Dear PoPville – Why So Many Funeral Homes on Kennedy Street?


“Dear PoPville,

I just learned that another funeral home is coming to Kennedy Street. This funeral home is located at 502 Kennedy Street NW next to the Target Liquors. I believe that makes 5 funeral homes on Kennedy Street from 3rd St NW to GA Ave NW. That’s a lot. Why are there so many funeral homes on Kennedy Street?”

I once asked this as a Friday Question of the Day back in 2007 – at that time a reader explained one possibility:

“This is not uncommon in predominantly African-American neighborhoods everywhere. African-Americans were long denied access to most professions (still are, in some). There were only a few professions — and by that I mean not blue collar work — at which African-Americans could succeed: teaching (although usually in underfunded, undersupplied schools); some medical professions like nurses, dentists and doctors, so long as they didn’t stray out of the black community; and mortician, because everyone needs to be buried. Teaching and medicine are tougher to get into because you needed the money to go to college; you can pass on the mortician’s art from generation to generation, and all you need to do is get a license. Lots of African-Americans with aspirations to middle-class and possibly upper middle class life opened funeral homes, which over the decades passed from generation to generation. So what it comes down to is the high concentration of funeral homes is a vestige of segregation.”

17 Comment

  • A girlfriend of mine and I drove through Kennedy Street, NW. I stated to her, there are a lot of funeral homes on Kennedy Street, NW. I remember my grandmother use to say, as long as blacks continue to kill one another in the streets in America, there will always be a need for black owned funeral homes.

    • Really,

      This has nothing to do with race. People in general kill one another, Caucasians, African Americans, Asians, Africans, etc.

      This is about where the funeral home owner can get the most bang for their buck in terms of land.

    • your grandmother sounds racist.

      everybody dies and will likely need the services of a funeral home, regardless of how they died.

    • My aunt died and she had a ceremony in a funeral home on Kennedy street. It has more to do with permits and districting of funeral homes than the history of crime in this city because the funeral homes have been there long before the 80s. It’s pretty small minded to make it a race issue.

      • How was my black grandmother being a racist? Many in the black community have joke about this and yes Johnson & Jenkins and other funeral homes have been on Kennedy Street, NW for years, as far back as the seventies. Gezz, some of you need to lighten up and have a sense of humor. There are a lot of things black folks say in an all black setting in regards to our community.

        • 1) This isn’t an all-black setting, so you probably shouldn’t repeat that
          2) It’s also ignorant. No city could support the number of funeral homes that have cropped up in DC with homicide victims alone. The *real* reason why so many funeral homes can co-exist in largely black cities is because – due to unequal access to health care, stress, and other factors – black people die disproportionately young.

        • how? because people love stupidly and blinding shouting “racist” without much knowledge.

  • Another one? Maybe Kennedy Street should be renamed Death Row.

  • While I understand how bars/restaurants benefit from being clustered around one another, I’m not sure that line of logic would apply to funeral parlors.

    • Yeah. Does anyone actually “shop” for a funeral parlor? Isn’t is usually more like the family/community has a relationship with certain places? Fans in AA churches often are funeral home advertisements. When my dad died, we just automatically went with the funeral home associated with our church – although none of us had gone there for decades.

  • My guess is that the funeral homes used to be concentrated in areas that have gentirifed. They often go into buildings that are easily converted with favorable rents. Areas with old mansions often were colonized by white funeral homes in the past in other cities. Race is probably only part of it.

  • saf

    I would go to that festival.

  • I inquired about that space two summers ago because I was playing around with opening a fitness studio, but they owners wanted $6,000 a month. Seemed high for the area, but I also hadn’t done any other shopping around. The space is actually really nice and I was really holding onto the idea of a bar/restaurant coming to it. Oh well.

    Does anyone know what is going on with the building on 3rd, just south of Kennedy? Formerly Coronation Market. There was some demolition work going on but haven’t seen any use permits yet.

  • I guess we didn’t figure it out. I do think part of what’s going on is that owners leasing their properties do not advertise with agents, for the most part, so they don’t show up on listing services, making it hard for entrepreneurs to find them.

    We also have a lot of churches in the area, though many of their patrons come in from Maryland these days.

  • A long term African American cab driver told me, it’s because Kennedy Street was a street along with many African Businesses located from days of old(likely segregation) AND It’s just off the Georgia Avenue corridor that too is and was a street of African American owned businesses;

    one cant help but notice as well how populated the Georgia Avenue corridor is, so imagine the days of black Washington being centered along this corridor, with N. Capital Street access to Kennedy; Rent and home ownership prices are cheap as well in this corridor devoid of metro rail pricey areas.

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