Barnum Funeral Home continuing work set by founders for 5 generations

Updated: Feb. 24, 2020 at 2:00 PM EST
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AMERICUS, Ga. (WALB) - For five generations, Barnum Funeral Home in Americus has continued the work begun by its founders.

That work? Breaking down barriers for others.

A Fisk University graduate is carrying the torch for the business, passing it along to her children and grandchildren.

Even their motto encompasses the history and legacy of Barnum Funeral Home — Same family. Same community. Same service.

That spirit of community has continued for 115 years.

“Someone had to go through the door and hold it open for everyone else,” Lorena Barnum Sabbs, current operator, said.

Opening doors for others, then and now, for five generations, the family of the Barnum Funeral Home in Americus is continuing the legacy of its founders.

Lorena Barnum Sabbs sits down with WALB's Karla-Heath Sands.
Lorena Barnum Sabbs sits down with WALB's Karla-Heath Sands.(Source: WALB)
Lorena Barnum Sabbs, current operator of Barnum Funeral Home.
Lorena Barnum Sabbs, current operator of Barnum Funeral Home.(Source: WALB)

“Great grandparents founded this business," Sabbs said. "My great grandfather started as a carpenter. He was the local carpenter. Then people started asking him to do more. Then in 1905, he went to Cincinnati and became licensed to become an embalmer and funeral director.”

At a time when younger generations are choosing different paths from the family business or choosing not to continue civil rights legacies, the Barnum legacy of civic engagement has continued.

“I grew up that my great grandfather, my grandfather, my father, we’ve always worked for ourselves. Not a lot of families, black or white, are able to work for yourself. Now, you work harder and make less. But you are self-sustaining, I guess,” Sabbs said.

“There was not a time between any of those generations where Barnum Funeral Home has not been a leader in civil rights events and movement. My father was treasurer of the Sumter County Movement. My grandmother was considered the black mayor, my mother was known for being outspoken. She taught for 20 years. She would say, ‘if you don’t want me to be like I am, send me home.’ I can go to Barnum Funeral and work,'” Sabbs said.

“My father told me and I have told my children, being a funeral home director in the black community is more than just a business, we are one of the few entities that are self-sustained. If the white community becomes angry because of something you speak for, there’s a layer of protection. Your community is where you make your living.”

Although Barnum Funeral Home is rooted in serving the black community, they have had residents of other races reach out to them for burial service, all because of their community involvement.

Sabbs was recognized by the New York Times for her work.

Now, her grandchildren are working to take over the family business — Same family. Same community. Same service.

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