A southwest Louisiana cemetery refused to accept the remains of a recently deceased Black man, citing Jim Crow-era bylaws that permitted such exclusions.
Allen Parish Sheriff’s Deputy Darrell Semien, 55, died this week after a brief battle with bladder cancer, and he had hoped to be buried close to his home in Oberlin, about halfway between New Orleans and Houston.
When loved ones of Semien, who was Black, approached Oaklin Springs Baptist Cemetery, they were rebuffed by a representative who said the graveyard was for whites only.
“I just kind of looked at her and she said, ‘There’s no coloreds allowed,’ ” widow Karla Semien told KPLC, an NBC affiliate based in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Creig Vizena, president of the Oaklin Springs Cemetery Association, confirmed such language exists, showing KPLC a standard contract which shows that Oaklin Springs allows only for the burial of “white human beings.”
Vizena insisted he never knew this prohibition, put in place in the 1950s, even existed.
“It never came up,” he said. “I take full responsibility of that. I’ve been the president for several years. I take full responsibility for not reading the bylaws.”
The cemetery’s board has since changed its bylaws, according to KPLC.
Vizena said he’s horrified and wants to give Semien’s family a plot for no charge.
“I can’t sell you one, but I can give you one of mine,” he told KPLC. “That’s how strongly I feel about fixing it.”
The family turned down Vizena’s offer and will instead lay him to rest at Sonnier Cemetery in Oberlin, according to Allen Parish Funeral Home.
His funeral is set for Saturday.
“To be told this is like we were nothing,” Karla Semien said, choking back tears and reflecting on her late husband’s career in law enforcement. “You know, (like) he was nothing. He put his life on the line for them.”
The deputy’s sister, Kimberly Curly, also said she can’t get over that initial refusal to accept her brother.
“Everybody dies, they bleed the same,” Curly said. “You die, you the same color. Dead has no color. So why would he be refused?”