The Rhodes Family
Duplain Richard Rhodes, once enslaved, was married to Zoe Depere Rhodes, who assisted in acquiring her husband’s freedom. Unlike most enslaved people, Duplain Richard Rhodes was learned and could read and write. He officially recorded his real estate transactions and documented the birth of his children. One of them was Duplain Willis Rhodes, Sr. born in 1860. He was raised in rural Louisiana and experienced the aftermath of slavery.
Just like his father, Duplain W. Rhodes, Sr. was a landowner in Thibodaux, Louisiana. Due to racial strife, he moved and settled in uptown New Orleans. At that time, there were few Black owned funeral homes, and often, deceased Black people were prepared for burial in horse stables. In 1884, Rhodes, Sr. established The Rhodes Undertaking Company in order to provide respect and dignity in the burial process for the Black community of New Orleans. The first Rhodes’ funeral used horses and wagons. Mr. Rhodes recognized the advantage of automobiles for his business, and he was among the first Blacks in New Orleans to own motorized vehicles for his business. As a result of his hard work and forward thinking, the business grew. He was married to Carolyn Toups, and they had three children, Duplain, Jr., Florence, and Flavia. Duplain Willis Rhodes, Sr. died July 5, 1938, leaving a remarkable legacy for generations to come.
Duplain W. Rhodes, Jr. was born in 1899 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He attended McDonough No. 6 School. He later attended Straight Normal School and was also one of the first graduates of Xavier Preparatory School. He credits Sister Francis and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for having had a meaningful influence on his life. Sister Francis arranged for Mr. Rhodes, Jr. to attend Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. In the North, he also met racial adversity and returned home to begin his business career.
As an only son, Duplain, Jr. was destined to carry on his father’s tradition of providing compassionate, high quality burial services to the New Orleans community. Before his father died, Duplain, Jr. joined his father at The Rhodes Undertaking Company and in 1928, expanded the business.
The Rhodes Funeral Home established relationships with the Enterprise Benevolent Association, which provided a means for the payment of burial services. Benevolent societies were the forerunners of Black insurance companies of that time. During Mr. Rhodes, Jr.’s life, he acquired a number of legal reserve life insurance companies, which included St. Louis, St. John Berchman, Prompt Succor, Victory, United Fidelity, and National Service Industrial Life Insurance Company. The combination of all of these companies make up today’s Rhodes Life Insurance Company of Louisiana.
The Rhodes Funeral Home operated in several locations in uptown New Orleans, mainly on South Derbigny and South Claiborne. In the 40’s, he moved to the 1700 block of North Claiborne. In the 60’s, he built a new facility on the Westbank. In 1968, he acquired the Tivoli Theatre at 3933 Washington Avenue and converted it to our premier location. He later expanded to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. After his death, the family opened a facility in New Orleans East on the family homestead at Chef Menteur Highway and Lonely Oak Drive.
While Duplain Rhodes, Jr. was well known for his business acumen, he left a stellar legacy of leadership, community service, and social justice. He served as the president of the National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association, one of the first Black organizations to provide financial resources to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his civil rights efforts. He was also a member of the National Insurance Association. Mr. Rhodes, Jr. provided support to the NAACP and many other individuals and organizations who were active in the civil rights struggle. He was a standard bearer and continues to be a shining example for Black businesses throughout the country.
Duplain Rhodes, Jr. married Doris Millaud. They had five children together, Sandra, D. Joan, Duplain, III, Stephanie, and Kathleen. From a previous marriage, Mr. Rhodes had his firstborn daughter, Edith Rhodes Gomes in 1920. Duplain and Doris Rhodes worked together to build the enterprise that their children, their children’s offspring and dedicated employees continue to operate.