James B. Curtis Jr., 52, cared for needy at his flea market

Posted: April 04, 2014

WHEN JAMES CURTIS ran Brothers Flea Market at 70th Street and Woodland Avenue, he used it as a kind of ministry, taking care of the wretched of the city who came his way.

The poor, the drug addicts, the homeless, could find a job, food, a handout if needed. They didn't have to fill out an application for employment, but there was one strict requirement: They had to go to church.

"They were people nobody else would help," said his sister, Tonya Curtis.

In a way, the flea market was like a church. Customers and those looking for help could get a spiritual message from James Curtis and, if nothing else, just being in his presence was inspiration enough.

He was a man who went around saying, "Hallelujah!" or "Have your way, God!" in his boisterous voice all day long.

James Burnise Curtis Jr., who worked for Zenith Metal Co. and the Village Thrift Shop, where he learned how to operate a business, died Sunday the way he had said he wanted to die - "praising the Lord."

He collapsed of a heart attack while singing and leading services in front of the congregation of Greater Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church at 55th Street and Woodland Avenue. He was 52 and lived in Southwest Philadelphia.

According to his family, it took a while before James found his spiritual home. In 1989, "Boo," as he was called by family and friends, joined Second Covenant Baptist Church and was baptized.

"It wasn't until then that James realized that there really is a God," his family said.

He was also helped along by a serious motorcycle accident in his youth in which he almost lost a leg and might have lost his life. As he was recovering, he joined Grace Temple Church, now Greater Hope Ministries.

James also was a member of Bethel Temple Pentecostal Assembly Church before joining Greater Fellowship under the pastorate of his friend, the Rev. Ernest Chandler. James was a deacon in training.

James was born in Philadelphia to Mildred and James B. Curtis Sr. He attended John Bartram High School.

He worked for Zenith Metal Co. for a number of years, and the Village Thrift Co. in North Philadelphia, before founding his own business.

"Boo was always the life of the party wherever he went, and when he showed up you knew he was there," his family said. "If the party was moving kind of slow when he got there, it got to jumping."

He took the same spirit to church, where "he could change the atmosphere with his praise," his family said.

"Boo was always a ladies' man, even in his teenage years. If anyone needed a prom date, he was ready and willing," his family said.

"He was always there, day or night. If you needed a chauffeur, a riding buddy or even someone to talk to, or to just go out to eat, which he loved to do, he was always just a call away.

"Boo's compassion and care for people caused him to bring many people to church and to Christ, and he was a true soul winner in his own way."

James married his childhood sweetheart, Karen Kemp, and later married Francelia Derry. Although they parted, they remained good friends.

Besides his sister, he is survived by his parents; three sons, James Burns, James B. Curtis III and Curtis Burns; two daughters, Tia Burns and J'anna Curtis; two other sisters, Pamela and Cynthia, and 15 grandchildren. He was predeceased by a son, Husain Burns.

Services: 10 a.m. tomorrow at Open Door True Light Church, 52nd and Parrish streets. Friends may call at 8 a.m.

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