The Last Colored Undertaker

There was but one colored undertaker and he had charge of all funerals of his race. The last one to fill this office bore the euphonious name of Mintus. He was tall, spare, and angular, with grizzly locks, full on the sides of his head, but wanting on the scalp. But this last defect was not observed when he was on the street conducting a funeral, for then he wore a bell-crowned hat that seemed older than himself. The other features of his dress was he wore on state occasions – albeit a funeral was a state occasion- a long blue, swallow-tail coat, with brass buttons; and when he stepped, in long strives, the coat tails nearly touched the ground, till his lank figure came up for another strive. Gloves he never wore, and with scarf and flowers and ribbons he was not familiar.It took Mintus some time to organize a funeral, but when everything was ready, he gave the signal to move by walking ahead of the hearse in the middle of the street, one hand under his coat tail and taking long strives which carried him some distance ahead of his charge; then he turned his head, and jerking his thumb over his shoulder, exclaimed in a horse whisper, “Come along with that corpse!” This was repeated from time to time till they reached the grave, where Mintus sought to do everything decently and in order, which meant with him as much pomp and ceremony as he could muster.

In a common burial ground, the spot that was used by all the inhabitants of Newport before the Island Cemetery was laid out, the briers and the ivy creep through the grass and cling to stones so moss-grown and crumbling that one often finds it difficult to decipher them; and, in the still neglected parts, no hand has sought to plant the lily and the rose over the graves of the humble dead. Here lies the remains of many faithful servants, whose worth is recorded in some simple line. Here Mintus found a resting place, and for him there can be no more fitting epitaph than these words, “He was a good man, respected by all that knew him.”

From: Reminiscences of Newport, by George Champlin Mason, Published by Charles E. Hammett, Jr. 1884