The family of a Black deceased Allen Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy were left astonished when an employee at a Louisiana cemetery told them they couldn’t be allocated burial space because it’s a Whites-only cemetery.
According to KPLC, the Oaklin Springs Cemetery had a 1950s Jim Crow-era by-laws that prohibited non-Whites from being buried there. The by-laws in question have since been amended by the cemetery’s board members to make it all-inclusive following the incident.
“It was in their by-laws that the cemetery was ‘whites only,’” Deputy Darrell Semien’s widow, Karla, told the news outlet. “I just kinda looked at her and she said ‘There’s no coloreds allowed.’”
Deputy Semien passed away last week after suffering from cancer. Prior to his death, he told his family he wanted to be buried at the cemetery as it was near their home. That wish, however, could not come to pass.
“Just blatantly, with no remorse: ‘I can’t sell you a plot for your husband,’” Kimberly Curly, Semien’s daughter recalled.
In the aftermath of the incident, the president of the Oaklin Springs Cemetery Association, Creig Vizena, issued an apology to the family, although he admitted their initial cemetery contract permitted only “white human beings” to be buried there. He said he was unaware of that clause.
“It never came up,” he said. “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.”
The deceased’s family told KPLC the incident exacerbated their grief and left them disappointed as Semien selflessly served the community as a law enforcement officer. “There was nothing none of us could do, but we did it,” Karla said. “And to be told this is like we were nothing. He was nothing? He put his life on the line for them.”
Curly added: “Everybody dies. They bleed the same. You die. You’re the same color. Death has no color, so why should he be refused?”
Vizena tried making amends by offering the family a plot at the cemetery for his burial but they declined. “I even offered them, I can’t sell you one, but I can give you one of mine,” he said. “That’s how strongly I feel about fixing it.”
Semien was rather buried at the Sonnier Cemetery in Oberlin on Saturday, January 30, according to NBC News.