Last week, the widow of a Black sheriff’s deputy was denied the sale of a plot for her husband because of a “whites-only” sales policy.
Karla Semien, whose husband, Darrell Semien, died Sunday (January 24), said the Oaklin Springs Cemetery in Allen Parish, Louisiana refused to sell her a plot to bury her husband.
Darrell Semien died of cancer and had previously requested to be buried at Oaklin Springs because it was near his home, his family told news outlets. The cemetery’s refusal was a “slap in the face,” Karla Semien wrote on Facebook.
Karla’s daughter, Madison told KATC-3 TV the saleswoman refused them: “[she] just looked us cold in the face, and straight-up said, ‘I can’t sell you a plot.’”
The family reported that the saleswoman told the family the cemetery wasn’t for people of color.
“It’s a white human being-only cemetery,” Madison’s sister Shayla recalled.
The segregation in America's cemeteries persisted until a Supreme Court case in 1948 that ruled that land deeds that had race restrictions written in were a violation of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. The ruling allowed Black people to purchase homes in previously white-only neighborhoods, but also impacted the desegregation of cemeteries.
Oaklin Springs cemetery’s board president H. Creig Vizena said he was shocked to learn about the incident and denial of burial in a statement to The Associated Press. He shared he fired his 81-year-old aunt who was the saleswoman who denied the Semien family.
“I’m still very ashamed of what happened,” Vizena told KATC-3. “Who wouldn’t be?”
Karla Semien told KPLC that the policy “was in their bylaws,” and the saleswoman gave them a hardcopy of the contract that said, “The Right of Burial of the Remains of White Human Beings.”
About a quarter of Allen Parish residents are Black, according to the Huffington Post.
On Thursday (January 28), the cemetery board reportedly held an emergency session to drop the whites-only policy, according to KIRO-7 TV.
Vizena said he offered an apology to the Semien family and offered them one his own plots, but the family turned him down.
“My dad wasn’t any man, he was a phenomenal man,” Shalya said in an interview.” He was a police officer in this same community for 15 years. He protected the same people that denied him a place to lay eternally because of the color of his skin.”
Photo: Getty Images