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BLACK HISTORY MONTH: Bythewood Funeral Home/Orangeburg’s oldest black-owned business

The County of Orangeburg has been blessed with some of the most successful Black and white businesses in the State of South Carolina.

One of the most prominent Black businesses in our city has been Bythewood Funeral Home. This institution has provided for the people a total of 111 years of service.

Death is a universal experience that all humans living on this earth will go through. It also is a life situation of dealing with mourning and burial rituals of loved ones. And that is what the Bythewood Funeral Home has been doing for a very long time.

Alton E. Bythewood was the son of William and Mary Bythewood and was born in 1880 in the Beaufort Township of Beaufort County. His father was a carpenter in Beaufort.

In 1906, Alton married Mary A. Sasportas in Orangeburg at Trinity M.E. Church. They had three children, Alton, T.K. and Mary.

It is said that before the Bythewood Funeral Home was started, A.E. Bythewood worked at the white-owned Dukes Undertaking business. Dukes was started here in Orangeburg in 1896 when there were no Black-owned funeral homes. This is how A.E. received his training.

In 1930, after Clifton and I.S. Harley had joined Hampy Dukes, the business became Dukes-Harley Funeral Home.

Since the year 1907, Bythewood Funeral Home has provided services to the Black community of Orangeburg and other areas of the state.

The funeral home is located near the downtown business section of Orangeburg. On the first floor, funerals were held. Then on the second floor, the space was known as the Bythewood Hall. This area was for parties, receptions, meetings and all other types of events that Black groups sponsored. By the 1960s, there were fewer and fewer events held at Bythewood Hall.

The Pittsburgh Courier reported on Jun 4, 1927, “Claflin Defeats Paine College In Tennis Tournament — On the last leg of their dual tennis tournament Alton Bythewood overcame the Paine College ace’s lead and decisively won the singles honor in the first annual tennis matches between Claflin and Paine.

"On Friday when the doubles were played Alton Bythewood and T.K. Bythewood brothers, were paired against Cherry and Floyd of Paine and the Claflin pair easily won the last leg on the cup by a score of 6-1, 5-7, 6-4 and 6-3.”

The T&D printed on May 16, 1931, “Bythewood Funeral Home — One of the largest colored funeral and undertaking establishments in South Carolina is that of A.E. Bythewood, at Orangeburg. Excellent motor equipment is furnished by this firm, which has been in business in this section for many years.

"The equipment of the firm includes a modern motor ambulance and two motor hearses. The firm stands well among the colored residents of the community and often handles funerals from points as far distant as forty and fifty miles from Orangeburg.

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