When you have been fortunate sufficient to have Alice Theresa Baysmore-Manns bury you, she would have finished so wearing an exceptionally lovely coat. Fawn-gray cashmere, with a voluptuous fur collar, a red-silk lining, and a self-belt, it was the form of elegant, correct coat that signified the decorum you’d need at a funeral. Even Manns’s youngsters, who attended a lot of the funerals she directed, can be turned out for the event. “While you rode within the hearse, you’d have your little bonnet in your head, your little sneakers, your little stockings, your little white gloves,” Renata Manns-Henderson, one in all Manns’s daughters, recalled just lately. “To this present day, my household doesn’t go anyplace with out our hats and gloves.”
Alice Manns (1935-2022) handed away in January. Earlier than her dying, she was named because the oldest residing licensed Black feminine mortician in Baltimore, Maryland, by the Nationwide Funeral Administrators and Morticians Affiliation. She was born into the occupation. In 1902, her ancestor Robert Elliott was one of many early African People in Baltimore to formally obtain an undertaker’s license. His institution, the Robert A. Elliott Funeral House, got here to occupy a stout three-story constructing on the nook of Caroline and Biddle Streets. It flourished. At the moment, Baltimore had one of many largest Black populations within the nation. Funeral houses and cemeteries have been racially separate. Within the time of Jim Crow, Black funeral administrators weren’t allowed to affix skilled associations. (In 1904, they fashioned their very own group, the Coloured Funeral Administrators Affiliation, which might later grow to be the Nationwide Funeral Administrators and Morticians Affiliation.) Funeral houses usually have been household companies. When Elliott died, his widow took over. She had lengthy assisted her husband on the residence, and was ultimately awarded a license of her personal, in 1916.
The Robert A. Elliott Funeral House, later referred to as the Elickson Funeral House, was handed from one feminine member of the household to the following. Manns’s great-grandmother, her grandmother, and her mom all took their turns on the helm. Manns’s father, who served within the Second World Warfare, had lived by way of the assault on Pearl Harbor and returned from the battle shell-shocked, however he assisted his spouse within the operating of the house, principally doing hairdressing on the deceased. Manns grew up enjoying within the parlor of the funeral residence, attending providers, watching her mom greet and console households and put together her remarks. In highschool, she was concerned with an etiquette-and-manners membership often known as the Cotillions. Apparently, she was recruited by an order of nuns after highschool. Though she was tempted, she went on to what was then Morgan State Faculty, and later acquired her funeral director’s license, becoming a member of her mom within the enterprise. When her mom retired, she managed it on her personal. Her husband, Charles Manns, pitched in from time to time—he had performed semi-professional soccer, and Manns-Henderson stated that he was good at selecting up and transferring our bodies—however Manns ran the present.
She was very explicit in regards to the tone she set at her funeral providers, which was formal, possibly even slightly old style. She liked her job. She was obsessed with doing it properly. She was undaunted by the unusualness of her place on the head of a enterprise often run by males. “Again within the day, females who labored at funeral houses have been simply within the workplace, not conducting providers,” Dr. Hari Shut II, the president of the Nationwide Funeral Administrators and Morticians Affiliation, defined. “As a result of Mrs. Manns was from the Elliott household, she might break that barrier. However, when you consider it, the very first funeral administrators have been girls. I gained’t go all Biblical now, however because the starting girls at all times have been those washing and anointing our bodies.”
The Robert A. Elliott Funeral House was a neighborhood hub. All through historical past, Black funeral houses have been central to their communities in additional than the anticipated methods. Through the Civil Rights period, activists have been typically transported hidden in hearses, permitting them to journey undetected. A funeral director resembling Manns had a place nearly as central as a preacher. She knew each household in the neighborhood and had buried generations of them. She performed funerals without spending a dime if a household couldn’t pay, and if somebody was arduous up for money or in want of latest garments she might be turned to for assist.
After Manns retired, the house as she knew it, which had been sustained for 5 generations of her household, got here to an finish. The constructing is now condos. However Manns stored her funeral coat and, in 2020, when she was invited to participate in a Black Lives Matter parade, she pulled it out of her closet. “She might nonetheless put on it!” Shut stated. “I used to be so awed by that form of coat that I took photos of it.” Manns was proud to be within the parade, though she didn’t just like the casual method that among the younger girls dressed, Manns-Henderson stated. “She believed that, for the event, you needed to gown in a sure method.”