Building with historical connections destroyed in Christmas morning fire

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A building with historical connections in the airport area burned down Christmas morning.

Another church once leased out the small spot but the roots of the place run much deeper. It's the home to a historical burial society.

"It's International Pallbearers Association, which was founded back in 1889 by former descendants of slaves," explained Errol Harmon, who is the chairman of the group.

"It's just a sad occasion to see this go up in flames," Harmon said as he surveyed the damage of the building that once stood off Tchulahoma.

He was at a 6 a.m. Christmas church service when he got the call about the early morning fire.

Harmon says they've been in existence for nearly 130 years.

"One of the remnants of slavery was that slaves couldn't bury their dead. So in order for them to have some dignity this is one of the things the state of Tennessee allowed freely slaves to do during reconstruction and there are several of these throughout the state. "

He showed us the cemetery several yards behind the building, pointing out the graves of some of his ancestors, buried at the spot in the early 1900s.

"We still have members that are in the burial society, where as you see this is a cemetery here. Most of our members have been buried here. My great-great- great-grandmother is actually buried here. She's a former slave who actually arrived here right on the Mississippi, right on Auction Street and so we have an opportunity to trace our history," he said.

Harmon says it's one of the last remaining societies.  About 150 people meet here monthly and there are still new burials happening on the land.

However there was no continuous tenant in the building.

Looking ahead he said his society will move forward, saying from the ashes comes renewal.

"Hopefully the Lord will provide us to be stronger than ever. He's been with us for 130 years and he's not going to leave us right now."

The fire department says the cause is under investigation.

No one was injured.

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