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Manual Lists Funeral Homes by Race

December 13, 1987

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ The head of the Arkansas Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors says the board should have stopped distinguishing white-operated funeral homes from black-operated ones in a state-funded directory.

″In my opinion, the manual was a mistake,″ said board president Adam Robinson Jr. ″No state agency should be in the business of distinguishing people by race. I think among other things it’s illegal. If it’s not, it should be.″

The Manual of Laws Rules and Regulations, published by the board every three or four years, includes a directory with the word ″black″ appearing after the names of black-owned and operated funeral homes.

Robinson was on the board when the manual was published in 1985, and said the board ″screwed up″ when it didn’t drop the references. The manual is funded with licensing fees the board collects from the funeral home industry.

Robinson said he’ll ask the board in April to eliminate the racial identification when the directory is published again. He said he didn’t know when the next edition would be out.

Board secretary John W. Baker of Batesville said the racial identification was done at the request of black board members.

″It’s been the policy of the board for years. We’ve got three black board members, and they’ve wanted to retain that distinction,″ said Baker.

Baker said the directory and others published around the country are used for shipping purposes. He said if a person with family in Arkansas dies in Denver and the family wants the body shipped back to Arkansas for a funeral, the directory would help out-of-state funeral homes locate a funeral home to receive the body.

Baker said black funeral homes in Arkansas customarily cater only to blacks and whites don’t want a black funeral home to embalm their dead.

Adolf Stephens, a board vice president, disagreed with Baker, saying the race distinctions in the manual were not requested by the black board members.

Stephens also said the funeral industry in Arkansas is largely segregated, but disagreed with Baker that black funeral homes don’t want whites.

″I usually bury two or three (whites) a year,″ said Stephens, who owns a funeral home in West Helena. ″I’ll handle anybody. They both embalm alike.″

Charles Latimar, another black board member and operator of an embalming fluid manufacturing firm, says he also doesn’t like the policy.

″I think that in 1987, that would be inappropriate,″ he said. ″I think that the mext time we have a board meeting, I’m going to take it up with them.″

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