OBERLIN, La. (KLFY) — A family in Allen Parish is burying a loved one further from home because he was rejected on account of his skin color. It happened in Oaklin Springs Cemetery in Oberlin.
“It was just so much a slap in the face, a punch in the gut. It was just belittling him. You know that we can’t bury him because he’s Black,” said Karla Semien.
She’s the widow of 55-year-old Darrell Semien, a former Allen Parish deputy and Reeves police officer. Semien died Sunday after his colon cancer resurged in December and progressively overtook him.
When Darrell’s family tried to buy a burial plot Tuesday in the cemetery close to their home, only his skin color mattered. The Semien’s called the Oaklin Springs Cemetery and met with the woman who sold plots.
As Karla remembered, “First me and one of my other sons got out of the car when she drove up, and he’s white, and she said she was sorry for our loss, and I told her thank you, and before I could say anything else, the rest of them started coming out of the car, and she looked at them, and then she looked at me and says, ‘We’re going to have to have a discrepancy.’ She said, ‘We’re not going to be able to sell you a plot.”
Since its start in the 1950s, Oaklin Springs Cemetery contract only allowed, “remains of white human beings.” Despite the contract being signed by everyone who buys a plot, the cemetery board said they had never noticed it before.
“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.”
Thursday, the cemetery board eliminated the word “white” from its contract in an emergency meeting. The woman who denied the family space no longer works for them.
“I apologized, and I’m still apologizing to those people. I am so sorry that this happened,” expressed Vizena who visited the family as soon as he heard what happened.
He thought the contract was legally binding through the courthouse, so he told the Semien’s, “I can’t sell you a plot, but I can give you one of my four plots.”
Since the language was uncovered, Vizena has been convinced if it could be overlooked for so long in Oberlin, there is likely similar “racist” language elsewhere.
“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.”
Even though no family who goes to Oaklin Springs Cemetery will be denied for their race again, the Simien’s doubt it hasn’t happened before.
“It’s not possible,” argued Darrel’s daughter, Kimberly Semien. “If that cemetery had been there that long, that many years, I’m sure. I mean people die every day, and Oberlin has a lot of colored people out here. I know there had to be family who went out there.”
Regardless, the burial denial was enough for them to search elsewhere. They said their first question to each cemetery they called was, “Are black people allowed to be buried in your cemetery?”
Even though the Oaklin Springs Cemetery contract allows all colors now, the Semien family said they’ll never feel welcome here because of how they were treated.
“His main duty was to protect and serve,” Kimberly said of her father. “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. He protected and served everybody no matter what the color is.”
“People need to know. It’s just not right,” said Karla. “For the rest of my kids’ life, they are not going to hear anything. Any apologies. They’re not going to hear anything that anybody says except my dad couldn’t be buried there because he’s black. That’s the only thing that’s going to stick in their heads for the rest of their life and mine too.”
Darrell Semien’s funeral and burial arrangements are set for Saturday, Jan. 30, at the Sonnier Cemetery in Oberlin.