurance and living wills. They also plan to hold camps for teenagers ages 13 to 18 who have an interest in the funeral services.

“With us being the morticians and funeral directors, as well as the owners, we have the advantage of offering more economical services to families,” Lyles said.

The After Life Mortuary co-owners have worked for over a decade for various funeral homes in the area. And both have worked as trade embalmers, providing embalming services as well as makeup and dressing for the body on a contract basis.

“We met around 2009,” Taylor said. “We were working together at the West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center here in Memphis. We met back up when we worked at a funeral home together. Both of us have a lot of years of experience in the industry.”

A current client of ALMS, as well as former employer of both Lyles and Taylor, is Jerry Harrison, owner of Harrison’s Memorial Chapel. While Harrison’s is a full-service funeral home, ALMS steps in when his facility is at capacity.

“I know their work skills. I highly trust them,” Harrison said. “There have been times where we are swamped, and we need to call somebody to go pick up a body for us; even embalm a body. They have been there for us to do that.”

Harrison took over his family’s business, which had operated as Harrison's Funeral Home Orange Mound Chapel since 1923 until relocating to South Memphis in 2014. A fourth-generation funeral home owner, Harrison grew up watching his mother and aunt doing the same funeral services work as the men in his family, but never as owners.

“This was a male-dominated industry at first,” Harrison said. “My father, Charles Harrison, would always say, ‘The industry needs women to give that soft touch. Some men just can’t handle certain things that come with the passing of someone.’ … They may not hit the same buttons like a woman would do.”

Taylor said the business she opened with Lyles has inspired people, “especially young women.”

“Some have said, ‘I wanted to be a mortician and my parents talked me out of it, or said it was weird, but now I see you all on Facebook, smiling and you love what you do.’ They get inspired. Some have actually enrolled in mortuary schools,” she said.

In January, Southwest Tennessee Community College began offering an associate degree in applied science in funeral service education at its Whitehaven Center

Lyles and Taylor plan to expand at their current location in South Memphis to add on-site funerals. “As of right now, we have funeral services at different churches or whatever venue they would like to have,” Lyles said.

“By us being in the industry so long, we’ve been through a lot of ups and downs being a woman in the workplace, period,” Taylor said. “But especially being in a field that is male-dominated, we’ve had to overcome and persevere a lot of things that come with that. We are pursuing things that a lot of people probably didn’t think we were capable of.”

This story originally appeared at High Ground News, Memphis’ source for neighborhood reporting. Sign up for the newsletter here.

Topics

Funeral Services Madeline Lyles Dana Taylor

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