Oberlin, LA – A Louisiana cemetery operating on outdated segregation bylaws refused to allow the family of a fallen Allen Parish Sheriff’s Office (APSO) deputy to be buried there because he wasn’t white.
APSO Deputy Darrell Semien also spent the past 15 years serving as a patrol officer with the Reeves Police Department (RPD), according to his obituary.
He passed away on Jan. 24, just over one month after he was diagnosed with cancer, KPLC reported.
During his final weeks, he told his family he wanted to be laid to rest somewhere close to home and asked them to bury him at Oaklin Springs Cemetery.
His grieving family immediately got to work on his request after he passed away on Sunday, but quickly ran into a shocking roadblock, KPLC reported.
Deputy Semien’s widow, Karla Semien, said that when she went to speak with Oaklin Springs Cemetery, she was told her husband couldn’t be buried there because he was not white, according to the news outlet.
“It was in their by-laws that the cemetery was ‘white’s only,’” Karla recounted. “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,’” added the couple’s daughter, Kimberly Curly.
They said that a cemetery associate then asked them to leave the property, KPLC reported.
“To be told this is like we were nothing,” Karla said, breaking down into tears. “He was nothing? He put his life on the line for them.”
Oaklin Springs Cemetery Association President Creig Vizena said he has been at the helm of the association for several years, but that he hadn’t bothered to read over the by-laws, KPLC reported.
Vizena confirmed that a clause in the by-laws, which date back to the 1950s, only extends “the right of burial of the remains of white human beings” at the Oaklin Springs Cemetery, according to the news outlet.
In all that time, a request to bury someone there who wasn’t white “never came up,” he said.
“I take full responsibility for that,” Vizena told KPLC. “I take full responsibility for not reading the by-laws.”
He said he offered to give Deputy Semien’s family one of his cemetery plots due to the fact that he was unable to sell them one until the by-laws are altered.
“I even offered them, I can’t sell you one, but I can give you one of mine,” Vizena told KPLC. “That’s how strongly I feel about fixing it!”
But the fallen deputy’s family said that having their request to bury Deputy Semien there initially denied because of his skin color – coupled with their grief over his death – made the entire situation untenable.
They have even called around to other cemeteries to ensure they do not have similar by-laws in place.
The Oaklin Springs Cemetery Association said it plans to resolve the by-law issue by Thursday night, KPLC reported.
Deputy Semien’s family has arranged to have him laid to rest at the Sonnier Cemetery in Oberlin, according to his obituary.