Zechariah Alexander was born on March 1st, 1877 to Andrew Alexander and his wife Martha King Alexander in Charlotte, NC. He was the couple’s middle son, brother to Douglas, older by three years, and Hezekiah, younger by two. In 1880, their family lived in Charlotte, where ‘Andy’ worked on a farm and Martha was a washerwoman. None of the children had attended school in the past census year, including their cousin Susan (16), who lived in the home and worked as an ironer.
He eventually attended Myers Street School and graduated from Biddle University in Charlotte (now Johnson C. Smith University) in 1896. He joined the U.S. Army for the Spanish-American War (1898) and rose to the rank Regimental Sergeant Major of the 3rd Regiment, N.C. Volunteers. By 1900, he was living in his parents home on 209 Boundary St. in Charlotte, and he worked as a plasterer. In his early years, he also worked as a bookkeeper.
In 1906, Zechariah married Louise B. McCullough, daughter of Mattie McCullough, in Charlotte. That same year, Louise gave birth to their first son, Zechariah Jr. Four years later on February 1st, 1910, she had another son Frederick Douglas Alexander, who they named after the famous African-American writer and activist Frederick Douglass. They had also lost one child between their marriage and the census-taking. The small family lived at 409 E. Stonewall St. with Louise’s sister Mary McCullough. By this point, Zechariah had begun to work in insurance for the NC Mutual and Provident Association (what would later become the NC Mutual Life Insurance Company), where he was a superintendent. His place of work was located at 212 E. Trade St.
According to other accounts of Zechariah’s life, he was staunchly opposed to the Jim Crow laws of segregation and the discrimination that affected his life. As a result, he believed that self-employment was a way to fight this injustice. He began to express an interest in the undertaking/funeral industry around this time, and by 1912, he was associated with the Cedar Grove Cemetery Association.
In around 1913, Zechariah and Louise had their third son, Louis Franklin. They still lived at 409 E. Stonewall, and Zechariah was still a superintendent with NC Mutual and Provident Association. Investing in his interest in self-employment, he bought a portion of Coles & Smith Undertakers the following year when founder Sidney Coles died. On August 18th, 1915, Zechariah and Louise had their fourth and final son, who they named Kelly Miller after the noted black sociologist and intellectual. By 1917, Zechariah either worked or was associated with the Cedar Grove Cemetery Association while maintaining his employment in insurance.
On September 12th, 1918, Zechariah registered for the WWI draft. The card described him as tall and slender with brown eyes and black hair. The Alexander family still lived at 409 E. Stonewall, a home they owned, in 1920. While Zechariah still worked in insurance, their eldest three boys – Zechariah Jr. (13), Frederick (9), and Louis (7) all attended school. It appears that the home had been split into a duplex or something similar, for the 1920 city directory lists their address as 409 (2) E. Stonewall, and the 1920 census records the Hawkins family as also living in the home, though not as boarders.
The next year, the Alexanders had moved to 415 E. Stonewall. By 1925, Zechariah had been promoted to district manager of NC Mutual Life Insurance Company in the Charlotte region, while he remained active in the funeral business through his ownership of a portion of Coles & Smith Undertakers, which, according to Charlotte city directories from these years, seems to have potentially changed its name to Carolina Funeral Home. His and Louise’s eldest Zechariah Jr. was enrolled at college but still lived in his parents home.
Zechariah completed his acquisition of Coles & Smith when Walter L. Coles died in 1927. That same year, he left his 25-year career in insurance to work in the funeral business full-time. Over the upcoming years, the company gradually changed its name and public perception from ‘WL Coles’ to ‘Alexander.’ The city directories from this period are misleading, as Carolina Funeral Home, WL Coles, and Alexander’s Funeral Home are all often listed as separate entities. Though according to other accounts of Zechariah’s life, by this point all companies were incorporated under Alexander’s Funeral Home, so it is unclear what the exact relations of all three businesses are. In 1928, Zechariah Jr. had finished school, married, and entered the funeral business as well – the 1928 city directory lists him as the manager of WL Coles, while his father was the secretary-treasurer of WL Coles and Carolina Funeral Home. Zechariah Jr. and his new wife Mildred lived at 415 E. Stonewall with his parents and younger brothers.
By 1930, Zechariah Jr. and Mildred had left his parents’ home, though he continued to work in his father’s business. Zechariah and Louise still lived at 415 E. Stonewall with their three younger sons, all of whom were still in school. The two youngest, Louis and Kelly, attended Charlotte’s Second Ward High School like their elder brothers before them; Frederick, at 19, was enrolled in university. Interestingly, the family owned a radio, while none of the other families on the census page did. He graduated from Lincoln University in Chester County, Pennsylvania in 1931 and returned to Charlotte to work with his father and brother. Alongside his employment there, Fred spent his time encouraging African-Americans in Charlotte to register to vote.
Alexander’s Funeral Parlor was located at 323 S. Brevard St. by 1932, where it would remain until the 1960s, while the family still lived at 415 E. Stonewall. In 1933, the Alexanders moved to 517 S. Caldwell St. The following year, the Carolina Funeral Home portion of Zechariah’s business ceased to exist – Zechariah is listed in the city directory as secretary-treasurer of Alexander’s Funeral Parlor exclusively, while his son Zechariah Jr. was the president of Alexander’s and WL Coles. It is still unclear whether these are separate entities, as they are both managed by the Alexander family.
Over the years, Alexander’s became a focal point of activism for equal rights for African-Americans in Charlotte’s Second Ward, as the Alexanders were active in their church, black fraternal organizations (Zechariah himself was a Mason and served on the United Supreme Council), and politics. Zechariah ran for Charlotte’s city council in 1937, though he was not elected. In 1965, his son Fred became the first African-American to serve on Charlotte’s City Council and the first African-American to hold a position in elected public office in Mecklenburg County since the 1890s.
In 1940, Zechariah and Louise still lived at 517 S. Caldwell with their son Fred, his wife Mauvene (m. 1935), and three young lodgers. Their two youngest sons, Louis and Kelly, had both left the home. Prior to this, Kelly had studied for two years at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and later completed his studies at the Renouard College of Embalming in New York City. Following his graduation, Kelly returned to Charlotte. In 1940, he became active in the growth of the dormant Charlotte chapter of the NAACP; in 1950, he began serving on the chapter’s board, helping to turn it into the nation’s largest chapter, and would later become the chairman of the board of directors for the NAACP.
Zechariah died on October 24th, 1954 in a Good Samaritan Hospital in Charlotte, NC of head injuries acquired from being hit by a truck. The accident occurred on October 12th, twelve days before his death. At some point before his death, he had retired from the funeral home; after his death, it was managed primarily by his sons Zechariah Jr. and Kelly. He was survived by his children and his wife Louise, who would die the following year from chronic pyelonephritis.
Alexander’s Funeral Home is still running in Charlotte, and the Alexander family is still active in its day-to-day management.