P.O.V.: Homegoings

About This Episode

A thumbnail biographical sketch of Isaiah Owens might sound a little odd: A South Carolina boy obsessed with funerals grows up to be a renowned funeral director in New York City's Harlem neighborhood. In Homegoings, the bigger picture shows an exceptionally warm-hearted, philosophical man who pursues his business with equal care for the living and for the dead. He combines instinctive sympathy for those who grieve with a deep knowledge of African-American funeral customs that aim to turn sorrow into an affirmation of faith that loved ones are going "home." Paradoxically, Owens' success reveals that this precious tradition, formed in a time of rigid segregation, is disappearing.

Throughout the film, Owens relates the culture and history of death and mourning in the black community, harkening back to slavery and segregation. He explains that "when the slaves were killed...it wasn't a proper funeral, but they kind of did their best..." He even recalls that when he was growing up in the South, the funeral director was a lifeline for the community. Homegoings is a moving portrait of a man and a people -- and of the faith, hope and history that sustain them in the face of death.