Lavish East Bay Funeral / King Narcisse Takes Some of It With Him
Marc Sandalow, Chronicle East Bay Bureau
14 February 1989
The San Francisco Chronicle
A funeral procession led by a horse-drawn carriage, three Rolls-Royces and 16 white limousines snaked through six East Bay cities yesterday in a tribute to an Oakland-based spiritual monarch who devoted his life to religion and wealth.
Louis H. Narcisse, known as "King Narcisse" or "His Grace" to thousands who listened to his weekly radio shows, died of a heart attack on February 3 in his 42-room mansion in Detroit. He was 67.
At a lavish revival-style funeral at Oakland's Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, 1,500 mourners paid tribute to Narcisse. His body, draped in a red and gold cape and wearing a gold crown, lay in an open casket at the front of the auditorium, with candles and incense burning on either side. Dozens of wreaths and bright floral arrangements decorated the stage.
Afterward, dozens of motorcycle police escorted a horse-drawn black wooden hearse, the fleet of luxury cars, and a mile-long procession of automobiles along San Pablo Avenue to Richmond before the wide-eyed faces of thousands of onlookers.
"This is exactly the funeral he would have wanted," said Lillie Raper, an East Oakland resident who could not take her eyes off Narcisse's personal Rolls-Royce stretch limousine, reportedly worth $250,000.
"It's beautiful, isn't it. It makes me happy knowing he had it," Raper said. "`Anybody can be poor, but everybody can't be rich."
Qualms About Alms
The lavish display of wealth through some of the East Bay's poorest neighborhoods botheredsome people, who questioned whether money earned by the preacher might have been more appropriately spent for religious purposes.
"Did he serve God any better in a Rolls than he would have in a Ford?" asked Mako Hawk, who said the opulent displays were impressive to people, but not God.
His followers, however, insisted that Narcisse gave thanklessly to the poor, allowing the homeless into his estates in Detroit and Oakland, and participating in food distribution programs.
And the riches, they said, are part of the essence of his church.
"The purpose is to educate and let people know that being in religion and being into God, you do not have to be poor," said the Rev. Prince Lonnie Houston, a pallbearer and member of Narcisse's extended family.
"It was an inspiration for those who came from a low ebb, to show them that you can also be rich."
The trappings of wealth were on display yesterday. Narcisse was buried in an elegant gold and bronze coffin. His robe was trimmed with mink and at his side was a gold tipped staff, said to be his favorite walking stick. A table next to the casket contained 15 regal crowns.
Although church officials declined to reveal their king's wealth, Narcisse was known to own a $3.5 million mansion in Detroit, a large home in the Oakland hills, a fleet of Rolls-Royces, Mercedes-Benzes and limousines, and a large wardrobe including crowns and gold-trimmed robes.
"If one is blessed, one ought to show it," said Tom Jones, who drove one of the limousines in the funeral procession. "If I was blessed like he was, I'd get a fleet of Rolls, too," he said.
For many spectators, the open display of riches was reminiscent of Oakland's last high-profile funeral, when the body of drug kingpin Felix Mitchell was drawn through the city in a horse-pulled hearse after he was stabbed to death in 1986 in federal prison.
The funerals differed greatly in substance, but less so in style. Both showed off their money, and both had reputations for showering gifts on the poor.
"The difference is the righteousness (of) one, compared to the evil that was the responsibility of the other," Jones said.
Narcisse was enormously popular in some black neighborhoods - particularly in Oakland, Detroit and New Orleans - and lived by the motto: "It's nice to be nice; and it's real nice to let others know that you are nice."
Yesterday's three-hour funeral was attended by an elegantly dressed crowd - almost exclusively black - who clapped and shouted amens to the prayers and eulogies of dozens of religious leaders from across the country. Somber prayers were interspersed with lively songs accompanied by pianos, saxophones and an electric bass guitar.
At one point, the program was delayed when the rhythmic prayers become so absorbing that several participants danced uncontrollably on the stage, ignoring the pleas of the funeral directors to get on with the service.
According to the obituary distributed among the mourners, Narcisse, a native of New Orleans, "sang, prophesied and prayed and was a mystery to his family." In 1943 he moved to California, it said, when a voice told him, "Go to California."
Narcisse worked in San Francisco shipyards at Hunters Point before founding the Mount Zion Spiritual Temples Organization in Oakland in 1945. At its peak in the 1950s, the organization claimed a following of 2 million people. Church members say Narcisse's flock dwindled to 200,000 for his recent Sunday radio broadcasts.
The organization is expected to select a leader to replace its founder in the next several months.
PHOTO; Caption: A horse-drawn hearse led Louis Narcisse's funeral procession along San Pablo Avenue to his grave in Richmond / BY ERIC LUSE/THE CHRONICLE
Red-Carpet Funeral for 'King Narcisse' / Horse-Drawn Procession In Oakland
Charles Burress, Chronicle Staff Writer
8 February 1989
The San Francisco Chronicle
"King" Louis H. Narcisse, the Oakland-based crown-wearing religious monarch whose subjects rolled out red carpets when he stepped out of his Rolls-Royce, will leave this world in the same way he lived in it - in regal style.
Narcisse, who died of a heart attack on Friday in Detroit at age 67, will be carried in a horse-drawn carriage on Monday from the church he founded in Oakland, the Mount Zion Spiritual Temple, to the Kaiser Convention Center for elaborate funeral services. From 3,000 to 5,000 people and "dignitaries from around the world" are expected to attend, said funeral director Paul Fuller.
His casket, "the finest money can buy," will be trimmed in gold and carried along a red carpet for the 10 a.m. services, Fuller said. Afterward, the horse-pulled carriage and accompanying caravan are scheduled to make a two-hour procession along San Pablo Avenue through Oakland, Emeryville, Berkeley, Albany, El Cerrito and finally to Richmond, where Narcisse is to entombed at Rolling Hills Memorial Park.
"We've received calls from all over the United States and a couple of international calls, too," Fuller said. "It should be one of the biggest funerals we've had, certainly one of the most flamboyant."
In life, Narcisse played flamboyance to the hilt in his traveling personal court. Called King Narcisse and Your Grace, he lived in a 24-room mansion in Oakland's Trestle Glen neighborhood and in a 42-room palace in Detroit. A 1962 visit with San Francisco Mayor George Christopher typified his style at formal events. He wore a cross of gold and platinum and a crown of green velour with gold frizz when he stepped out of his Rolls onto a red carpet spread out in front of City Hall by a liveried chauffeur.
A private nurse "kept him supplied with spotless white handkerchiefs, sprinkled with cologne, that he patted on his face," said a news account of the meeting.
Other accounts noted his gold staff and also that one member of his entourage was assigned to handling Narcisse's long white cashmere robe, vicuna overcoat and other wrappings.
Narcisse told a reporter in 1974: "God told me he would honor me with riches so I could educate the people and upgrade their minds. I'm here to demonstrate to black people that there's a better side to life."
At its peak, his Mount Zion Spiritual Temples claimed a following of 2 million people in the United States, Africa, France and Sweden. Now about 2,000 members are active in seven temples in Oakland, Sacramento, Detroit, New Orleans, Orlando, Houston and Baton Rouge, said Princess Ann James of the Oakland temple. An additional 200,000 followers listened to his Sunday radio broadcasts, which were carried in recent years over KEST after several years over KDIA, James said.
In keeping with his oft-repeated doctrine, `It's nice to be nice," he allowed the homeless into his Detroit mansion, and his churches led national relief efforts for the hungry. In 1987, Detroit Mayor Coleman Young gave him an Award of Merit.
James described the religion as a Christian "spiritual" movement that features candles, anointment, speaking in tongues and foretelling the future.
His death was "devastating" to his followers, James said. "They would call and start screaming on the phone. People called and wanted to have the body checked to make sure it was him."
Born and reared in Gretna, La., Narcisse moved to the Bay Area during World War II and worked in shipyards in Vallejo. He founded the Oakland church in 1943.
His body may be viewed at Fuller Funerals on Friday night, Saturday and Sunday, and at the Oakland temple during an all-night vigil Sunday night.
PHOTO; Caption: 'King' Louis Narcisse always got the real red-carpet treatment from his followers