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The Cunningham Funeral Home in Ocala documents the largest minority-owned business in Marion County, Florida.  Brothers Albert and James Cunningham founded the company in 1955.   Besides burial records, the collection contains photographs, financial transactions, oral histories, maps, letters, secretarial notes, political history, and notes on dress and life in Florida - all of which form the legacy of the Cunningham Funeral Home Collection.  As African-American morticians in Ocala from the 1950s through the 1970s, the brothers and their business document a colorful, professional life that has become a quilt of southern history.

Part of the collection's significance is due to the fact that, until the 1970s, the only comprehensive listing of African-American communities in any Florida county is found in morticians' records.  For instance, if a researcher wants to know where African-American churches and schools were located, that information can be found in the records.  Morticians have been - and continue to be - the means of knowing what was happening in the community: they knew everyone, and they could give directions to houses in obscure locations.  They were truly the heart of the community.

In addition to their intrinsic value for research in African-American social history, the records are also valuable because they retain Albert Cunningham's organizational scheme for the records and thus open an all too often obscured window into the pragmatic arrangement of minority business papers.


James Cunningham, who died in 1985, served as the first black city commissioner in Marion County for ten years.  The James Cunningham Highway in Ocala was named in his honor.

Albert Cunningham is a man who is highly respected and liked among family, friends and the community, and his influence continues to reach far beyond the borders of Marion County.  He has always felt that his place is to be of service to those who need him, and his high level of commitment to people has earned him his special position in the community.

The records of the Visionaires are a part of the Department of Special and Area Studies Collections and its African American History Collections at the University of Florida Libraries. This digital collection is part of a larger corpus of African American Collections in the Department, and of a much larger Florida Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Collections.

 

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