Foston Family Papers
Scope and Contents
The Foston Family Papers houses a mixture of personal and business papers of the Foston family. This collection, which dates from circa 1910-1986, consists of digital reproductions of scrapbooks, photographs, documents, and newspapers that document Foston family social engagements and the activities of the Dowdy and Foston Funeral Director, later known as the Foston Funeral Home, in Clarksville, Tennessee. The Fostons were a prominent African American family in the area. Although the funeral home was founded by Herman Foston, his sister Louise Foston Gachette was the primary operator. This collection provides a window into the social and economic lives of African American families in Clarksville during the mid-twentieth century.
- Majority of material found within 1941 - 1955
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is open for research use.
Conditions Governing Use
While the Montgomery County Archives houses an item, it does not necessarily hold the copyright on the item, nor may it be able to determine if the item is still protected under current copyright law. It is the user’s obligation to determine and satisfy copyright or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections.
Biographical / Historical
Herman William Foston was born in Clarksville, Tennessee in 1906 to Joseph and Pearl Foston. The oldest of three children, he was an entrepreneur, and had several successful businesses in Clarksville. This included a taxi company called Minute-Man Taxi Company that he founded as early as 1928 and a café called Foston’s Grill. In 1938 he added another business to his holdings by founding the Dowdy and Foston Funeral Home in Clarksville. He enlisted the help of Nashville embalmer Charles Avery (C.A.) Dowdy to establish the business. Dowdy served as embalmer for the funeral home until 1949. Herman handed the reigns over to his sister Louise Foston in 1941 when she stepped in as manager.
Throughout his time as a local businessman, Herman experienced legal trouble. Newspaper stories from the 1920s through the early 1930s show he was arrested multiple times for the possession and sale of liquor, and issued fines for speeding. In 1932 he was arrested after shooting and killing Randle Medley outside his taxi stand. He was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to state prison in December 1932. He was released and had returned to Clarksville by late 1936, but trouble continued to follow him. In November 1936 his home was the subject of a bombing while he and his wife slept inside. They were unharmed, but his home was destroyed. Over the next several years he continued to be involved in his various business ventures until he was murdered on October 26, 1949.
Herman willed all his property to his sister, Louise Beatrice Foston, and upon his death she took control over all his remaining businesses. Louise was born in 1911 in Clarksville, Tennessee. She graduated from Burt High School in 1929 and went on to attend Alabama A&M College in Huntsville. While there she met her future husband, Malcolm Gachette, whom she married in Coffee County, Tennessee in 1942. After she graduated in 1938 she remained in Alabama and worked as a teacher until she returned to Clarksville in 1941 and began running the Dowdy and Foston Funeral Home. Shortly after returning she purchased the business from her brother and went on to attend Eckels College of Embalming in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After her brother died in 1949 she changed the name of the funeral home to Foston Funeral Home. Her brother Julian Foston (1909-1968) moved back to Clarksville from Chicago to help with the business at that time as well. Louise continued to manage the business until her death in 1990.
Following her death, Larry Meriwether purchased Foston Funeral Home in 1991. Meriwether had a long history with the funeral home, having begun working there in 1964. He left Clarksville to attend college, but eventually returned to help Louise run the business after she was diagnosed with cancer. He continued to work at the funeral home with Louise until her death. He ran the business for nearly twenty years before handing the management over to William Anthony Jenkins. Meriwether died at the age of 72 in 2019.
Language of Materials
Herman William Foston was born in Clarksville, Tennessee in 1906. He established several successful businesses in Clarksville, including the Dowdy and Foston Funeral Home, and was considered a wealthy and influential man within the local black community. His sister Louise Beatrice Foston Gachette played an integral role in the management of the funeral home, and following his death in 1949 she inherited all of his assets and businesses. This collection documents a prominent African American family in Clarksville, Tennessee in the early to mid-twentieth century. The materials include scrapbooks, photographs, and printed materials belonging to the Foston family in Clarksville, Tennessee.
Arranged in two series: I. Photographs and Albums, ca. 1910-1986. II. Documents and Family Papers, 1944-1994.
Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements
Access is restricted to digital copies only as originals have been retained by donor.
The materials in this collection were loaned to the Montgomery County Archives for digitization in 2022 by their custodian, Keith Bagwell. He received these items from his mother, Marian Jeanette Bagwell sometime after her death in 2012. She was married to Herman Foston at the time of his death in 1949. It is unclear when she came into possession of these materials.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Gift of Keith Bagwell, January 2022.
Existence and Location of Originals
Originals retained by donor.
Materials were on loan from the donor for digitization. The collection was arranged into series based on material type prior to digitization. All materials were scanned and then housed in appropriate archival materials prior to returning to the donor. Photographs were placed in acid-free sleeves and boxes, and documents were placed in acid-free folders and boxes
- African American business enterprises
- African American businesspeople
- African American families
- Clarksville (Tenn.)
- Foston Funeral Home (1938-) (Clarksville, Tn.)
- Foston, Herman William, 1906-1949
- Foston, Julian, 1909-1968
- Funeral homes
- Gachette, Louise Beatrice Foston, 1911-1990
- Undertakers and undertaking
- Guide to the Foston Family Papers
- Sarah Fry
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description