For 30 years, Ronald Taylor II Funeral Homes in Northeast, D.C. has served a predominantly Black clientele, but as gentrification increasingly pushes Blacks out of the city and into Prince George’s County, Taylor is wondering if the business his father started should move there as well.
Taylor, 34, owns three pieces of property including the funeral home and his house — all in the 1700 block of North Capitol Street NE. He says his property taxes are going up, but because business is so robust — typically averaging 400 cases, a year — Taylor can afford to stay in the rapidly gentrifying Bloomingdale neighborhood where his business is based and where he’s lived for 17 years.
However, a large portion of his clientele is uninterested in making the drive to the city from Maryland, he said. Back when the home opened in 1988, between 60 and 70 of the people who used the funeral home came from the neighborhood. That is not the case any longer.
“I think we’d probably have to move to Prince George’s County eventually because most of our clientele is in Prince George’s County or Charles County —everyone is moving out south,” Taylor told the AFRO in a telephone interview. “Good old gentrification.”
Taylor doesn’t have a timeline on when such a move would occur and he’s also weighing keeping the funeral home where it is and opening another location in Prince George’s County. He also operates a second funeral home in Baltimore.
Washingtonian Magazine reported that many African-American funeral homes are leaving the District or relocating to remote areas bordering Maryland because of steep property values that have taken hold as higher-income people move in. Luxury apartment buildings are under construction just a few blocks away from Taylor on North Capitol Street and newer, trendy restaurants are moving in as well.
An 18-unit apartment building will soon replace the site that once housed the Grace Murray Funeral Home on Georgia Avenue, according to Washingtonian. Frazier’s Funeral Home in Shaw has been replaced by an apartment building with rent starting at $2,300 a month, the magazine reported. A condo building has also replaced the Austin Royster Funeral Home in Columbia Heights, according to the magazine.
Funeral homes have served as stabilizing forces in African American culture and are places a grieving community has turned to for decades to prepare family members for burial.
In Chicago, for example, Mamie Till Mobley contacted A.A. Rayner & Sons Funeral Home in 1955 to conduct funeral services for her teenage son, Emmett Till, whose body had been mangled in Mississippi for reportedly flirting with a white woman. AA Rayner & Sons has been around since 1947 and in 1987 it handled services for Harold Washington, Chicago’s first Black mayor.
“The neighborhoods in D.C. are changing so fast, and the people who move in now, I don’t know whether they want the funeral home there,” Milton Tellington, who moved Tri-State Funeral Services from Petworth, to a new space near the Maryland border in 2016, told the Washingtonian. “People had confidence in those funeral homes. When they don’t have them anymore, they have to go through that experience with doubt.”
Taylor isn’t bitter about the possibility of moving his funeral home out of Bloomingdale. For him, it’s just business.
“I understand it, but it’s pretty much like evolution, you’ve just got to go with the flow,” Taylor told the AFRO. “With business moving to Prince George’s County, we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do.”