Lake Providence, LA/East Carroll Parish, LA Mortuaries

The current population of Lake Providence, LA is 5,104, and the current population of East Carroll Parish, LA is 8,166.  In lieu of this, it may come as a surprise that there are currently three mortuaries in the area that are utilized by it's citizens. Unfortunately, the decision on the utilization of a mortuary is still largely made along racial lines.  The positive side of this is that it eliminates the need to visit a number of places to look for death and burial records in the parish.

What Were the Burial Practices in the Area?

Due to the cost of embalming, most people were usually buried within one to two days of their death.  This was to prevent the body from significantly decaying when being viewed at a funeral service.  Reference for this is apparent in the following death certificates: Alice Hearn(s), died June 23, 1918, buried June 24, 1918; King Atlas, Jr., died June 10, 1919, buried June 11, 1919; John Atlas, died December 23, 1924, buried December 24, 1924.

In addition, many people could not afford headstones, so a large majority of burials may not be unaccounted for if the cemetery did not maintain accurate records.

When Did Wide Use of Embalming Start?

It is widely known that the process of embalming did not explode in use in the United States until the Civil War.  This was the case because embalming made it possible for family members of a solider to be able to see their loved ones in a preserved state following their death in the war.  Subsequently, the first president to be embalmed was President Abraham Lincoln.  This made it possible for his body to be taken to several cities and viewed throughout the north.

Who Were The Earliest Embalmers/Undertakers In East Carroll Parish?

Based upon historical records, we know that at least one mortuary operated for both African Americans and Caucasians from the period 1870 to December 1926.  The mortuary, operated by John Williams, was noted in the Civil War Pension file of Louis Carson, who was the husband of Caroline Carson.  In his deposition for the file, Williams states the following:

"I am 77 years of age; P.O. Lake Providence, La.  I am [an] undertaker and embalmer in the town of Lake Providence and have been for the past forty eight years."
John Williams, May 6, 1918
Civil War Pension File obtained from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Washington, DC; US Civil War Veterans Pension Files, Case #1066,472, Lewis Carson, Page 30, Deposition J

With this said, it can be assumed that John Williams' service was probably one of the oldest in the parish.  John Williams was born in Wales in 1841 and died January 4, 1927 in Lake Providence, East Carroll Parish, LA.  Nearly all Atlas family members that we have obtained death certificates for from the period 1914 (when the state mandated death certificates) to December 1926 have John Williams listed as their undertaker.

A number of death certificates for Atlas family members also list someone with the name R. Bell.  This is specifically the case for a couple years before the death of John Williams.  Using John Williams death date as a reference, a search was conducted on the 1930 US Census to locate Caucasian males with the name R. Bell in East Carroll Parish.  We were able to locate a man named Richard Bell, who had a furniture store.  Several Atlas family members have noted that one of the first mortuaries they remembered was one where the African American services were held at the back of a furniture store.   Richard Bell died May 29, 1948 in Lake Providence, East Carroll Parish, LA.

Many African Americans in the area were insulted when they had to have funeral services at the back of a furniture store.  In lieu of this, the African Americans in the area formed an association where they pooled their money together to send one of their own to school to become a funeral director.  Nookie House was initially chosen and sent to Fisk University in Nashville.  Unfortunately, things did not work out with Nookie House, and William Brannum was sent in his place.  William Brannum then began operating as a funeral director in the area and started what was then called Majestic Funeral Home.  The name was later changed to Brannum Funeral Home as per William's daughter, the late Elizabeth (Brannum) Trass.  

An additional African American mortuary in the area is Harris Funeral Home, which was started by JB Harris and continued by his wife, Narva Lee (Hardin) Harris after his death.  Narva Lee ran the funeral home for a number of years and following her retirement, the funeral home is now run by her grandson, Joesph Jackson.   Joseph Jackson is also the current president of the East Carroll Parish Police Jury.

Cox Funeral Home has been operating in the area for an extended period of time.  It is currently the only funeral home in the area that has a website and provides obituaries, free of charge, to the public.   


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