Black Funeral Directors Sue Harrison County Coroner
Funeral home directors in Harrison County are suing Coroner Gary Hargrove and the board of supervisors.
News 25’s Kendra Turley gives us a closer look at why the group decided to file the lawsuit.
Gary Hargrove serves as the Harrison County coroner. A group of black funeral directors say his biased opinion has hurt their businesses for the past 20 years. Mike Kanovitz with Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law said, “The coroner believes that if a white person dies in Harrison County that black people who run their mortuary business should not be allowed to touch that body.”
There are a total of six black-owned funeral homes within Harrison County. A lawsuit filed in federal court accuses Hargrove of steering the county’s morgue, cremation and burial business to only white-owned funeral homes.
Records obtained from Harrison County show most of the funeral related funds were spent with local white-owned funeral homes even though African American funeral directors were equally positioned to provide the exact same services. Eddie Hartwell with Hartwells Christian Mortuary and Funeral Home said, “Death where the coroner was called occurred within 300 yards of a black funeral establishment and a white funeral establishment from five miles away was called in to handle that.”
The lawsuit also accuses the Harrison County Board of Supervisors of approving Hargrove’s conduct. “We’ve recognized the needs to address racial discrimination and we have been tackling the need to address discrimination and we’ve also learned that it’s a constant struggle,” said Kanovitz.
The group of black funeral directors hopes this lawsuit brings not only awareness, but equality. Sonya Williams-Barnes with Lockett-Williams Mortuary, INC. said, “They are schooled in the same manner. They receive the same degrees and we are very much capable of doing the same job. We’ve been left out of this process and it’s unfair.”
News 25 reached out to Hargrove for a statement. He has yet to respond.