Jarnigan & Son Mortuary is a Black owned mortuary located in Knoxville, Tennessee. It is also the oldest continually operated Black owned business in the city of Knoxville.
It was established by Clem Jarnigan in 1886. Jarnigan grew up in Knoxville, opened up his own mortuary after serving as an apprentice for Lazarus C. Shepard.
Shepard was an undertaker, embalmer, and alderman who conducted the funeral of former President Andrew Johnson in Greeneville in 1875.
Jarnigan grew the business with the help of his son, Clark. In 1888, they moved into a newer location where they made their own caskets. In 1909 the company moved to a larger building that was remodeled several times and by the 1930’s had become a modern facility.
Before his death, Jarnigan buried 5,000 people and — thanks to “his integrity and his ability to take charge” — made Jarnigan & Son the largest Black-owned mortuary in the region, a local newspaper reported in a 1927 article about his death.
One of Clem Jarnigan’s four daughters, Goldie Mae, took control of the business after her father and brother died. Ownership passed to her husband, Wilbur Tate after she died in 1950. When Tate died in 1980, Beal Borne II, related to Tate’s wife by a previous marriage, took over the business has been running it for the past four decades.
He attributes the business’ longevity to its guiding principles: treating everyone with dignity, giving back to the community, and never turning anyone away.
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