John Clarence Scarborough, Sr. (187? – 1972)

Written By North Carolina History Project

Born in Kinston, J.C. Scarborough was a grocer before becoming a mortician.  His business success allowed him to start various charities in the Durham area.

Racial discrimination prompted Scarborough’s career change.   In Kinston, one funeral home existed; the director used a horse-drawn hearse for whites’ funerals yet only a horse and wagon for blacks’ funerals.  This practice offended Scarborough.  When the undertaker ignored appeals from the African American community to provide the same service to Kinston blacks, an offended Scarborough decided to start a business and offer dignity to all families.  

After the Civil War, Kinston became an industrial center.  Its economic growth attracted many former slaves looking for work and willing to start businesses to serve the increasing town’s population.  One was grocer J.C. Hargett, who sponsored Scarborough’s education at Kittrell Business College and provided capital for him to start a funeral home in 1905.  Scarborough traveled to New York City and enrolled in Reounard Training School for Embalmers.  He was the only black student.  

After graduation, he established his funeral home in Durham’s African American community.  He befriended business leaders at the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company and at St. Joseph African Methodist Episcopal Church.  In short time, Scarborough’s business flourished, and in time, he became a leader in his industry and in other businesses; he founded the Funeral Directors and Morticians Association of North Carolina and served as a director of the Mechanics and Farmers Bank.  

Economic success enabled Scarborough’s philanthropy.  His benevolent capstone was the Scarborough Nursery Home.  In 1925, he built a school that provided proper nourishment and offered educational opportunities to Durham’s most impoverished.  The institution helped alleviate poverty and improved health conditions in the African American community.  The school’s original philosophy, according to its current Web site, is that “every child has the right to an environment that promotes his physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and social growth so that he may develop to his fullest potential at his own rate.”