After a person dies, it takes approximately a week before the memorial service. Traditionally, within the African American family, it is important to have the immediate family and close friends present. In some cases, the memorial service may be postponed ensuring that everyone is able to attend. The day before the memorial, a Wake or Viewing is held, in which family and friends gather to view the body. In earlier times, the wake would take place in the family’s home, however, most wakes are now held at the funeral parlor. The wake represents a time for family and friends to gather and say goodbye to the deceased. It is also a time to pay respect to the family. Food can be served at the home or church after a wake.
The Wake (or Viewing)
The Day of the Funeral
Before the family enters the church, friends and other attendees at the memorial service are given an opportunity to view the body once more. The immediate family and other relatives walk down the aisle toward the casket. Seating on the left side of the church is usually designated for the family. The funeral begins with the reading of the Bible, followed by a song that is either sung by a choir or a family member. The obituary is read, and then the pastor delivers the eulogy.
The Flower Girls
In addition to the pallbearers who carry the casket, African American funerals have flower girls who are responsible for carrying the flowers placed on or around the casket. Flowers girls are usually the nieces, cousins or close friends of the deceased. They usually sit together in the first few rows opposite the family. At the end of the eulogy and after the last prayer, they are signaled to come retrieve the flowers, which are placed by the grave or loaded into the hearse.
The funeral procession also called the last ride among some southern African Americans, is the idea that deceased is spiritually “going home”. The immediate family rides directly behind the hearse to the cemetery, followed by other funeral attendees. The funeral procession rides with the headlights or emergency blinkers on and some African Americans place purple flags on the antenna. Typically, at the grave, the body is buried with the feet facing east so the spirit can rise on Judgment Day