By Tia Lynn Ivey
The oldest black-owned business in Morgan County is celebrating its 65th anniversary this month.
The Jones and Turner Funeral Home opened its doors in 1955–during an era when black and white Americans were segregated even in death.
“Back then, someone from our community had to step up to do this for our people because a white mortician wouldn’t do it,” said William R. Justers, 41, who is next in line to take over the family business when his parents, William and Thelma Justers, retire. “It’s an important line of work that my family has done all of these years in this community as the oldest continuing operating black business in the county. I am looking forward to carrying it on since I have seen the strongest efforts and determination of my grandparents and parents to keep this business afloat.”
“It was a lot harder back then,” said Thelma Justers about starting a business as an African-American in the segregated south. “It’s something we are really proud of to be around this long.”
“It’s a blessing to be my age and own a business,” said William A. Justers, 77. “There have been good times and bad times. You work and you keep learning. But overall it’s been a blessing to do this work for people.”
The Turner and Jones Funeral Home has a long history of going above and beyond the average funeral home.
“We treat the people who come through here as family,” said Thelma Justers. “Every family is different as they mourn the loss of a loved one. We visit the families and work with them financially. A lot of people who have come to us don’t even have insurance. We always try to work with people to help them through the difficult times.”
R.L. Turner and John Paul Jones originally opened the R.L. Turner Funeral Home on Pearl Street in Madison in 1955. Later John Paul Jones, a licensed funeral director, became a partner in the firm. Within a few years, the name of the funeral home changed to Jones and Turner Funeral Home. John Paul left the business to return to education and R.L. Turner became the sole owner. In 1959, the old Burney Street School was sold to Riley Taylor, R.L’s grandfather, and he built a new funeral home at 484 Burney Street, Madison, Georgia. The business still resides at that location today.
R.L. Turner ventured out into other businesses as well. Through the 1960s and 1970s, Turner was granted a license to operate the first ambulance service in Morgan County while operating the funeral home until his death in 1979. His wife, Rena, who grew up in the funeral business took over the business and ambulance services. Later in the 1980s, the ambulance service was dissolved. Rena continued to operate Jones and Turner Funeral Home until her death in 2009. After her death in 2009, her son William A. Justers assumed ownership of the business and continues to operate Jones and Turner Funeral Home with his wife Thelma Justers, and son William R. Justers.
The funeral home was also a meeting place for many civic organizations for the residents in Madison and Morgan County throughout the years.
William R. Justers is looking forward to carrying his family’s legacy into the future through the business.
“I remember working in the funeral home with grandmother when I was 8 years old,” said William R. Justers, who graduated from Morgan County High School in 1996. “I completed mortuary school in 2002. I’m looking forward to taking over the business when my parents decide to retire. It’s really rewarding to serve people in this community. They entrust us with their loved ones. Living in a small community we know these families and see them around town for years after. We want to treat everyone like family. I look forward to serving the next generation at the funeral home.”