Louisiana Cemetery Apologizes and Revises Racist Contract After It Prohibited the Burial of a Black Deputy
Cemetary Board President H. Creig Vizena said he was “stunned and ashamed” to learn what had happened to the family of Allen Parish Sheriff Deputy Darrell Semien, who passed away on Jan. 24, CBS News reported.
The family of a Black deputy sheriff, who served the people of Louisiana for nearly 20 years, were denied burial in the Oaklin Springs Cemetery due to a 1950's provision that only allowed "remains of white human beings” to be interred there.
On Jan. 28, the cemetery board held an emergency meeting and eliminated the word “white” from its contract. The woman who met with the family regarding the plots and denied them space no longer works for the cemetery, CBS affiliate KLFY-TV, reported.
“I’m sorry. I have no better explanation for it than that,” said Creig Vizena, the cemetery board president. “I can’t answer a question that I don’t know the answer to. I refuse to speculate on it. I just know that it was wrong and now it’s right.”
Vizena said he was “stunned and ashamed” to learn what had happened to the family of Allen Parish Sheriff Deputy Darrell Semien, who died on Jan. 24, CBS News reported.
On Jan. 26, Semien’s widow, Karla Semien, wrote on social media, “I honestly can’t believe this just happened. I just went to Oaklin Springs Cemetery to pick a plot for my husband to be buried. I met with the lady out there and she said she could NOT sell me a plot because the cemetery is a WHITES ONLY cemetery. 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. I just can’t believe in 2021 in Oberlin, Louisiana this is happening."
She later told KLFY that it was “just so much a slap in the face, a punch in the gut."
”To be told this is like we were nothing. He was nothing? He put his life on the line for them," Semien said to KPLC-TV.
Despite the change in the contract that now allows people of all races to be buried there, the Semien family said they will never feel welcome. In their search to find a new cemetery, a family member told KLFY that the first question they ask is, “Are Black people allowed to be buried in your cemetery?”
Vizena, who said he visited the family after he heard what had happened and was very remorseful, claims that since the language was uncovered, and has been convinced if it could be overlooked for so long in Oberlin, there is likely similar “racist” language elsewhere, the news outlet reported
“Check y’all records. If there’s any kind of stupid verbiage like this- contracts, ordinances, please change it,” Vizena said. “We can never change as a country until we wipe that stuff out. There is no room for that.”
Semien’s daughter, Kimberly, told the news outlet her father’s main duty was to protect and serve.
“He didn’t put his badge on and say, ‘I’m only going to protect the Blacks because they’re Blacks. I’m just leaving white people out of it.’ No,” she said. “He protected and served everybody no matter what the color is.”
Semien’s funeral and burial arrangements are set for Saturday, Jan. 30, at the Sonnier Cemetery in Oberlin, KLFY reported.
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