Descendants of Chattanooga’s first black funeral home operator have continued the family’s legacy with the opening of John P. Franklin Funeral Home.
Mr. Franklin, his son, City Councilman John P. “Duke” Franklin Jr., and daughter Cheryl Franklin Key have opened the funeral at the former Turner Funeral Home at 1101 Dodds Ave.
“My father was the first African-American funeral operator in Chattanooga,” Mr. Franklin said. “I’m very fortunate to have a son and a daughter who feel as I do about the opportunity to once again operate a family-owned business.”
Staff Photo by John Rawlston-- From left, John P. “Duke” Franklin Jr., Cheryl Franklin Key and John P. Franklin are in the chapel of their new funeral home, which they own and operate together.
Mr. Franklin’s father, George W. Franklin, started Franklin Funeral Home in 1894, becoming the city’s first funeral director and embalmer, the family said. Mr. Franklin, his brother Ben and sister Mabel Franklin Taylor succeeded “G.W.” Franklin and operated the business until 1952, said company spokeswoman Karlene Claridy.
Later, Mr. Franklin, Mrs. Taylor, Fred Reynolds and Reuben Strickland formed a partnership to open Franklin-Strickland Funeral Home, which today is owned by a Texas company. Mr. Franklin, a former city commissioner, left Franklin-Strickland to join his children in forming the family-owned venture on Dodds Avenue.
Family members said they want to provide affordable funeral services to area residents and help them through their time of grief. The Franklin family expects to participate in the Ridgedale area’s revitalization, she said.
“It’s like an outreach ministry for us,” Mrs. Key said. “We believe it’s our calling to help people.”
Mr. Franklin is a licensed funeral director, and his son is a licensed funeral director and embalmer. Mrs. Key is a licensed funeral director apprentice. The funeral home, which opened last week, is full-service, Mrs. Claridy said.
For now, the family members are the sole workers, Mr. Franklin Jr. said, but they expect to hire as business grows. They offer pre-arranged plans, and under state law, someone who purchased a pre-arranged plan at another funeral home can transfer it elsewhere, he said.
The 18,500-square-foot John P. Franklin Funeral Home has five parlors, a chapel, large parking lot and a modern vehicle fleet, Mr. Franklin Jr. said.
They also have a vintage 1959 Cadillac Coupe de Fleur hearse that the family used decades ago, said Mr. Franklin Jr., who has a black-and-white photo of his grandfather’s horse-drawn hearse in his office.
“This brings us full-circle,” he said.