First Responders

Deputy Denied Burial at Louisiana Cemetery Because of His Skin Color

February 2, 2021Joshua Skovlund
Allen Parish Sheriff's Deputy Darrell Semien

Deputy Darrell Semien of the Allen Parish Sheriff’s Office. Photo courtesy of the APSO/Facebook.

Allen Parish Sheriff’s Office Deputy Darrell Semien died Jan. 24, when his battle with stage 4 bladder cancer came to an end before his family could get him into hospice care. According to The Washington Post, what Semien’s family didn’t expect was to be initially denied the right to bury him where he requested because he was Black

“It is with tremendous sadness that we report the passing of Deputy Darrell Semien. Dep. Semien passed away in his home surrounded by family,” the Allen Parish Sheriff’s Office said in a statement on Facebook, noting that Semien had served in the Transport Division at APSO and as a patrolman for the Reeves Police Department. “He served with honor and will be deeply missed. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Karla and the rest of his family.” 

Though the by-laws of Oaklin Springs Cemetery in Oberlin, Louisiana, have since been changed, the damage was already done. 

 deputy denied burial, Allen Parish Sheriff's Deputy Darrell Semien
An honor guard for Allen Parish Sheriff’s Deputy Darrell Semien salutes his coffin at Sonnier Cemetery in Oberlin, La. The family of the deputy was at first denied burial rights at another cemetery due to the color of his skin. Screenshot from YouTube.

Oaklin Springs Cemetery isn’t far from where Semien and his family lived and is close to the area he patrolled as an APSO deputy, which fit what Semien had requested for his burial. When Semien’s widow, Karla, approached the Oaklin Springs Cemetery, she and her seven children were met with the ugly face of racism.  

During an interview with The Washington Post, Karla Semien recalled a female representative of the cemetery telling her, “Oh, we’re going to have a dispute. We can’t sell you a plot. This is a whites-only cemetery. There are no coloreds here.”

The family was shocked, and news of the refusal spread across the US, with several mainstream media organizations covering the story. The president of the Oaklin Springs Cemetery Association, Creig Vizena, and the rest of the cemetery board quickly moved to change its by-laws Thursday night, which had indicated “the right of burial of the remains of white human beings,” according to KPLC

The language in the cemetery contract dates back to the 1950s, and Vizena said, “It never came up [and] I take full responsibility for that. I’ve been the president of this board for several years now. I take full responsibility for not reading the by-laws.”

Vizena said that he was appalled that this incident happened and offered to give the Semien family a free plot in the graveyard for the deputy’s remains. But the family refused, saying there was no way to undo the damage done. 

“His main duty was to protect and serve,” Kimberly Semien said of her father, according to KLFY. “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.”

The APSO had not responded to multiple requests for further comment by the time of publication.

Joshua Skovlund
Joshua Skovlund

Joshua Skovlund has covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis that followed the death of George Floyd. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he earned his CrossFit Level 1 certificate and worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. He went on to work in paramedicine for more than five years, much of that time in the North Minneapolis area, before transitioning to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children. His creative outlets include Skovlund Photography and Concentrated Emotion, where he publishes poetry focused on his life experiences.

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