DETROIT MEMORIAL PARK ASSOCIATION, INC.
Detroit. The East cemetery is located on eighty-five acres at 4280 East Thirteen Mile Road in Warren. The West cemetery, a sixty-two acre site, is located at 25200 Plymouth Road in Redford. Gracelawn, a fifty-acre cemetery, is located at 5710 North Saginaw in Flint.
Prior to 1925, blacks in Detroit suffered unspeakable indignities because of the white-operated cemeteries. A few of these cemeteries allowed burials of blacks but only on certain designated days and at inconvenient burial hours. Added to this were the exorbitant fees that were charged for the burial of a black person.
This embarrassment and degradation inspired a small group of business and professional men, under the leadership of funeral director Charles C. Diggs, Sr. to purchase land for a cemetery of their own. The Detroit Memorial Park Association was incorporated in July 1925, with thirteen persons selected as the first board of directors. Among the fifty initial investors who purchased shares in 1925 and 1926 were: Charles C. Diggs, Sr.; Robert I. Greenidge, M.D.; Rev. Robert L. Bradby; Haley Bell, DDS; Aaron Toodle; Henry S. Dunbar; Walter O. Allen, M.D.; Cornelius L. Henderson; and Walton A. Lewis.
The cemetery grounds are divided into sections and in some areas, into gardens, each with its distinctive feature or marker, bearing names such as “Garden of the Cross”, “Garden of Love”, and “Garden of Prayer”. There are also sections for burials of children and a “veteran’s” section. After some years, the Detroit Memorial Park board began to give serious consideration to the purchase of National Memorial Gardens, a sixty-two acre cemetery located at 25200 Plymouth Road, Redford, Michigan. On July 8, 1987, the Board met to inspect the grounds, and soon after voted to purchase the property. The closing of the sale to the now-named Detroit Memorial Park West took place on June 25, 1988.
Immediate changes and improvements to buildings, signs, fences, and the grounds were made. The West cemetery had a steady and consistent growth. The company simultaneously beautified the grounds, improved the roads, constructed two mausoleums and late in the year 2000 broke ground for a new office building on the grounds.
In 1996, Detroit Memorial Park directors and stockholders agreed to purchase Gracelawn Cemetery, a 50-acre property in Flint, Michigan. This once beautiful cemetery had met with hard times and many Flint citizens were greatly disturbed by the appearance and neglect. After the purchase, the company made changes and improvements to the office building and grounds. The city now views the cemetery with pride.
In 2004 a beautiful new mausoleum and chapel were built at the East cemetery. The additional mausoleum is adjacent to the mausoleum that was completed in 2001 and attached to a beautiful new “chapel of the old rugged cross” that serves as a place to hold services and allows ease of visitation 365 days a year.
Detroit Memorial Park West of Redford, Michigan recently completed a major renovation effort that included a new entrance and gates, re-asphalting of roads, the addition of a Committal Chapel and the expansion of its mausoleum. The dedication service for Hope Mausoleum was held May 31, 2009.
The Hope Mausoleum contains 840 crypts and over 400 cremation niches. Clearstory windows surround the chapel ceiling to allow an abundance of natural lighting with the state of the art sound system and 24 hours security surveillance.
As mentioned, Detroit Memorial Park was a child of necessity created by the city’s black community in its pursuit of racial pride and human dignity. As a result of the efforts of founders, shareholders, and supporters, the cemetery has been able to provide dignified burials for all. In addition, the cemetery association has returned significant portions of its earnings to the community through wages, donations to numerous organizations, and, during a period of economic depression, extended loans to residents. This attention to the needs of the community has produced one of the oldest and most profitable African American businesses in the state. The book Detroit Memorial Park: The Evolution of an African American Corporation by Roberta Wright relates the complete story of the cemetery, from its inception in 1925 to the present time. The story’s interest lies not only in its description of the cemetery, but also as a chronicle of an African American corporation in the United States.
In the days, when so many corporations are experiencing difficulties, Detroit Memorial Park has maintained profitability. Throughout the years the company has always paid dividends and has exceeded requirements for perpetual care payments and obligations to the State of Michigan.
The Detroit area has a rich heritage of black-owned funeral homes. They are distinctive in setting, but universal in maintaining high standards and good business practices. On Memorial Day, May 31, 1976, the State of Michigan, designating Detroit Memorial as an official historic site, installed a historic marker on the cemetery ground. Among those interred at this historic burial ground is Elijah McCoy. Born in Canada, McCoy studied in Scotland and moved to Ypsilanti, Michigan, after the Civil War. Interested in science, McCoy acquired some fifty-seven patents for his inventions, devices primarily connected with the automatic fabricator he designed for moving machinery. One of McCoy’s most important and valuable efforts was the “drip cup”, a small container filled with oil that flowed to the moving parts of heavy-duty machinery. This device for perfecting overall lubrication systems continues to be used in large industry today. McCoy was buried in Detroit Memorial Park in 1929.
Current Board Members, all related to the 1925 investors are Dr. C. Robert Bass DDS, President; Wilbur B. Hughes, III, General Manager; William Andrews, Jr.; Robert Bell Bass; George Dunbar, Jr.; Allen Rawls; Winona Allen Rawls and Roberta Hughes Wright. Tibebu W. Tsadik is the company’s controller.
Dr. Bass is only the fourth company president in the company’s eight decades of services to the metro Detroit area. Previous presidents were Aaron C. Toodle, Dr. Haley Bell, and the Honorable Richard Austin.