Here’s Why This Black-Owned Funeral Home In DC Closed After Nearly 80 Years

Here’s Why This Black-Owned Funeral Home In DC Closed After Nearly 80 Years

Black-owned Halls Brothers Funeral Home was a staple in the Washington D.C. community for nearly 80 years before the once proud “Chocolate City” became consumed by gentrification.

In June 2019, the parlor’s owner, Richard Ables, closed the doors to its Florida Avenue headquarters and later decided to sell the family business for $2 million, according to Finurah. The neighborhood was no longer reminiscent of the iconic community where his uncles, Macy Hall and Ocy Hall, first established the funeral home in 1941.

Since its inception, Halls Brothers Funeral Home has faithfully catered to the families of Black Washingtonians. They handled up to 140 funerals per year during its peak from the 1950s through the 1980s, the Washington Post reported.

A year before its closing, the business only performed four funerals, the number driven drastically low by Black clientele who passed away or were forced out by gentrification.

Black Washingtonians were politically and culturally leading the city, with it being nearly half Black by the mid-20th century and more than 71%  by 1970. Black businesses were coming back after the 1968 riots when buildings were burned down and destroyed.

However, rapid change has since induced the city’s Black population to decline from 59% to 41% between 2000 and 2020 according to the U.S. census, per Finurah. This instance of displacement calls attention to the downfall of Black-owned funeral homes across the United States.

The Halls family opened one of the last Black-owned funeral home parlors after migrating from Mississippi in the 1930s. In 1998, when Ables planned a funeral for his brother, William Ables, he took over the business as the funeral director.

He kept his promise to “keep it going as long as I could…”

Calling the embalming process an “art,” Ables took pride in his work and his ability to “put that smile back” on the faces of the deceased. The area wasn’t the same, but he tried reviving the dying business by placing ads to bring in new clientele, including Hispanics, Ethiopians, and Indians. The response wasn’t enough to keep the company afloat as the number of young, white professionals increased in the neighborhood.

“If we saw a white person, we’d ask, ‘What are you doing here?’ Ables told the Post. “Now, it’s the opposite.”