Black funeral directors sue Harrison Co. coroner claiming discrimination

Black funeral directors sue Harrison Co. coroner claiming discrimination

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - A group of funeral directors is suing Harrison County's coroner accusing him of steering the county's morgue, cremation, and burial business to white-owned funeral homes for the last 20 years. The suit also claims Coroner Gary Hargrove has refused to allow African American-owned funeral homes to handle the bodies of white decedents.

Since Harrison County does not have a morgue, whenever a death affecting the public occurs, the coroner selects a funeral home to remove the body. In addition to removals, funeral homes also provide what are known as "pauper's burials" or "pauper's cremations" when a person dies and remains unidentified, or their body isn't claimed by relatives. All these services are paid for using county funds, and the funeral home that gets the business is determined by the coroner.

Lawyers say they have obtained records from Harrison County showing almost All of the county's funeral-related funds were spent with local white-owned funeral homes. Even though African American funeral directors were equally positioned to provide services, Hargrove almost never used them.

"Coroner Hargrove has abused his office and the county taxpayers, black and white, by depriving black-owned businesses of an equal shot at county contracts and the considerable revenue over the years that such business would generate," said Steve Art, one of the attorneys for the black funeral directors.

"We are a family-owned business, serving our community for decades, as are All of the other black-owned businesses involved in this lawsuit," said Rev. Eddie Hartwell, owner of Hartwell Mortuaries. "We pay taxes, we participate in making our community a better place for All, regardless of race. We just want the simple fairness that our leaders have deprived us of for decades."

The federal lawsuit was filed Monday, and also names the Harrison County Board of Supervisors as a defendant. Read the full 23-page lawsuit here>>

WLOX News Now reached out to Coroner Gary Hargrove for his reaction to the lawsuit, but he declined to comment on the pending litigation.

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