"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
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
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.
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