After refusing to bury a black sheriff’s deputy due to a clause in a 1950 sales contract, the Allen Parish cemetery held an emergency meeting to change the contract.
When Karla Semien, widow of Darrell Semien, and her children went to Oaklin Springs cemetery in Allen Parish, Louisiana to pick out a plot, they were outraged when the saleswoman turned them away and informed them of the cemetery’s racial policy.
The family told ABC affiliate KATC-3 TV that the saleswoman said, “I can’t sell you this plot,” and that the graveyard was not for people of color.
H. Creig Vizena, board president of Oaklin Springs cemetery, was also stunned, and quickly fired the salesperson, who was his 81-year-old aunt. He told the Associated Press, “I’m still very ashamed of what happened. Who wouldn’t be?”
According to an AP report, soon after the incident an emergency meeting was held and the whites-only provision in the contract was stricken out. “When the meeting was over it was like a weight lifted off of me,” Vizena said.
The word “white” was apparently removed from the stipulation in the contract stating that the “right to burial” was for “white human-beings.”
Karla Semien, widow of the 55-year-old deceased deputy, wrote in a Facebook post about the encounter: “She stood in front of me and all my kids wow what a slap in the face. I just can’t believe in 2021 in Oberlin Louisiana this is happening.” She continued, “To be told this is like we were nothing. He was nothing? He put his life on the line for them.”
Vizena said the offensive wording in the contract was not in the cemetery association’s bylaws, but just in old sales contracts from the 1950s. It was probably overlooked as people tend to sign things without reading, he said.
Vizena apologized to the family and offered one of his own plots, but the offer was turned down. The family said Semien couldn’t rest easy there.