African American Funeral Service Rituals

Although African Americans are diverse in their religious beliefs, geographic regions, economic status, and family traditions, there are a few aspects of funeral services that are common among American blacks. For example, family members, close friends and even acquaintances are expected to attend the service. In some cases, the service may even be postponed to ensure that everyone can be there.

Recommended Reading: Cross Cultural Funerals

Other aspects of African American funeral services that have remained traditional, particularly among southern families, are:

  • Flower girls, the female counterpart of a pallbearer, offer special attention to grieving family members.
  • “Nurses” are sometimes present to aid a mourner who becomes overwhelmed with emotion.
  • Musical performances are presented by a choir and/or loved ones.
  • A large assortment of flowers to decorate the coffin is common.

The most distinguishing characteristic in African American funeral services is keening, the dramatic expression of sorrow. At a traditional African American funeral, it is common for grieving family members and friends to cry and wail at the loss of their loved one. In some cases, if family members do not react this way, others assume that the deceased was not loved and his death is not mourned. However, as blacks assimilate, keening has decreased.

Although there are only a small number of common elements among African American funerals, their services remain a unique, but diverse part of American culture.

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Go to Index of Funeral Customs
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