Black Funeral Directors Sue Mississippi Coroner For Steering Government Contracts to White Funeral Homes

Tax Monies Used to Enforce Racial Segregation For Decades, Federal Suit Says

GULFPORT, MS – A federal lawsuit filed today accuses the Coroner of Harrison County of steering the County’s morgue, cremation, and burial business to white-owned funeral homes. The suit also recounts how the Coroner has refused to allow African American-owned funeral homes to handle the bodies of white decedents.

Rev. Eddie Hartwell - Hartwell's Christian Mortuary
Rev. Eddie Hartwell – Hartwell’s Christian Mortuary

The African American funeral directors and their families filed suit against the coroner, Gary Hargrove, and the Harrison County Board of Supervisors. “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.”

Records obtained from Harrison County show that 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, Coroner Gary 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.

The funeral home plaintiffs are represented in part by Mike Kanovitz, Steve Art and Gretchen Helfrich of Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law, one of the largest civil rights law firms in the country. Loevy & Loevy has

Pamela Dickey - Dickey Brothers Memorial Funeral Home
Pamela Dickey – Dickey Brothers Memorial Funeral Home

won more multi-million dollar jury verdicts than any other civil rights law firm in the entire country over the past decade.

The funeral home plaintiffs are also represented by long time civil rights and criminal defense lawyer Rob McDuff of the law office of McDuff & Byrd in Jackson, Mississippi.

A copy of the suit, No. 16-cv-266-HSO-JCG, is available here: Theodore Williams, et al., vs. Gary Hargrove, et al.


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