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A Matter of Life and Afterlife: Bringing Out the Dead at the Golden Gate Funeral Home

The biggest African American funeral home in the Southwestern U.S. is located here in Dallas, and it's called Golden Gate Funeral Home. Its CEO, John Beckwith Jr. -- a man who dreams of burying everybody in Dallas, black and white -- is the subject of this week's cover story in the paper version of Unfair Park. Patrick Michels made this video to accompany the piece; then there's this beneath-the-casket-lid look available in our slide show.

You may have passed Golden Gate in Oak Cliff while heading south -- it's the building on R.L. Thornton Freeway with all the white limousines, Cadillacs, Lincolns and Hummers parked out front. And during many evenings the parking lot is crowded with friends and family members of the deceased. One cop told us he thought Golden Gate was a nightclub the first time he drove past it.

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But no, this is where some 2,000 bodies will be buried or cremated this year. And Golden Gate is growing bigger still. James Shoemake, the president of Dallas Institute of Funeral Service, says "Rumors are they are becoming the largest funeral home in the Dallas area, volume-wise."

In reporting this story, we wondered if there was a point past which you stopped servicing the individual and started to focus only on the bottom line. We followed Beckwith for a month as he directed funerals, prepared bodies and took his pitch to public access television with a show called Ask the Undertaker.

n our search, we discovered a spiritual man at the center of a spiritual community, unaffected by the death and gore that defines his livelihood. In the end, the answer was in the drive of the man himself.

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