William C. March
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William Carrington March (February 4, 1923 – August 2, 2002) was an entrepreneur. He and his wife Julia R. March founded March Funeral Homes located in Baltimore, Maryland, the largest African American funeral services company in the United States.
March was born in Mount Pleasant, North Carolina to Carrington March, a Lutheran minister, and Georgia March. In 1928, his father moved his family to Baltimore, after taking a ministry job there. However, the Marches soon discovered that there was racial prejudice even within the church. Carrington March was removed from his Baltimore ministry because he was black. Lutheran officials offered him a church of his own in Selma, Alabama, but he refused to take his family to the deep South.
Began Working as a Child
The Great Depression started in the United States in the late 1920s, there were especially hard economic times for all working people. When William March was only ten years old he began working selling newspapers to contribute to his family's income. The small amount of money he earned was given to his sister Thelma to pay for her transportation to school. At the age fourteen March went to work setting pins at a local bowling alley. At the same time he started Dunbar High School in east Baltimore where he attended ninth and tenth grades. He later attended Fredrick Douglass High the west side of the city for eleventh. He worked hard in school and dreamed of becoming an architect. However, he knew he had little chance of going to college to get the education required for that career. March eventually was forced to quit school so that he could help support his family. He took a job digging ditches at Edgewood Arsenal, he then moved on to the factory line. Because so many black students had to help support their families, Douglas High School began to offer night classes, and March attended every night after work until he earned his diploma.
Went to War
In 1941 tragedy struck the March family when William's beloved sister Thelma died in a fire during her first year at college. The same year, the United States entered World War II. When the war began, March was working on the line at Edgewood Arsenal, training to become a machinist. He had worked there for some time when his supervisors discovered that they had made a mistake. March was a light-skinned black man, with blond hair and blue eyes, and the managers at Edgewood had assumed that he was white. Once they learned that he was African American, racism prompted them to remove him from the factory line. Once March lost his job he immediately became eligible for the draft. In 1943 he was drafted into the U.S. Army. On his first six-week furlough he married Julia Roberta Hayes, his high school sweetheart.
March participated in the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion of Normandy, when Allied troops landed on several French beaches to start a new front of fighting against the Germans. After the bloody battle, March became a Master Sergeant, directing the delivery of ammunition to the front lines. He also fought in the Korean War. He received a commendation and the Jubilee Medal from France for his participation in the invasion of Normandy.
When the war ended in 1945, March returned home to his wife and baby daughter. He also returned to work at Edgewood Arsenal, but he soon began to have greater ambitions. Funeral homes, like many other aspects of society, had long been racially segregated throughout the United States, and March liked the idea of providing such an important service to the black community
Using his benefits under the GI Bill, he attended the American Academy of Mortuary Science in New York. Finding it difficult to obtain an apprenticeship to get his mortuary license, he worked for the U.S. Postal Service to support his family. He continued to pursue his goal of becoming a funeral director for the sake of providing a quality education for his four children. He worked at the post office at night and build his funeral business during the day. He retired from government service after more than thirty years of service.
Building a Legacy
In 1957 He started his family owned funeral business in his single row house on East North Avenue. In 1973, in partnership with three other funeral directors, he founded King Memorial Park, a 50-acre (200,000 m2) cemetery in Baltimore County catering the African-American community. The business grew steadily until 1978 when the firm moved to a newly constructed funeral home that occupied an entire city block.In 1985, Mr. March built a second facility in West Baltimore. In 1992, the March family acquired ownership of the cemetery and expanded it to 154 acres (0.62 km2) making it the largest black owned cemetery in the country.
Mr. March was a co-founder and the first Chairman of the Board of the Harbor Bank of Maryland, Maryland’s first minority owned commercial bank. At some point the bank controlled more than $200 million in assets and was listed in Black Enterprise Magazine’s top performing minority controlled financial institutions.
- "Baltimore Business Journal, October 19, 1987, pp. 7B- 11B
- Loving, Susan "March of Progress", International Cemetery and Funeral Management, August/ September, 2000, pp 30–41
- Walker, Blair S. "Knights of the Round Table" Baltimore Sun January 14, 1991
- pages 2972/ March- William- Carrington