BLACK HISTORY MONTH: Oldest Black-Owned Business in Lansing

Michigan

LANSING, MICH. (WLNS) – 64 years later, Riley’s Funeral Home is still standing. It is the oldest Black-owned business in Lansing.

The family-owned business started with James Riley Sr. and his wife Daresa Riley. It was later passed on to their son James Riley Jr.

“I was raised in the funeral home,” James Jr. said.

At three years old James Jr. started his work in the family business passing out programs during services. Years later he earned a Mortuary in Science Certificate from Wayne State University in Detroit.

“I guess it was always just in my blood. And I never felt seriously about doing anything else,” he said. “Working with families and helping them move through such an important period of their life is very gratifying as well.”

Aside from helping families say goodbye to their loved ones, James Jr. says his favorite part is the embalming process.

“You get to express yourself through art, and that’s how I see it. Many people pass away and they’re not in their best condition. And being able to improve their condition, and present a good memory picture for them to hold for the rest of their lives, that’s very gratifying,” he said.

The funeral became busy as people lost their lives due to COVID-19. They reduced its capacity from nearly 100 guests to 20. This made it harder for families to say their last goodbyes to their loved ones.

Being the longest-standing Black-owned business in Lansing, James Jr. realizes the history his family made.

“Proud it’s been in our family all that time, and I think my parents would be very proud.”

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