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State's oldest African American-owned funeral home gets historical marker

Courtesy of the City of Wilmington

Wilmington City officials dedicated a state historical marker Tuesday for the Bell Funeral Home on the city’s East Side.

Officials say it is the oldest existing African American-owned funeral home in the state. It was founded in the 1930s by Edward R. Bell, who was a two-term Wilmington City Council member.

James Llewellyn Bell says his uncle’s legacy as a funeral director is spread throughout the city.

“He also trained all the existing African-American funeral directors that are now active in the City of Wilmington with the exception of two,” said Bell.

Edward Bell was also Delaware’s first African-American Deputy Coroner and the first African-American member of the State Penal Board.

J. Llewellyn Bell says his uncle valued community.

“He was a highly active, very visible, philanthropic-type person. Never wanted to leave his neighborhood. He lived over top of his funeral home until he passed. Could have lived anywhere. But he believed, you stay where you serve," said Bell.

In a statement, Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki called Edward Bell “a true trailblazer, both as a businessman and as a public servant.”

“The Bell family has been an integral part of the East Side community for generations, and they have given much to the City as a whole,” said Purzycki.

Wilmington City Council Member Zanthia Oliver helped secure funding for the marker.

“It leaves the history for the upcoming generations.”

She adds that the historical marker will help commemorate the East Side’s rich history of African American-owned businesses.

In addition to living down the street from the Bell Funeral Home, Oliver says she has a personal connection to the business.

“They buried most of my family,” she said.

J. Llewellyn Bell says his uncle was a humble person— who likely wouldn’t approve of the new marker recognizing his contributions.

“He would probably smack us.”

According to City officials, J. Llewellyn Bell took over the business after Edward Bell’s death. J. Llewellyn Bell’s son Kip and daughter Kia are now the third generation of Bells to continue the business.


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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