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A “Whites-Only” Cemetery Apologizes For Denying a Black Police Deputy’s Funeral

Sales contract written in the 1950s is reexamined.

Photo Credit Cemetery|Pixabay

The owner of a Louisiana cemetery has apologized for denying the request to bury a local sheriff’s deputy on their grounds under a “whites only” policy.

After deputy Darrell Semien died of cancer last Sunday, his wife Karla Semien asked Oaklin Springs Cemetery about burying her deceased husband there, to follow one of his dying wishes. In the last month of his life, he talked with his family about burial plans. He requested Oaklin Springs because it was close to home.

“It was in their by-laws that the cemetery was ‘whites only,’” said the widow. “I just kinda looked at her [the employee] and she said, ‘there’s no coloreds allowed.’”

“Just blatantly, with no remorse: ‘I can’t sell you a plot for your husband,’” says Semien’s daughter, Kimberly Curly.

The small cemetery, located in Oberlin, Louisiana, is less than one hectare big. The town itself has a population of fewer than 2,000 people. 

The President of the Oaklin Springs Cemetery Association, Creig Vizena, outlined the clause in their by-laws, which says “the right of burial of the remains of white human beings…” He says the contract dates back to the 1950s.

No one thought to revise these guidelines since then. “It never came up,” says Vizena. “I take full responsibility for that. I’ve been the president of this board for several years now. I take full responsibility for not reading the by-laws.”

In a Facebook post, Karla wrote, “She even had paperwork on a clipboard showing me that only white human beings can be buried there. She stood in front of me and all my kids —wow what a slap in the face.”

After he heard about the incident, the cemetery gatekeeper called an emergency association meeting, and the association removed the word “white” from the sales contracts. The woman who denied Semien’s grave was “relieved of her duties.” 

Since then, the cemetery board has changed the by-laws.

Vizena wanted to do more, so he offered the family one of his personal grave plots.

“I even offered them—I can’t sell you one, but I can give you one of mine,” Vizena told KPLC. “That’s how strongly I feel about fixing it!”

Vizena has encouraged other cemeteries in the area to revisit their bylaws, because he said he thinks Oaklin Springs can’t be the only one with similar language in the contract.

“It’s a stain that’s going to be on our cemetery and our community for a long time,” Vizena said. 

Semien’s family refused Vizena’s offer for a free grave plot, saying nothing will change the fact that their family member was denied burial.

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