In March 1948, eight local Black benevolent societies founded a hospital for African Americans at this site in Kingstree, South Carolina. It was housed in a former residence that was remodeled and expanded to include rooms for treatment, exams, consultation, and operating, as well as a dining room, kitchen, lobby, and offices. Funds for the building and equipment were provided by local residents as well as others. For many years, the Benevolent Societies Hospital was the main provider of medical care for African Americans in Williamsburg County. Doctors and nurses often treated patients suffering from conditions related to poverty. The facility was brick-veneered and renovated in 1965. Additions were made to its south side in 1970-1971. The hospital closed several years later, after which this building became Dimery and Rogers Funeral Home.
Rev. Virgil C. Dimery and his wife Esther L. Dimery were married in October 1911 and had six children – James, Bertha, Virgil, Leroy, Walter, and Johnie. After her husband died in 1921, Esther married W. P. Rogers. A former schoolteacher, Mrs. Rogers was a graduate of Claflin College and owner of Dimery and Rogers Funeral Home until she died in 1970. The funeral home business was inherited by her sons, who continued to operate two locations, one being the former hospital.
Virgil Eugene Dimery, Sr. (pictured third from left) was born on May 28,1917 in Greeleyville, South Carolina. He later changed his middle name to “Cornelius.” Virgil was a member of St. Ann’s Catholic Church. He attended Savannah State College and Xavier University before serving in World War II. Along with co-owning Dimery and Rogers, he also was chairman of the Williamsburg Housing Authority, a member and former chairman of the Waccamaw Regional Planning Development Board, and organizer and board chairman of Santee Production and Marketing Cooperative, Eastern Carolina Business Development Corp., and the S.C. Commission of Farm Workers – Williamsburg Branch. He implemented the first headstart program and the food stamp program in Williamsburg County. Virgil Dimery was a member of the S.C. Democratic Party and a former candidate for the S.C. State Senate. and editor and publisher of the Carolina Sun newspaper.
The 1960 Williamsburg County census counted 14,000 whites and 27,000 blacks with more than 6,000 whites registered to vote. Of the county’s 27,000 blacks, only 234 were registered. As executive director of the Williamsburg County Voters League and an active member of the NAACP, Virgil Dimery sponsored Martin Luther King, Jr.’s first major appearance in South Carolina. He invited MLK to Kingstree to encourage voter registration among African Americans. At the time, Dimery was running for seat in the state senate. He was so determined, in fact, he took up residence outside of King’s Atlanta office for three days until he could convince King’s secretary to let him talk to King. Dimery emerged from the meeting victorious.
On Sunday, May 8, 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to a crowd of approximately 5,000 people on the grounds of Tomlinson High School in Kingstree. Security was tight and King’s transportation to and from the airport was heavily guarded. Rumors circulated that the Ku Klux Klan would be watching, according to residents who were there. Women and children had been encouraged to stay home out of fear of their safety, but many risked the exposure anyway. People began arriving three hours before the rally was scheduled to begin, waiting through a steady rain that lifted before King was brought to the field. In his speech, King encouraged voter registration and black participation in politics.
For Virgil Dimery’s involvement, death threats were made against the Dimery family, specifically his then-6-year-old niece, Lorraine. Visits like this were not uncommon for King, he almost had a principle that he never went anywhere unless he was invited. He was often invited by local leaders and many of his most important campaigns – like in Birmingham – began that way. He traveled to quite a few small towns to speak. By 1964, Dimery had registered 1,933 new black voters in Williamsburg County.
After Virgil Dimery died at the age of 69 in 1987, Dimery and Rogers was owned by his brother Johnie (the baby held in the above 1920s photo). Johnie Cornelius Dimery was born on July 15, 1920, in Greenville, South Carolina. He attended Georgia State College and was a graduate of the Atlanta College of Mortuary Science. Besides being chief executive officer of Dimery and Rogers, he also founded Dimery’s Wash and Dry Laundromat. He held several civic offices including district governor of the Sixth Congressional Morticians Association, former vice president of the South Carolina Morticians Association, and executive secretary of the Williamsburg County Voters League. Johnie Cornelius Dimery died in 1994 at the age of 73.
After Johnie’s death, his daughter Lorraine returned from Columbia. She graduated from Spelman College and later Gupton-Jones College of Funeral Service becoming the third generation managing funeral director of her family’s business. She was an active member of the South Carolina Morticians Association and the National Funeral Directors & Morticians Association and humbly served her local church, Mt. Zion United Methodist Church. After serving her community for the last 20 years, her health began to decline. By 2015, Lorraine Dimery was a widow living in a state nursing home in Columbia suffering from severe dementia. Due to these circumstances, Dimery and Rogers Funeral Home eventually became seized by the IRS for unpaid taxes. For reasons unknown, the property was never sold to satisfy the debt and remained vacant and abandoned.
Now condemned, the structure suffers from years of neglect. Water damage can be found throughout the building causing the floors to become weak and portions of the roof to collapse. Cobwebs stretch across the hallways inside the chapel and the dark casket display room. In the rear of the building, an embalming room sits in total darkness. Old caskets, funeral records, furniture, embalming chemicals, and even cremated remains were left inside. As of May 2022, the funeral home office next door has been demolished. By February 2023, Dimery and Rogers Funeral Home has been completely cleared out.
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This is utterly fascinating. And creepy. Very creepy.
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I want those Hearses to restore & keep in my garage & the caskets for our Haunted House & Halloween decorations
Was there anything in the pink casket sticking out the back of that Hearse
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It was empty.
IRS even took grandma-lol
What city/state is this located in? Pretty awesome, & as previous poster said, very fascinating & creepy!
Love to get these old Hearses
Sad no family to claim the creamains? IRS did this what do u think they will do with 87,000 new people? Guess we won’t even be able to die in peace…Unbelievable to seize it and then not sell it. Should have went back to owners…