|Charles Morgan Harris Family Photo 1920
Davenport and Harris Funeral Home Incorporated was
established in September 12, 1899 and is the oldest African American family owned and operated business in the State of Alabama.
Charles Morgan "Boss" Harris, founder, was born in Mobile, Alabama on August 3, 1871. Charles, along
with his sister Hattie C. Davenport, moved to Montgomery, Alabama in 1889. After working at several odd jobs and attending
Alabama State Normal School for Colored, he began working for the late Henry A. Loveless Undertaking Company.
In 1893, Charles M. "Boss" Harris
married Mattie Bell Saffold of Selma, Alabama. Later in that same year, Charles, who had by now earned the nickname
"Boss," moved with his new bride and his sister Hattie to Birmingham. Upon arrival, he began operation
of a general store located at 22nd Street and 3rd Avenue North.
Recognizing the need for affordable and dignified
burial services, Charles expanded his business to include a funeral parlor, initially called the Charles M. Harris Undertaking
Company. At this early stage of the operation, bread was sold in one section of the store while caskets were sold in
It quickly became obvious that Birmingham's black community had more of a
need for quality funeral services than for another general store. So it was on September 12, 1899, that Charles and
his sister, Hattie C. Davenport, founded Davenport and Harris Funeral Home, Inc. The business was operated without
interruption until 1924 when Hattie C. Davenport and her children, Virgil Davenport and Otis Davenport Council, sold their
stock to her brother, Charles.
In 1923, Charles founded the Protective Burial Association
to provide affordable burial insurance within the community. This second business endeavor was met with great success
and was subsequently renamed Protective Industrial Insurance Company of Alabama, also known as PiiCO. Over its history,
PiiCo served the community with a full range of life insurance products.
|Early Davenport & Harris Building Ajoined with PiiCo
In 1938, Davenport and Harris Funeral Home
was incorporated. The stockholders became, Protective Industrial Insurance Company, Mattie B. Harris, Virgil L. Harris,
M.H. Davis and Clara Harris Evans. Charles M. Harris passed away in 1938. He was succeeded as president
of Davenport and Harris Funeral Home by his son, Walter W. Harris, an attorney practicing in Cincinnati, Ohio. Attending
to his dual responsibilities, Walter regularly commuted back-and-forth between Birmingham and Cincinnati.
Therefore, management of the funeral home fell on the shoulders of William E. Sterling, Sr. Mr. W.E. Sterling,
Sr. remained a dedicated General Manager of Davenport and Harris Funeral Home for more than 34 years until his death in 1972.
With the untimely death of Walter Harris in
1945, Dr. Charles M. Harris, Jr., a physician practicing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Jersey City, Jersey at the time,
temporarily assumed the presidency of the funeral home.
In 1946, the presidency of Davenport
& Harris was turned over to Mrs. Mattie B. Harris, the wife of founder Charles M. Harris and the mother of two previous
presidents. Mrs. Mattie B. Harris remained president of Davenport & Harris Funeral Home, Inc. until her death in
After the death of his mother, Virgil L. Harris, the youngest
son of Charles and Mattie, simultaneously assumed the office of president and chairman of the board. Virgil would remain
in this position for the next 33 years, and so it fell upon him to lead Davenport & Harris through the turbulent years
of the Civil Rights Movement.