Funeral record book of former Black-owned mortuary provides genealogy information of Knoxville locals
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -The Beck Cultural Exchange Center obtained several rare gems in its collection of artifacts.
Wrapping up the last day of Black History Month, the Beck shared the history of the ‘Clark Mortuary Funeral Record Book.’
According to officials at the center, Clark Mortuary was established in the Mechanicsville area in the 1950s by Samuel M. Clark, Jr., who was the son of prominent physician Dr. Samuel Milton Clark Sr., and brother of Frances Clark, an English teacher and registrar at Knoxville College and physician J. Hubert Clark.
His father and brother were the first Black physicians to operate on a patient at Knoxville General Hospital in 1942 after a lawsuit forced the hospital to allow Black physicians to practice there.
Beck Cultural Exchange assistant archivist Briana Flanagan said inside of the record book is essential information of Black individuals and families who have passed in Knoxville from 1959 to 1970, like the date of birth and death of the deceased, names of family members, occupation, and employer information, addresses, and where they were buried.
“It’s very significant that we have that not just for genealogy purposes telling us who was here in Knoxville, it also speaks to the great legacy of Black-owned Mortuaries here in Knoxville,” shared Flanagan.
While going through the book, Flanagan saw a couple of names that stood out.
“Two names that stood out to me were Charles W. Cansler, he was a larger than life individual here in Knoxville. He was an educator and mathematician. He was a lawyer, he was responsible for founding the first public Black Library here in Knoxville. And then there was a singer named Ida Cox who was a popular vaudeville and entertainer from the 1920s and 1930s,” said Flanagan.
While browsing through the book another name caught Flanagan’s attention. This name had a more personal connection to her.
“It’s Lucille Estelle Page. I was looking it up and I texted my grandmother and I was like this name sounds familiar to me, and she was like yeah that’s your great-great-grandmother,” shared Flanagan.
The Clark Mortuary Funeral Home is said to have run for nearly 50 years.
Renee Kesler, president of the Beck Center said the funeral record book was donated to the center by Jarnigan & Son Mortuary.
Which is known as the only Black-owned mortuary still in operation and is the oldest continually operated Black business in Knoxville. It was established in 1886.
Although Black History Month has come to a close, you can still learn about the 50,000 artifacts at the Beck Center all year long.
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