In 1916, it was extremely rare to find an African-American-owned business, especially in the south. Segregation and discrimination made it nearly impossible for black people to go about their daily lives, much less operate their own company. But when Henry Preston Scales opened the Scales and Sons Funeral Home in Tennessee, he proved to be the exception to the rule. Now, 101 years later, that funeral home still serves the community in Rutherford County.
Tonya Scales Haynes runs the home now. She told WKRN that she’s the fourth generation of her family to do so, and she hopes one day to pass it down to her own daughters. For their family, the home is more than just a way to make a living; they feel it’s their duty to keep it going.
“This is not just a business, it’s a ministry,” said Scales Haynes. “We believe in loving and helping families.”
Aside from being one of the first black-owned businesses to open in Rutherford County, Scales and Sons is one of the oldest funeral homes in the area. But even more notable than their longevity is the family’s generosity.
Scales Haynes noted that when the home opened, “The form of payment families used back then was cash or chickens for families who didn’t have [the money]. Also, the helping hands burial associations for people who couldn’t afford to bury their loved ones.”
That benevolence has also been passed down through the generations, says Madelyn Scales Harris. The granddaughter of the home’s original owners and vice-mayor of Murfreesboro told WKRN, “We’ve tried to [factor] in all facets of society here in Murfreesboro in education, community, in politics, and personal.”
The family is keeping tradition alive in more ways than one. Scales and Sons still has their original horse-drawn hearse on display behind glass. Although 2 million people own horses in the U.S. today, they’re more commonly used for recreation, rather than transportation or work. That wasn’t the case 100 years ago, when these carriages were commonly used for funerals. Now, the Scales and Sons (and daughters) authentic buggy provides a deeper sense of heritage.
“It’s a wonderful sign of dignity, royalty,” explains Scales Haynes. “Some of the presidents have been carried in horse-drawn carriage buggies.”
And while making a visit to a funeral home isn’t typically a pleasant one, the Scales family has made it their mission to provide comfort and personalized care for local families when they need it the most.
And, in addition to the original business, the family has now expanded their offerings. With the opening of the New Generation Funeral Home in Antioch, the Scales family will be able to serve an even wider portion of the community — maybe even for another century to come.