Jefferson Funeral Home president celebrates 90th birthday In Vicksburg

Robert J. Jefferson, Sr., president of Mississippi’s oldest black business founded in 1894.

JANS – More than 120 friends and family members of Robert Jefferson, Sr., president of W. H. Jefferson Funeral Home and Burial Association–Mississippi’s oldest black business—regaled the still active business executive and former nationally-known entertainment reporter on his 90th birthday Friday, July 6, at his home in Vicksburg. “I am really happy to see so many of my old friends and neighbors here today,” Jefferson said during a lull in the feasting and musical festivities of the fun-filled day.

“I still enjoy the company of everyone I’ve gotten to know over the years. I never forget a friend.” Sitting beside him was his wife, Athenia, who had taken the lead months before to make sure that her spouse’ 90th birthday celebration would be a success. Mrs. Jefferson is a retired executive and educator of the local Head Start center. “It seems that the hard work paid off,” she said. “I thank everybody for coming. And for those who were unable to come out, I want to thank them for the many cards and calls they sent us. It’s been a wonderful day.”

Jefferson, a World War II Veteran, was born on July 6, 1922, the day of the death of his uncle, family patriarch and business co-founder W. H. Jefferson. His aunt, famed philanthropist Lucy C. Jefferson, continued to guide the business until her death in 1953. The family business was founded in 1894 and survived a number of threats to its existence because of the Jefferson family’s leadership role during the early phase of the civil rights era. Since the demise of Lucy Jefferson, Robert Jefferson has been one of main presences in the vibrant sales and marketing activities that brought Jefferson Funeral Home to the forefront of the funeral industry for most of its 108-year history in Mississippi. His three older brothers and business team members–George, James, Sr., and William H., Sr.,–are now deceased.

Today, Robert Jefferson is co-owner of the family corporation with his nephew, James Jefferson, Jr., the company business manager and CEO. James Jefferson also serves as justice court judge for the central district of Warren County. Robert Jefferson gained a measure of national celebrity in the late 1940s and 1950s while serving as Vicksburg entertainment reporter for Jet and Ebony Magazines, The Baltimore Afro-American, the Pittsburgh Courier and other publications with a national circulation. Jefferson was the youngest of 11 children born to Jeffie and Eliza Jefferson. He is the sole survivor of the five brothers respected throughout Mississippi and much of the nation for their reputation as model funeral directors and exemplary business executives.

His father, Jeffie Jefferson, was the younger sibling of founder W. H. Jefferson. Jefferson fondly recalls his wartime experience with the 386th and the 333rd Field Artillery Battalions at the Battle of the Bulge near Bastogne, Belgium in 1944 and 1945. He was horrified at the time on seeing more than half his comrades in the 386th Artillery lose their lives. The battle was one of the largest offensives Hitler’s forces launched against the Americans and their Allies, and it was the last great battle that led to a victorious outcome of the war for the USA. Jefferson retired from the Army Reserve in 1982 after 26 years of total service. He is the father of four daughters and one son, Robert, Jr. He and wife Athenia live in South Vicksburg.

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