Just Enough to Put Him Away Decent: Death Care, Life Extension, and the Making of a Healthier South, 1900-1955
by Kristine M. McCusker
University of Illinois Press, 2023
Cloth: 978-0-252-04508-0 | Paper: 978-0-252-08721-9 | eISBN: 978-0-252-05440-2

As the twentieth century began, Black and white southerners alike dealt with low life expectancy and poor healthcare in a region synonymous with early death. But the modernization of death care by a diverse group of actors changed not only death rituals but fundamental ideas about health and wellness.

Kristine McCusker charts the dramatic transformation that took place when southerners in particular and Americans in general changed their thinking about when one should die, how that death could occur, and what decent burial really means. As she shows, death care evolved from being a community act to a commercial one where purchasing a purple coffin and hearse ride to the cemetery became a political statement and the norm. That evolution also required interactions between perfect strangers, especially during the world wars as families searched for their missing soldiers. In either case, being put away decent, as southerners called burial, came to mean something fundamentally different in 1955 than it had just fifty years earlier.

More to explore: Civil Rights