Passed On: African American Mourning StoriesA Memorial
by Karla FC Holloway
Duke University Press, 2002 Cloth: 978-0-8223-2860-5 | Paper: 978-0-8223-3245-9 | eISBN: 978-0-8223-8507-3
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ABOUT THIS BOOK
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.
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.
“Beginning with the tragic loss of her son, Karla Holloway poignantly examines how race not only affects the meaning of black lives, but their deaths as well.”—Paula Giddings, author of When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America
“Karla Holloway writes about a central and little-explored American phenomenon with a wide and patient breadth of knowledge and a startlingly profound personal depth. It feels like a book as durable as a well-shaped stone—as reliable, useful and finally consoling, however hard to bear.”—Reynolds Price
"Passed On explores a century's worth of experience with black death and dying. . . My travels have traced the story this book tells. I have wandered through exhibits in a museum of the funeral industry . . .I have visited funeral directors and morticians . . . I have searched early-century graveyards and late-century cemeteries . . . I have consulted archives and manuscripts . . . I have talked with physicians, casket manufacturers, hospice administrators, makers of 'funeral' garments, palliative care teams, embalming-chemical businessmen, neighborhood ministers, and neighborhood residents. "When I started working on this book . . . I had not imagined how this would be connected to me in such a visceral and personal way. . . that the narrative of Passed On, which invaded my serenity many years ago (well before my son's life took its tragic, final turn), would find its articulation in this manner. I do not tell his story for judgment or absolution. I tell it instead because it too has the characteristics of an 'incident report' that is, finally, community property."—From the Introduction
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