Hanley's Bell Street Funeral Home (Atlanta, Ga.) records, 1907-1997

Emory University

Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library

Atlanta, GA 30322



Permanent link: http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/8zcz6

Collection Stored Off-Site

All or portions of this collection are housed off-site. Materials can still be requested but researchers should expect a delay of up to two business days for retrieval.

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Hanley's Bell Street Funeral Home (Atlanta, Ga.)
Title: Hanley's Bell Street Funeral Home (Atlanta, Ga.) records, 1907-1997
Call Number:Manuscript Collection No. 893
Extent: 61.25 linear feet (125 boxes), 1 oversized papers box (OP), 12 bound volumes (BV), and 2 oversized bound volumes (OBV)
Abstract:Records of Hanley's Bell Street Funeral Home, an African-American owned Atlanta, Georgia, business, including correspondence, financial records, records relating to funerals, Hanley family papers, printed material, photographs, and objects/memorabilia.
Language:Materials entirely in English.

Administrative Information

Restrictions on Access

Collection stored off-site. Researchers must contact the Rose Library in advance to access this collection.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

All requests subject to limitations noted in departmental policies on reproduction.


Purchase, 2001.


[after identification of item(s)], Hanley's Bell Street Funeral Home (Atlanta, Ga.) records, Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University.


Processed by Sarah Quigley, Sarah Bogue, Sarah Clayton, Dorothy Waugh, and Lauran Whitworth, July 2013.

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Collection Description

Historical Note

Hanley's Bell Street Funeral Home opened in 1929 under the management and ownership of Jesse Howard Hanley and served Atlanta, Georgia's African American community through the 1990s. Hanley first entered the undertaking and funeral business in 1917, when he and his brother William founded the Hanley Undertaking Company, then operating out of a rented property at 250 Edgewood Street. Jesse Hanley was 26 at this time and had, for 15 years previously, been travelling the country as a sleight of hand performer.

In 1929, Hanley purchased property at 21 Bell Street and Hanley's Bell Street Funeral Home began operating out of this building. The move to Bell Street signified the beginning of the business' expansion, including a branch on Ashby Street in Atlanta, under the name Hanley's Ashby Street Funeral Home. Under Hanley's management, the funeral home became known for its commitment to serving all members of the community regardless of their financial means. In addition to its undertaking and funeral services, Hanley's ran an ambulance service and organized donations of food and money to local churches and charities. In some instances, the funeral home also acted as a trustee for the estates of the recently deceased.

Following Jesse Hanley's death in 1948, Hanley's cousin, Hillman Hanley, Sr. and his associate Gladys Willingham took over management of Hanley's Bell Street Funeral Home. In his will, Jesse Hanley instructed that net profits from the business should be divided equally every thirty days between employees who had worked at the funeral home for at least ten years. Eventually, the management of the business passed to Hillman Hanley, Jr. and his wife Doris, who continued to operate the funeral home, along with Willingham, until it closed in the 1990s.

Scope and Content Note

The collection consists of the records of Hanley's Bell Street Funeral Home from 1922-1997 and includes funeral home records, Hanley family papers, printed material, photographs, and objects and memorabilia. Hanley's Bell Street Funeral Home records document the day-to-day operations of the business, including its ambulance service and instances in which the business served as trustee for the estates of the recently deceased. The series contains correspondence, financial records, funeral records, and other administrative records, and provides demographic information about the African American community living in Atlanta during this time period.

The Hanley family papers include the personal papers of Jesse Hanley and Doris Hanley, the wife of Hillman Hanley, Jr. Both Jesse and Doris Hanley were actively involved with the Gate City Lodge and the Georgia Association of Improved Benevolent Protective Order of the Elks of the World. This involvement is represented in their papers, alongside correspondence and other records documenting Doris Hanley's career as a teacher. Other family members and associates represented within this series include Lula Davidson, secretary and treasurer for Hanley's Bell Street Funeral Home and the executrix of Jesse Hanley's estate; Florence Hanley, Jesse Hanley's aunt; Hillman Hanley, Jr.; and Gladys Willingham.

Printed material includes documents created by and about Hanley's Bell Street Funeral Home, along with material collected by the organization. Printed material by and about the funeral home includes advertisements, obituaries and memorials relating to the death of Jesse Hanley, and articles about Hanley and the company. Other printed material includes flyers, newsletters, programs, and registers primarily relating to Atlanta-based African American churches, local community events, and professional organizations.

A limited number of photographs in the collection consist primarily of unidentified portraits, with a small number of images documenting the Big Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church's Women's Day of 1973. Finally, objects and memorabilia include a number of promotional items for the funeral home and items relating to the Hanley family.

Arrangement Note

Organized into five series: (1) Hanley's Bell Street Funeral Home records, (2) Hanley family papers, (3) Printed material, (4) Photographs, and (5) Objects and memorabilia.

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