Angelus Funeral Home History
By John Hill III (President of Angelus Funeral Home)
In 1923 a group of community leaders here in Los Angeles decided that the Negro community deserved a high quality professional funeral home to better serve the needs of their community. This led to the birth of Angelus Funeral Home. 19 investors banded together to open a new company that was destined to become the premier mortuary of choice of our community.
The name Angelus Funeral Home was chosen because these founders were religious people who placed a great value on the ‘Angelus Hour’. Many of them moved to Los Angeles from the south where people would stop to give thanks to God for the blessings in their lives. This devotion is the subject of a famous painting, The Angelus by the French artist Jean Francois Millet; the canvas depicts farmers pausing in their field chores to pray. The photo depicts the gratitude for their families being together and the blessing of having their own crops. These pioneers of Angelus Funeral Home understood that the name of this new service company needed to remind all of us to remain grateful for what we have and for those who we have been given to us to share in our lives.
‘Their gratitude for what they were allowed to start in Los Angeles; the new land of opportunity was called Angelus Funeral Home.’
During the first two years, Angelus didn’t do well because of lack of Management; the company didn’t have an onsite manager. At that time, most of the investors worked elsewhere. Many of the investors decided to leave Angelus which lost money until the hiring of the first general manager name John L. Hill, Sr.. My grandfather was a funeral director and an embalmer from Georgia who had developed his management skills in funeral services and also during his many years as a Pullman Porter on the rail. After helping build the first union of “the Brotherhood of the Sleeping Car Porters”, John Hill, Sr. decided to accept the position as Manager of Angelus which was offered to him by his friends from Georgia, L. G. Robinson and Lorenzo Bowdin who were now residing in Los Angeles. These three men became the owners of the restructured funeral home which became profitable after a short time.
- On April 23, 1925, Angelus Funeral Home was the first black owned business to become incorporated in California.
- In 1968, Angelus would become the first black owned property on Crenshaw Boulevard.
My father, John L. Hill, Jr., worked extremely hard over the decades building the Angelus Funeral Home company. Following his release from military duty during World War II he joined his father at Angelus. In 1968, after my grandfather’s untimely death from a heart attack, my father pushed aside his personal dreams of becoming an aeronautical engineer and became fully committed to the success of his father’s dream in the overseeing Angelus. My father would state, with a great sense of pride, that he personally embalmed every person who was entrusted to Angelus in 1948. In 1949 John L. Hill, Jr. bought out his father’s partners and became the first and only sole owner of Angelus. My father has been described as a genius with the gift of farsighted visions. Combining his talents with uncompromised strength and humble community service, his character became a contributing force that catapulted Angelus to such greatness. My father’s unwavering ‘high standards’ dedication inspired local business leaders and his internal funeral team to reach for the same. His commitment to the families we still serve, to his ability to attract and hire people of extraordinary quality in which we still in practice today.
Barrington S. Tate, my father’s close friend, served for more than forty years as the unequaled general manager of Angelus. Barry not only took outstanding care of the families he served but also helped them laugh through the toughest times. Rumor was, once Barry had served a family they would accept no other counselor. I can still hear Barry now offering a family a book of James Brown stamps as a personal thank you. They loved him and the way he eased their burden.
My father became a legend in the funeral industry and a pioneer of black radio. During the 1960’s, my father purchased a FM radio station called KFOX-FM. This piece of a radio station had little value to most because over 60% of its broadcast signal was over the Pacific. In spite of that fact, he still purchased the station and named it KJLH-FM 102.3. KJLH at the time of purchase was one of five radio stations and two TV stations licensed to the city of Long Beach.
The community of Compton didn’t have a black radio station until my father relicensed his KJLH to the city making it the ‘first black radio station in Compton’.
Later, KJLH became the first radio station to pioneer the FM broadcast signal repeater system. This new concept allowed Compton’s only Radio station to broadcast its FM signal to the Baldwin Hills where the signal was received, amplified and redistributed over the Los Angeles area. Not bad for the first Black owned station west of the Mississippi.
Now, you may ask, ‘what does KJLH have to do with Gratitude and the History of Angelus Funeral Home?’ Everything. It was the combination from the families Angelus had served and Los Angeles churches who supported KJLH. KJLH was able to be relicensed to Compton and then developed the first FM repeater system. It was KJLH that became the Radio Voice of our community. It was KJLH that became the tool of Angelus Funeral Home to broadcast 21 Churches each Sunday. My father, John L. Hill, Jr., was the first to achieve through radio a God influenced connection via radio and touch lives in our black communities- communities that were neglected.
Soon after, my father became the first black man to be appointed to the California State Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers by Governor Goodwin J. Knight or “Goody” to close friends. Their close friendship would later play a pivotal role in the history of Angelus. During the civil unrest period of the 1960’s, Goody flew to New York and met with the then President of Safeway Market chain to acquire the current Crenshaw site of Angelus Funeral Home. Those were troubled times. The President of Safeway flat out refused to do business with a black man. We are forever grateful that Goodwin J. Knight accepted the duty of confronting that corporation and completed the negotiation and purchase of the 3874 Crenshaw Blvd. property for my father. The story goes that the Safeway president didn’t remember that John Hill was the black man that he once cursed out for having the nerve to call him regarding property in Los Angeles. However, in spite of seventeen racially biased lawsuits to prevent Angelus Funeral Home from opening and the faithful support of many friends like Mr. May of the May Co., on December 15, 1968 the Angelus Funeral Home opened its doors on Crenshaw and made history, again, as the only black owned and operated business property on Crenshaw.
Now led by myself, John Hill III, and a team of amazing funeral service counselors, our reputation for the highest quality care continues. Angelus Funeral Home is proud to not only have the same family ownership but the same mindset that my grandfather and father so diligently reached for day after day… uncompromised strength and humble community service.
May God bless you and your family.
John Hill III