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Louisiana family denied burial plot in ‘whites only’ cemetery

The graveyard has since changed its by-laws
Oberlin family denied a burial plot in ‘white’s only’ cemetery
Oberlin family denied a burial plot in ‘white’s only’ cemetery(KPLC)
Published: Mar. 8, 2021 at 1:24 PM CST
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(Editor’s note: This story was originally published January 27, 2021 at 9:15 PM CST - Updated January 31 at 4:02 PM on www.kplctv.com)

OBERLIN, La. (Great Health Divide) - When the wife of a deceased Allen Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy went to meet with a representative of a cemetery, she was shocked to hear they wouldn’t let her husband be buried there.

As it turns out, Oaklin Springs Cemetery in Oberlin only allowed certain races to be buried there.

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

Deputy Darrell Semien was diagnosed with cancer in December. In the last month and 9 days of his life, Semien talked with his family about burial plans, telling them he wanted to be laid to rest at Oaklin Springs Cemetery because it was close to home.

“It was in their by-laws that the cemetery was ‘whites only,’” says widow Karla Semien. “I just kinda looked at her 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 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...”

It’s a cemetery contract which he says dates back to the 50′s.

“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.”

The Semien family says the anger they felt from racial remarks combined with the grief of losing a loved one is too much to process.

“There was nothing none of us could do, but we did it,” says Semien. “And to be told this is like we were nothing. He was nothing? He put his life on the line for them.”

“Everybody dies,” says Curly. “They bleed the same. You die. You’re the same color. Death has no color, so why should he be refused?”

The family says they then called around to other cemeteries double-checking if they accepted any kind of body - whether it be white, black, or Hispanic.

The Semien family says the cemetery president attempted to rectify the problem by changing the by-laws. However, they say nothing can change the fact they were initially denied based on skin color.

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

Due to the outcry from many, not just around Southwest Louisiana, but the country, cemetery board members took action.

Board members came together on Thursday night and changed their contractual by-laws to allow anyone to be buried there, regardless of race.

Great Health Divide is an initiative addressing health disparities in the Mississippi Delta and Appalachia funded in part by the Google News Initiative.

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