Past Treasure of the Month – January 2019

W.K. Hebert & Co.
Promotional plaque with thermometer from W.K. Hebert & Company, ca.1930s [Rosenberg Library Collection].

Promotional plaque with thermometer from W.K. Hebert & Company, ca.1930s [Rosenberg Library Collection].

During the month of January, Rosenberg Library exhibited items related to W.K. Hebert & Company. Established in 1919 by William Kendal Hebert, the firm provided funeral and burial services for the island’s African-American community for more than six decades.

William Kendal Hebert was born in Beaumont, Texas in 1888. He was the only male in the first graduating class of Beaumont Colored High School. After earning a degree from Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College, Hebert worked as a mail carrier in Beaumont and later became a public school teacher for several years.

In search of a new career path, W.K. Hebert went to Ohio to complete a course at the Cincinnati College of Embalming. After receiving his license to practice embalming in 1911, he was hired to manage Adams-Jacobs Undertaking in Beaumont. An enterprising individual, Hebert was also involved in a variety of other businesses including insurance, real estate, groceries, and laundry service.

Close-up of embroidered section of undertaker's umbrella from Hebert & Company [Gift of Sharon Gillins].

Close-up of embroidered section of undertaker’s umbrella from Hebert & Company [Gift of Sharon Gillins].

In 1916, Hebert and a Galveston associate, C.S. Willis, opened Willis & Hebert Embalmers and Funeral Directors at 2401 Avenue E. The firm successfully served members of the African American community who were—at that time—only allowed burial at Potters Field or at Rosewood Cemetery. (Established in 1911, Rosewood Cemetery was a burial ground exclusively for African American residents of Galveston. It was located behind the Seawall between 61st Street and 63rd Street.)

During the First World War, W.K. Hebert left Galveston to join the U.S. Army. C.S. Willis died a short time later, and their joint funeral business closed. Upon his honorable discharge from the military in 1919, Hebert opened W.K. Hebert & Company at 610 24th Street. His brother, Nando, joined the business and provided embalming services. Another brother, Lockie, maintained the company’s vehicles.

In 1930, the business moved to 2827 Avenue M 1/2. It continued to operate in this location for more than 50 years. When W.K. Hebert died in 1958, Nando Hebert assumed ownership of the company and continued its operations until his own death in 1987.