THE NEGRO UNDERTAKER
Fig. 1 - Preston Taylor
The interest and even fascination with which the Negro people have always viewed the great mystery of death has given the ceremonies that are connected with this dread event a special and peculiarly important place in their social life. Out of this instinctive awe and reverence for the dead has arisen the demand for solemn and decent and often elaborate burial services. To meet this demand there has grown up a prosperous business. It is a curious fact that with the exception of that of caterer there is no business in which Negroes seem to be more numerously engaged or one in which they have been more uniformly successful.
This is due to the fact that here, as in the case of schools and churches, racial instincts and interests have created demands which the white business men could not or were not able to properly provide for. A prominent feature of the secret organizations, which have sprung up and become extremely popular in recent years among the colored communities, has been the provision for sick benefits and burial expenses. This demand and these organizations have created a special business opportunity for Negro business men of which they have very largely taken advantage.
I have before now called attention to the fact some of our most successful business men have come from among the ranks of our ministers. These men have very often had opportunity to develop a latent talent for administrative work and business in looking after the affairs of their churches. One such as these is Rev. Preston Taylor, who early in life learned a trade, has been a contractor, assistant baggage-master as well as preacher, and has finally become comfortably well off in the business of undertaking.
Rev. Preston Taylor was born in Shreveport. Louisiana, November 7, 1849, of slave parents. In early childhood he expressed a desire to become a minister, and this ambition has directed his life. He has interested himself along other lines; but not for a single year since arriving at maturity has he neglected what he regarded as his highest calling.
His spirit of patriotism was shown when in 1864 he saw a band of soldiers marching along the road and determined to join them; he enlisted as a drummer and was at the seige of Richmond, Petersburg and at the surrender of Lee. Later he learned the stone cutters' trade and became skillful in monument work and also engraving on marble. He found much work to do in Louisville, Kentucky, but the white men refused to work with him because of his color. He was then offered a position as train porter on the Louisville and Chattanooga Railroad, and for four years he was classed as one of the best railroad men in the service. When he resigned, he was requested to remain with a promotion as assistant baggage- master, but as he could be no longer retained, he was given a strong recommendation and a pass over all the roads for an extensive trip which he took through the North.
On his return he accepted the pastorate of the Christian Church at Mt. Sterling, Kentucky, where he remained for fifteen years devoting his time to the building up of the congregation and the erection of meeting houses. It was at this time that he did a great deal toward helping the people in an educational way. One thing that deserves special mention was the purchase of the old college property at New Castle, Kentucky, at a cost of $18,000, where to-day stands a thriving Bible college, of which he is still a trustee and financial agent. For a number of years he was editor of the " Colored Brethren," a department in the Christian Standard, and has also written for many books and periodicals.
Some idea can be gathered of his courage and energy from a passage in his life. When the Big Sandy Railway was under contract to be completed from Mt. Sterling to Richmond, Virginia, the contractors refused to hire colored men to work on it. He at once made a bid for Sections 3 and 4 and was successful ; he then erected a large commissary and quarters for his men, bought seventy-five head of mules and horses, carts, wagons, cans and all the necessary implements and tools; with one hundred and fifty colored men he led the way. In fourteen months he 'completed the most difficult part of this great trunk line at a cost of about $75,000. The president of the road, Mr. C. P. Huntington, said that he had built thousands of miles of road but he never before saw a contractor who finished his contract in advance. He was then requested by the chief engineer of the works to move his force to another county and help out some of the white contractors.
During the past twenty years he has occupied as pastor the pulpit of two of the leading Nashville churches. The Lee Avenue Christian Church, where he has been for- seventeen years, is a large, strong and imposing edifice, of which the congregation and citizens of Nashville are proud. It was built under his direction and through his personal effort.
His philanthrophic spirit is strong, and a deed of charity rendered by him during a recent severe winter will forever live in the hearts of the people of Nashville; for through his own warm and tender feeling for suffering humanity, individual help, solicitations from friends, he was enabled to feed, warm and clothe almost a thousand suffering poor people and shield them from the cold.
In the Spring of 1888 he embarked in the undertaking business and has met with unusual success. He stands well toward the head of his profession not only as a funeral director, but as a safe and wise business man.
Mr. Taylor employs twenty-one men and often has to call in extra help. He bears the distinction of directing the largest funeral procession that has ever passed through the streets of Nashville; it was that of three colored firemen that were killed in the great conflagration of January 2, 1892. He built a large catafalque with the aid of his own men, which held all three of the caskets, and was drawn by six beautiful, black horses followed by sixty carriages, two abreast, occupied by all the officials of the city, and accompanied by the police and fire departments, the schools, the lodges, and citizens by the thousands.
Aside from his regular profession, he is president of the Odd Fellows' Association, the Knights of Pythias' Temple Association, the Steam Railway Employees' Association, and the Rock City Coal Company; he is also director of the "Negro Combine" and the One Cent Savings Bank, and Chaplain of Co. " G," the Uniform Rank, Knights of Pythias.
Recently Mr. Taylor purchased beautiful " Greenwood Cemetery," a tract of forty acres of land located four miles southeast of Nashville, laid out in lots, walks and drives, ornamented with shrubs and trees.
In all his efforts he has had the aid of his wife, formerly one of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers, and a woman of strong sympathies, and invaluable to her husband.Source:Washington, Booker T. The Negro in Business. Hertel, Jenkins & Co. 1907. http://www.googlebooks.com (1 February 2009).