In case you had been fortunate sufficient to have Alice Theresa Baysmore-Manns bury you, she would have accomplished so wearing an exceptionally stunning coat. Fawn-gray cashmere, with a voluptuous fur collar, a red-silk lining, and a self-belt, it was the sort of elegant, correct coat that signified the decorum you’d need at a funeral. Even Manns’s youngsters, who attended many of the funerals she directed, could be turned out for the event. “If you rode within the hearse, you’d have your little bonnet in your head, your little footwear, your little stockings, your little white gloves,” Renata Manns-Henderson, one among Manns’s daughters, recalled not too long ago. “To at the present time, my household doesn’t go wherever with out our hats and gloves.”
Alice Manns (1935-2022) handed away in January. Earlier than her demise, she was named because the oldest residing licensed Black feminine mortician in Baltimore, Maryland, by the Nationwide Funeral Administrators and Morticians Affiliation. She was born into the career. In 1902, her ancestor Robert Elliott was one of many early African Individuals in Baltimore to formally obtain an undertaker’s license. His institution, the Robert A. Elliott Funeral Residence, got here to occupy a stout three-story constructing on the nook of Caroline and Biddle Streets. It flourished. At the moment, Baltimore had one of many largest Black populations within the nation. Funeral houses and cemeteries had been racially separate. Within the time of Jim Crow, Black funeral administrators weren’t allowed to hitch skilled associations. (In 1904, they fashioned their very own group, the Coloured Funeral Administrators Affiliation, which might later turn out to be the Nationwide Funeral Administrators and Morticians Affiliation.) Funeral houses usually had been household companies. When Elliott died, his widow took over. She had lengthy assisted her husband on the house, and was finally awarded a license of her personal, in 1916.
The Robert A. Elliott Funeral Residence, later referred to as the Elickson Funeral Residence, was handed from one feminine member of the household to the following. Manns’s great-grandmother, her grandmother, and her mom all took their turns on the helm. Manns’s father, who served within the Second World Battle, had lived via the assault on Pearl Harbor and returned from the conflict shell-shocked, however he assisted his spouse within the working of the house, principally doing hairdressing on the deceased. Manns grew up enjoying within the parlor of the funeral house, attending companies, watching her mom greet and console households and put together her remarks. In highschool, she was concerned with an etiquette-and-manners membership generally known as the Cotillions. Apparently, she was recruited by an order of nuns after highschool. Though she was tempted, she went on to what was then Morgan State Faculty, and later obtained her funeral director’s license, becoming a member of her mom within the enterprise. When her mom retired, she managed it on her personal. Her husband, Charles Manns, pitched in from time to time—he had performed semi-professional soccer, and Manns-Henderson stated that he was good at choosing up and shifting our bodies—however Manns ran the present.
She was very specific concerning the tone she set at her funeral companies, which was formal, perhaps even slightly old style. She beloved her job. She was keen about doing it properly. She was undaunted by the unusualness of her place on the head of a enterprise normally run by males. “Again within the day, females who labored at funeral houses had been simply within the workplace, not conducting companies,” Dr. Hari Shut II, the president of the Nationwide Funeral Administrators and Morticians Affiliation, defined. “As a result of Mrs. Manns was from the Elliott household, she may break that barrier. However, when you concentrate on it, the very first funeral administrators had been ladies. I received’t go all Biblical now, however because the starting ladies all the time had been those washing and anointing our bodies.”
The Robert A. Elliott Funeral Residence was a neighborhood hub. All through historical past, Black funeral houses had been central to their communities in additional than the anticipated methods. In the course of the Civil Rights period, activists had been typically transported hidden in hearses, permitting them to journey undetected. A funeral director comparable to Manns had a place nearly as central as a preacher. She knew each household locally and had buried generations of them. She carried out funerals without cost if a household couldn’t pay, and if somebody was arduous up for money or in want of recent garments she may very well be turned to for assist.
After Manns retired, the house as she knew it, which had been sustained for 5 generations of her household, got here to an finish. The constructing is now condos. However Manns saved her funeral coat and, in 2020, when she was invited to participate in a Black Lives Matter parade, she pulled it out of her closet. “She may nonetheless put on it!” Shut stated. “I used to be so awed by that sort of coat that I took photos of it.” Manns was proud to be within the parade, though she didn’t just like the casual approach that a few of the younger ladies dressed, Manns-Henderson stated. “She believed that, for the event, you needed to costume in a sure approach.”