Honoring the Tutwiler Funeral Homes 220 Hancock Street and 218 Hancock Street and Mrs. Ann Couteeby Representative Bennie G. Thompson
Posted on 2013-12-12
in the house of representatives
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Mr. THOMPSON of Mississippi. Mr. Speaker, I --rise today to honor two
historic sites in the Second ---Congressional District of Mississippi.
The Tutwiler ---Funeral Homes are both located in Tutwiler, MS. -------
Mr. Speaker it is important that I make mention of ---the addresses
of the Tutwiler Funeral Homes. The ---original one is located at 220
Hancock St. There is ---a newer structure located at 218 Hancock St. --
220 Hancock Street is the original Tutwiler Funeral --Home. History
has documented the funeral home ----as having several owners. When Mr.
C.M. ``Chick'' ---Nelson owned it, it was for
``blacks only.'' ----Although records do not date the funeral home ----
start, events in history that took place associated ---with it gives an
idea of the time and era. Then the ---funeral home was eventually
purchased by Mr. ----Edward Thomas and sold to Mrs. Ann Coutee for ----
$33,000 in 1981, who is still the current owner. ---When she purchased
it, the building was in need of ---repair and equipment. It came with
one old hearse ---and outdated embalming equipment. ---------
At a time when Mississippi was experiencing racial ---turmoil it
played a significant role in the ----embalming and burying of black
folks. On August ---31, 1955, the Tutwiler Funeral Home prepared the
remains of Emmett Till. At the time Mr. Woodrow ``Champ'' Jackson was
the embalmer who prepared his remains. In October 1985, Michael Anthony
Felton, a fifteen year old boy from Cleveland, MS, was believed to be
the first Aids victim in the State after having contracted it from a
blood transfusion. His family entrusted his remains to the Tutwiler
Funeral Home. His death captured statewide attention in both
Mississippi and Tennessee, and was even filmed for television. Robert
Turner, who was the son of Mrs. Coutee and in line to take over the
funeral home for his mother after becoming a licensed embalmer died
suddenly. Well, as you will know, Mrs. Coutee stepped in and handled
the entire arrangement of his burial. The Tutwiler Funeral Home has a
presence and reputation that has withstood time. It has traveled beyond
the city limits to handle the remains of loved ones all across
Mississippi and the United States (e.g., Chicago, IL; Providence, RI;
Mobile, AL; St. Louis, MO; Springfield, MO).
Black churches were significant sure enough for funeral, social events, and even civic meetings to say the least. But under the ownership of Mrs. Coutee the Tutwiler Funeral Home served dual roles. It was also a chapel for services and auditorium for blacks, as the town folks called it. The Tutwiler community was limited in its ability to provide recreational buildings, meeting halls, and public structures for blacks to meet. In 2002, Hurricane Isidore came through and toppled the historic Tutwiler Funeral Home. The remains of the building from the storm are still in place, where the ceiling buckled in on top of one of the hearse.
218 Hancock Street is home to the new Tutwiler Funeral Home. In 2002 after the original Tutwiler Funeral Home was destroyed, Mrs. Coutee immediately sprang into action to rebuild. She made sure the new structure maintained its ability to meet the needs of Tutwiler and all that have a need to use it because she included a chapel-meeting room.
In March 2013, Frank Ratliff, the son of Mrs. Z.L. Ratliff, the owner of the infamous Riverside Hotel in Clarksdale, MS, remains was in the care of the Tutwiler Funeral Home.
Mrs. Ann Coutee is still the owner of the Tutwiler Funeral Home. She moved back to Mississippi in 1977 as a 43-year-old widow of six children. Her education and training span across several occupations, real estate, school librarian, hospital manager, and a licensed cosmetologist in both Illinois and Mississippi. So, the funeral home business was not her initial or preferred choice. But she wanted to be a business owner, provide steady support for her children and build a business she could pass on to them, and serve the community.
Mrs. Coutee is the mother of six children, two boys and four girls. Her children are Margaret Turner, Sylvia Turner-Lottie, Patricia Turner-Sullivan, Reginald Turner, Robert Turner, and Saundra Hicks- Brown. Both Reginald and Robert are now deceased.
In the beginning she did all her own driving to pick up deceased individuals, traveling near and far, and oftentimes alone. She said embalming was never her choice but rather the cosmetics of preparation. Since the funeral home business was new to her, she joined the National Funeral Directors Association and maintained a membership for years. At her first meeting, she said, she could not figure out why she was the only black and a woman attending the meeting. Well, she soon learned the invitation to join was meant for the previous owner, Mr. Edward Thomas, a white male from Webb, MS. Not only did she learn that but while at the meeting, she was asked how she acquired the building because the all white membership said, ``black women don't own funeral homes unless they inherit it.'' Well, just so you will know, she responded, ``I do and I purchased it.'' Nevertheless, she stayed on because she was determined to learn the business and stay connected. Her struggles to stay on and learn the funeral home business is another story to be told later. Mr. Woodrow ``Champ'' Jackson remained on as her embalmer for many years. I am compelled to mention that under the ownership of Mrs. Coutee and funeral home director, Aaron Gunn III, the Tutwiler Funeral Home is open to people of all races and ethnic groups in need of burial services--that's right no more ``blacks only.'' Through that determination and grit, Mrs. Coutee managed to not only raise her children to be successful but as it turned out, none of them are in the funeral home business. Her success did not stop there because as time passed she managed to acquire other properties in Tutwiler. She is the owner of a large majority of the previously white owned businesses and vacant lots in town, 208 Hancock St., 210 Hancock St., 212 Hancock St., 214 Hancock St., 216 Hancock St., 218 Hancock St., 220 Hancock St., and 222 Hancock St.
Mr. Speaker, I ask my colleagues to join me in recognizing the Tutwiler Funeral Homes at 220 and 218 Hancock Street along with the owner Mrs. Ann Coutee for their contribution to the black community and black funeral home business.