Crews Demolish Hayes Funeral Home — Oldest African-American Business in Memphis

This week, demolition crews began pulling down the stately home at 680 South Lauderdale that housed the T.H. Hayes Funeral Home, considered the oldest African-American-owned business in Memphis.

Frances Hayes, the last proprietor, died November 21, 2010, and there was apparently nobody left to take over the family-owned business. The property is owned by the First Baptist Church next door, which filed a demolition permit in June.

A Tennessee Historical Commission marker in front of the stately house tells its story: "Founded in 1902 by Thomas H. Hayes, Sr., T.H. Hayes and Sons Funeral Home is Memphis' oldest black business. Originally on Poplar, the business moved to Lauderdale in 1918. Hayes was active in the National Negro Business League, founded by Booker T. Washington. In 1933, he was co-founder of the Union Protective Life Insurance Company. A son, Thomas Jr., owned the Birmingham Black Barons, of which Willie Mays was a member. Taylor, another son, was president of the National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association."

Commercial Appeal reporter Chris Conley interviewed Frances Hayes in 2002. She had married Taylor Hayes at the age of 23, and even though she had no funeral-home experience, quickly learned the trade and helped run it for almost 70 years, keeping it going after the death of her husband in 1968. "Everybody who was anybody," she says, "We buried them." According to the CA article, she was "quite prominent in social and civic realms" and was a member of the Memphis Dinner Club, "once described as one of the most exclusive black social clubs in America."

It seems that a rather amazing life went on behind the walls of a Memphis funeral parlor — and in its day, a very handsome building, too. What a shame that neither the 109-year-old business — or the 111-year-old house — could survive. In a few weeks, that impressive historical marker will stand in front of a vacant lot, like so many similar markers in our city.

Reader Comments:
Jul 20, 2011 03:17 pm
 Posted by  gpmzak

Why is Memphis famous for destroying its history???

Jul 20, 2011 04:56 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Just another example of how Memphis couldn't care less about its history. What are they going to build there, another CVS?

Jul 25, 2011 08:31 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Memphis destroys another building that no one utilities. Film at 11.

Jul 25, 2011 08:32 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Err, utilizes. ;)

Aug 22, 2011 04:20 pm
 Posted by  julie noir

Honestly, we could use this to our advantage. There is a really sweet senior in my neighborhood that has a City Entity owned home next to her that has been vacant for decades, overgrown, no windows or doors. She's reported it, I reported it for her electronicly and publicly reported it at a townhall meeting a week or so ago to Code Officials.
My new tactic is to put an historical marker in front of it. Should be gone in a day or two.

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Ask Vance is the blog of Vance Lauderdale, the award-winning columnist of Memphis magazine and MBQ: Inside Memphis Business.  Vance is the author of three books: Ask Vance: The Best Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History and Trivia Expert (2003), as well as Ask Vance: More Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History Expert (2011) and Vance Lauderdale's Lost Memphis (2013). He is also the recipient of quite a few nice awards, the creator of several eye-catching wall calendars, and the only person we know with a vintage shock-treatment machine in his den. 

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