By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
Davenport & Harris Funeral Homes, Inc., oldest active, family-owned business in Birmingham and oldest active funeral home in Alabama, on Wednesday celebrated the completion of its new cremation center with a ribbon cutting ceremony that brought out elected officials, business and community leaders.
“Today, we hear the voices of our ancestors, we see the footprint of our ancestors. Today, we thank the families that have supported Davenport and Harris for 121 years,” said Marion P. Sterling, president of Davenport and Harris.. “. . . We pledge to carry the legacy of our forefathers with dignity, respect and honor, we pledge to continue to serve all families no matter of their race, creed or color with professional and passionate service and we are honored to give back to the community of Titusville and the city of Birmingham.”
Davenport and Harris opened on Sept. 12, 1899 by siblings Charles Morgan Harris and Hattie Davenport when white funeral homes would not do business with blacks. Sterling said the family wanted to provide service where people in the community could bury their loved ones and be treated with dignity and respect.
“Today, with great appreciation we acknowledge and thank the past and present employees and management team… for their dedication and commitment in delivering passionate, professional services to the families that we serve,” he said.
Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Tyson, who represents the area, said the new center is another step in the revitalization of Titusville.
“All of the puzzle pieces are coming together and it’s nothing but God and the vision and hard work of a community,” said Tyson. “… The facility is wonderful, and I am just so full for the community. It’s not one person benefitting off this, there is thousands of people who will benefit from this one project.”
Birmingham City Councilor Crystal Smitherman, who also represents that district, said it was fitting that the opening occurred during Black History Month.
“We need to be reminded this project is Black History… it’s very important that we are grateful for those who came before us and hold on to the reality of the present and have hope for the future,” said Smitherman. “I really appreciate Davenport & Harris because they have breathed life back into this community. When a business thrives, the community thrives.”
Sterling, born and raised in South Titusville, where he still lives, has said plans are underway for the funeral home to have three buildings on the property across from Elmwood Cemetery.
The first will support funeral and/or cremation services. The second will be utilized as a community life center for events, such as repasts, the gathering of family and friends after a funeral, and community meetings; it also will have a nonprofit to support seminars and events for youth and seniors. The third building will be used as a second chapel.
“We’re hoping our renovation will spark other businesses to come into the area,” he said in an interview with the Birmingham Times last year.