Louisiana family says they were denied burial plot because of loved one’s skin color

OBERLIN, ALLEN PARISH, La. (KLFY) — A family in Louisiana, is burying a loved one further from home because they say he was rejected from a nearby cemetery for the color of his skin.

Darrell Semien, 55, was an Allen Parish deputy and Reeves police officer. He was described as a gentle giant and caring cop. He was also a foster father. He died Sunday after his colon cancer resurged in December and progressively overtook him.

“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,” Karla Semien, Semien’s widow, said.

The Semiens called the Oaklin Springs Cemetery, which was close to their home, and met with the woman who sold plots.

“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,” Karla Semien said. “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,” Creig Vizena, the cemetery board president, said. “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,” Vizena said. He visited the family as soon as he heard what happened.

He thought the contract was legally binding through the courthouse, so he told the Semiens, “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 your 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’s no room for that.”

Even though no family who goes to Oaklin Springs Cemetery will be denied for their race again, the Simien’ doubt it hasn’t happened before.

“It’s not possible,” Kimberly Semien, Darrell Semien’s daughter said. “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.”

Them being denied was enough for the family 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 people of all colors now, the Semien family said they’ll never feel welcome here because of how they were treated.

“His main duty was protect and serve,” Kimberly Semien said. “He didn’t but 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,” Karla Semien said. “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.”

Semien’s funeral arrangements are set for Saturday, Jan. 30, at the Sonnier Cemetery in Oberlin.