Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Murray Hill Mortician Finds Success in Funeral Business; Reginald McKinney Is Only African-American Undertaker in the Area

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Murray Hill Mortician Finds Success in Funeral Business; Reginald McKinney Is Only African-American Undertaker in the Area

Article excerpt

Byline: MARY MARAGHY

Three years ago, when 32-year-old Reginald McKinney opened a funeral home in Murray Hill, he became one of Jacksonville's youngest undertakers and the Riverside-Murray Hill-Ortega area's only minority mortician.

McKinney, a 1996 graduate of Paxon School for Advanced Studies who grew up in North Jacksonville and now lives in Arlington, has found success, satisfaction and insight to the unique and ever-changing grave business.

McKinney chose Murray Hill because there are no other African-American funeral homes in the area.

"Black families go to a black funeral home," McKinney said, shrugging. "It's just always been that way."

Sadly, he said, about a third of the 50 funerals he arranged last year were for murder victims.

Before running his own show, McKinney worked for other funeral homes for about a decade. He said he's learned that no two families are alike. Traditions, cultures and values are different, he said.

Generally, he said, white families want serene, sacred services with the top half of the casket open.

However, he said, for African-American families, it's more about a show, or entertainment.

They prefer the full casket open to showcase their loved one's attire, jewelry and designer shoes. One family had separate outfits for the deceased to wear - one for the viewing and another for the service. And once, a mother asked McKinney if he could somehow showcase her late son's gold grill. Laws prohibit exposed orifices so he couldn't do it.

McKinney owns and operates his funeral home in a leased storefront on Edgewood Avenue South. There, the slight, soft-spoken man goes from business suit to medical scrubs as he meets with grieving families, embalms and dresses the deceased and arranges and hosts memorial services.

He sees his work as a ministry that blossomed in him when he was a teenager and very close to his grandparents. Many days after school, he helped feed and bathe his ailing grandmother until she died. Then, during his senior year, his beloved grandfather died.

"It was a very difficult time for my family," McKinney said.

It was also a career-defining occasion.

His family's funeral director was Samuel Rogers, who McKinney described as a kind, compassionate and well-dressed man who provided much-needed comfort and support at the time.

"I was taken in by the way he handled people. He took the focus off the sad part," McKinney said. "We didn't have much insurance money. But he took what we had and built a nice service around it."

After that, McKinney decided to adopt Rogers' career path and methods. …

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