Roanoke’s oldest Black-owned funeral home celebrates 69 years of service

Black History Month

ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — Roanoke’s oldest Black-owned funeral home celebrated 69 years of service this February, but opening the doors of Hamlar-Curtis Funeral Home nearly seven decades ago was not easy.

“Carrying your story forward” is the focus for Michael Hamlar and his staff while serving the community.

“It really is an honor to be a part of this business,” Michael said.

Lawrence Hamlar

It all started with Michael’s great uncle Lawrence, along with Cecil and Marilyn Curtis all becoming business partners in 1952.

Cecil Curtis
Mariyln Curtis

However, banks in Roanoke would not give them a loan because they were African American.

Lawrence, Cecil, and Marilyn were forced to travel more than 90 minutes away to Danville to get a loan from a Black-owned bank.

“Back in the 1950s, that was a long travel,” Michael said.

The perseverance paid off. Hamlar-Curtis Funeral Home opened for business on Feb. 3, 1952 and passed through good hands over the years.

It is now in the third generation.

Before taking over, Michael played college football at Wake Forest University with his sights set on the pros.

That was all before a double dose of tragedy.

“My dad passed at 49 years old on December 12, 2003,” he said. “My Uncle Lawrence died on December 31, 2003.”

More than 17 years later, Michael and his brother Byron are at the helm.

“There wasn’t a question of whether I was coming back or not,” Michael said. I don’t regret one minute of it.”

“We enjoy being with each other probably about 12 hours a day,” Byron said. “We like serving the people.”

Serving people during their toughest times, and now navigating through that same diligence as the world deals with the historic COVID-19 pandemic is certainly a difficult task.

However, they remain committed to giving families’ loved ones the utmost respect.

“This is their final sendoff,” Michael said. “This is their final goodbye. This is their final celebration of life. We consider what we do here a ministry.”

Michael and Byron have no plans of letting the funeral home’s historic legacy die.

“Our goal is to change with the times and keeping our kids involved. See if they’re interested to be the fourth generation. Hopefully they would train them to go on to be the fifth generation and sixth generations as well.”

According to Michael, he has a vision to expand the funeral home and he plans to add another facility in Roanoke by 2023.

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