Atlanta is rich with amazing people. You may be sitting beside them in Church and won’t know how “deep” they are. Juanita Sellers ran one of the best perpetual care funeral homes the city had to offer – Sellers Brothers. Even though she took care of my mother and father when they passed away, I really got to know her near the end of her career. It was the Russell Family that brought us together as we worked with her to move and save her business – which is a part of the story I wrote about her in 2007.
Ushering in a new era at Sellers Brothers Funeral Home begins with breaking down the old and building up the new; but we don’t throw away our legacy in the process.
Juanita Sellers Stone, certainly a history maker in the Atlanta community, is moving out of the sixty-three-year-old Sellers Brothers Funeral Home location at 889 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. There’s a lot of history in this old building and one would expect Ms. Sellers Stone gets teary-eyed when speaking about packing up and moving out. “So be it,” she says. Admitting the move to be a painful experience, Juanita is taking this change, this challenge, just like she took on the challenge when she moved back to Atlanta in 1967 and started a career in the funeral business. There is a gleam in her eye and a spark in her voice when she begins to focus on where she is going. “I will be located in the Lincoln Funeral Home Chapel at 2321 Candler Road in Decatur (GA) for a while. During this time, Sellers Brothers, Inc. will renovate a previous location of Sellers Brothers at 923 McDaniel Street, SW. A permanent move to McDaniel Street is expected in 2008,” she added.
James Horace Sellers founded Sellers Brothers Funeral Home in 1920 in Newnan (GA). He encouraged his brother, Samuel Garrett Sellers, Juanita’s father, to study embalming and funeral directing; and the two of them established several funeral homes in Carrollton, Fairburn and Atlanta (GA) forming Sellers Brothers, Inc. In 1939, Sellers Brothers held an open house to celebrate their new facility at 889 Hunter Street (now Martin Luther King Jr. Drive). John William Sellers and Walter A. Sellers joined their brothers in the family business along with other children of the Sellers brothers, which included Juanita.
Juanita Sellers Stone, president of Sellers Brothers, Inc., is the sparkplug of Sellers Brothers, Inc. and the keeper of the Sellers Brothers’ dream. After a twenty-year distinguished teaching career in English at Savannah State College, Maryland State College and Florida A&M College, she and her husband, Vernon W. Stone, made their home in Atlanta where he became the first Black Full Professor at Georgia State. Juanita became immersed in the funeral business, secured her funeral director’s license, and became the catalyst for change at Sellers Brothers, Inc. which included a major renovation and upgrading of the building. Juanita Sellers Stone took on the management and operation of Sellers Brothers in the late 80s and brought the business to new heights. Putting into practice what she had learned from her uncle and her father, she implemented a complete spectrum of funeral needs – pre-needs, at-needs, and post-needs – and kept abreast of new and emerging technologies and practices for service improvements at Sellers Brothers.
Dignity was the watchword for Juanita Sellers Stone; and it was Juanita’s involvement in the community, her personality, and the attention to detail which she gave to the families she served that made the difference and set Sellers Brothers apart from the competition. Business flourished while providing care-giving, compassion and consolation to customers. Sellers Brothers was probably the first African American funeral home to offer grief counseling for families.
Juanita was never too busy to give back to her community and the greater Atlanta community has witnessed her service at various levels; she has served on the Board of Directors of Citizens Trust Bank, the Carrie Steele-Pitts Home, Southview Cemetery and Chestnut Hill Cemetery. She has been a trustee of her family church, West Hunter Street Baptist, for twenty-five years; there is a missionary circle at West Hunter Baptist in the honor of her mother, Ms. Lilla Sellers. One of her favorite community service programs was the Young Adult Guidance Center on Hightower Road which she supported for many years. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority; and has been a member of the Smart Set and the Girl Friends holding varied leadership positions with these two organizations.
As the first woman President of the Georgia State Funeral Practitioners Association, Ms. Sellers Stone was the recipient of many awards and honors including the Pioneer Award from the Atlanta Business League, Business Woman of the Year from Iota Phi Lambda Sorority, and the Spelman College Enterprise Award.
“Give to the world the best that you have, and the best will come back to you,” is a philosophy that Juanita Sellers Stone lives by.