The Cole family has a long lineage of Detroit funeral homes. Brothers James H. Cole and Charles T. Cole, sons of a former slave, each opened their own business in 1919.
James H. Cole, Sr.
James H. Cole founded his funeral home along St. Aubin in Black Bottom. This first funeral home later moved to E. Warren, before shuttering during the Great Depression. Once the economy regained its footing, he reopened in a different building on E. Warren, and remained there until 1962. By then, James H. Cole, Jr. had followed his father into business.
In 1962, they moved onto West Grand Boulevard, moving to their , right next to the Motown studios. James H. Cole, Sr. passed away in 1970, leaving his son as President of the company. By 1975, Cole’s daughter Karla joined the business. She would go on to take over the business after the death of her father in 1991. She is currently the President of the company, and she has been joined in business by her sons Antonio and Brice Green, both licensed morticians.
As the company reaches their hundred-year milestone, they have maintained four generations of Detroit undertakers. They tout themselves as the oldest black funeral home in Detroit, and they are certainly the longest running, and with the youngest generation just starting, James H. Cole, Sr.’s legacy will likely continue for years to come. They are still located near the Motown Museum on West Grand Boulevard, and are one of the most prominent funeral homes in the city.
Charles T. Cole, Sr.
Brother of James H. Cole, Sr., Charles T. Cole established his first funeral home at St. Antoine and High Streets in 1919, the same year his brother opened his business on St. Aubin.
A relative, Leonine Cole, told a story of Cole, Sr. standing up against mistreatment in Detroit cemeteries. One name that comes up many times is Roseland Park, a cemetery along Woodward in Royal Oak. The story told is that upon arriving at the front gates, the gatekeeper would not allow them to enter, directing them to the back entrance. When Cole refused, the man stood firm, so Cole took a look at his hearse, called “Big Red” and told the gatekeeper that they would go through the front gate regardless. The driver revved the engine, and rather than standing between the threatening hearse and the entrance, the gatekeeper allowed them passage.
Like his brother, Cole, Sr. had an heir to his business, Charles T. Cole, Jr., who became licensed in 1946. Cole, Jr. first worked for his father, before managing the House of Diggs chain for many years, later going on to form his own funeral home.