Black-owned Funeral Home Offers Living Souls A Lift To The Polls

Nov 3, 2020

A Black-owned funeral home in Asheville is sending out its fleet of limousines to pick up voters and drive them to the polls. 

Hart Funeral Service, just off of Southside Ave., is the oldest black-owned funeral home in Asheville. 

Cody McCain is the funeral director. He says the idea for offering free rides to the polls came about over the summer. With the rise of racial tension during a global pandemic, they felt a need to show solidarity.

“Where there may be suppression, or where there may be those hindrances to voters, particularly minorities, to really let them know, we can help you, we are here to help," McCain said. "Not just in time of death, we are here to serve our community as well.”

 

Funeral director Cody McCain stands by a wall honoring Hart Funeral Service's namesake and previous owner, Osborne Hart. He purchased the business in 1974 when it was Wilkins Mortuary. McCain says the business is the longest-running black-owned funeral home in Asheville, dating back to the 1900s.
Credit Cass Herrington / BPR News

The limos normally seat seven, but to allow for social distancing, they’re limiting the number of passengers to three. McCain says he’s also working on a playlist to lift riders' spirits. 

 

“We were talking about that the other day, we ought to play some appropriate songs, we actually thought of this one gospel song called, ‘I want to take a ride.’ I thought that would be funny, but appropriate!,” he said.

 

The undertaker says his time with the dead and the grieving has taught him an important lesson about life. McCain says every day is an opportunity to lift up others while we’re here. He adds, he hopes voters take that message with them to the voting booth.

 

On election day morning, McCain picked up his first passenger at 10am outside of her home near West Asheville. Ann-Lee Waite says the free ride was like an answer from "the spirit." If someone hadn't told her the service was available, she wouldn't have made it out to vote because she doesn't have a car.

 

Waite says the primary thing on her mind is racial injustice.

 

"We've been pacified with this story about America being the 'land of opportunity' and 'equal and justice for all,' but that hasn't been the truth," Waite said. "It's been justice and liberty if you have a white body. If you have a brown body or a black body, it's not for you."

 

Ann-Lee Waite rides in the back of a limo to her voting site Tues.
Credit Cass Herrington / BPR News

That's why she decided to raise her son outside of the US, she says, so he could be buffered from oppressive Black narratives. She moved to North Carolina from the Carribean seven years ago. She says now, it feels like the country is waking up, but the work toward racial equity continues.

“It’s very significant,” she said, wiping a tear from her cheek. “The resilience of people of color is significant. That we can still be here decades and decades after the Civil Rights movement and Black funeral homes are doing this work.” 

 

After voting, a poll watcher followed her to the parking lot to explain that her ballot might not be counted. She had to use a provisional ballot because she moved to a different precinct in the time since she last registered to vote. The poll watcher told Waite her paperwork would be reviewed and there was a chance her vote wouldn't be counted.

That put a damper on what was supposed to feel like an accomplishment. But Waite says she hopes this shines a light on how voting is difficult for many people. 

"And, try to navigate a system that isn’t very understanding of that, isn’t very compassionate to the realities," said Waite. "Because the people who write these policies they themselves haven’t been homeless. They don’t have the experience.”

Waite says the system should be more accommodating to those like her -- people who lack transportation and permanent housing but are eager to participate in government and shape those policies.

This story has been updated with interview excerpts gathered on election day.