Brief History - Since 1933
In 1933 my grandfather, Rev. A.R. Leak had a vision of opening his own funeral business after having realized that black people could not afford to bury their loved ones in a respectable manner. With the help of God, $500.00 that he earned as bathroom attendant at The Chicago’s World Fair and a $500.00 loan from my grandmother Dorothy, the A.R. Leak Funeral Home opened its doors at 4448 S. State Street in Chicago, IL. Now 79 years later we have two locations in Chicago and Country Club Hills, IL where we serve over 2000 families per year. My father Spencer Leak, Sr. is now our owner and president, and I represent the 3rd generation of our business as vice president. At this time we have been approved for financing to open our 3rd funeral home as we are aggressively looking for a location on the west side of Chicago.
Our funeral business is also very well known for its involvement with the Civil Rights movement. My grandfather was great friends with Dr. King having provided limousine service for him during his time in Chicago. My father often picked him up from the airport and for his famous speech at Soldier Field in Chicago concerning the housing crisis; it was my father who drove him there.
My grandfather also led the march to desegregate Chicago’s Oakwood Cemetery. It is my understanding that in the early 1960’s, a mother came to our firm wanting her daughter buried in the all-white cemetery even though it sat in the middle of what had become a mostly black neighborhood. On the day of the burial the cemetery rejected the remains; however two weeks later my grandfather along with The NAACP, The Rev. Clay Evans and other well-known ministers, organized the march leading hundreds from the front door of our funeral home to the gate of the cemetery. It was on that day that Oakwood Cemetery opened its gates to blacks. Oakwood Cemetery is now home to the resting places of many famous African Americans including Jesse Owens and Chicago’s first black mayor, The Honorable Harold Washington.
Since 1933, it has been the history of the Leak and Sons Funeral Home to give back to the community. We are known in the community as the funeral home that will “work with you”. My father’s instructions to our staff, is that we are never to turn away any family due to a lack of funds. He says this because it is his belief as well as mine that our business was founded by God and only co-founded by my grandfather. He goes on to say that any family that comes to us is a gift from God so if we were to turn away a family, we would be turning away one of Gods gifts. On a regular basis we lower our prices and even give funerals for free to those who have come across an unexpected loss and cannot afford a dignified service for their loved one.
Our business also gives back by donating to local churches. I have been told by many older pastors in the city that had it not been for my grandfather not only loaning their church money, but actually signing his name on the mortgage, they might not have been able to start their churches. If you were to talk to many pastors in the city you may find that they started their church right in the chapel of our funeral home.
Whether it be donating money for food, placing a family in a motel for the night paying utilities, rent etc. we have done it all. Just recently my parents noticed a family walking in the cold. After stopping and talking with them, they found out that they were homeless. That night they bought food and diapers for the children and placed them in a motel, however, they are now in their own apartment and Marcus, the father, now works for us.
Our business is also well known for training future funeral directors and embalmers. We often accept students from local Mortuary Science Schools allowing them to get the training they need to fulfill their requirements for graduation. Many Chicago funeral home owners in business today got there training through A. R. Leak and Sons Funeral Homes. W. W. Holt, Slaughter and Sons, Barker Funeral Home, Paradise Gardens and Evans Funeral Home all got their start through us.