Divided In Death

As the investigation into the Burr Oak Cemetery vandal and desecration continues I now have the opportunity to discuss an issue I’ve wanted to raise for awhile; Death & Race.

Now some will immediately close their mind when it comes to either of these subjects, because it’s an uncomfortable subject to discuss so they choose to ignore and/or avoid it all together whenever possible. If this is you, then I am sorry you choose to take this position. But ignoring the pink elephant and 500lb gorilla at the party doesn’t mean they’re not in the room. So let’s talk about it.

I can only speak of cemeteries within the United States, but to those who may read this who live in other countries, please inform me of the similarities in your country. I personally would love to hear and learn about it from a Non-Americanized point-of-view.

Before I get to the specific incident at Burr Oak Cemetery in Chicago, IL I want to ask a question I once asked my father many years ago after he conducted a funeral for a family member who died. It’s actually two questions. This was the first one; “Why is there always railroad tracks near cemeteries?” The other question was; “What’s the difference between Greenwood Cemetery (a Black cemetery in Nashville, TN) and Mount Olive Cemetery?” Both cemeteries are separated by a railroad track, but one side of the track lays at rest rows of Black people. The other side of the track lays at rest rows of White people. Why?

Needless to say I was a very inquisitive child and had the opportunity to witness many things at an early age as I was with my father while he ministered to people, many who were not even members of our church. I remember him telling me that it didn’t matter if they were a member of our church, some other church or no church at all, he was called into the ministry by God not some church. (Now you have a bit of insight of where and why I have a passion for inclusion comes from.) Anyway, he attempted to answer my questions and I understood his answers, but it just didn’t answer the heart of it all; Why?

When the time comes that I must ‘walk through that door’, a threshold we all must cross I don’t want to be buried in what I wasn’t born in; segregation. I was born on a hot summer day in 1972 to wonderful parents who were born during legalized segregation. Separate, but equal was a phrase that was reality in the life and minds of many Americans regardless of race. But I wasn’t born during that time, so what excuse do I have to continue upholding such an antiquated law that was overturned by the efforts of so many celebrated figures and unknown heroes, Black, White, Jew, Catholic, Latino alike of the Civil Rights Movement.

We act as if we’re proud to be Americans, but too afraid to address and resolve the issues that has plagued our society for decades in terms of race and in this case death. Why should we remain divided, even in death?

As long as Blacks & Whites primarily have intermingled in America regardless of the level of racial hostility towards one another we have more often buried our dead in segregated cemeteries. Blacks did not want to be buried with their oppressors and Whites did not want to be buried with those they felt were inferior. (Historically Speaking)

So in response to the Cradle-To-Grave reality of segregation; many Black ministers, lawyers and other professionals purchased land in their respective cities & towns in order to have a cemetery for Blacks to bury their dead. But understand that this is not limited to the racially hostile constraints between Blacks & Whites over a century ago, because we can find other segregated cemeteries throughout our land where many other cultures rest in peace. But the question remains, why?

I can only assume that the subtleties of segregation has become so entrenched into our lives that many of us are oblivious to it and shocked when it is revealed. Why should anyone be shocked, because it’s been among us before we even got here, why are you surprised?

Primarily it is because we fail to make ourselves aware of the condition and experiences or consider others. So it will continue until we actively do something about it.

Now in the wake of the tragedy at Burr-Oaks Cemetery I want to point out that the people who are accused of the unthinkable and despicable crime of removing and disposing the remains of the dead in order to resale their plot, where Black. Burr-Oaks is a black cemetery. This is beyond race, although it has a racial overtone to it. Why would anyone do this? Is your love of money such that you dismiss morality and ethics? What about respect for the dead?

Regardless of your reasons for where you wish to be buried or why, what would posses anyone to even consider doing such a crime in the name of greed?

References & Inspirations
NPR: Tell Me More – 07/20/09 “Suspected Cemetery Vandals Accused of the Unspeakable
David L. Chappell – “A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion & the Death of Jim Crow
Racism Review – 07/07/08 “Racially Segregated Cemetery in Texas

Chicago Defender – 07/10/09 “Emmett Till’s Original Casket Found at IL Cemetery

2 thoughts on “Divided In Death

  1. The best line …. Why should we remain divided, even in death?

    About the only reason I can see is that some people do want to be buried with certain family members. People your parents age have seen many changes in society, and upon death, will they chose the past?

    Good post Tim … and we both await the time when all people simply learn to treat all others as people.

    1. I have no issues with people wanting to be buried with their family. It’s when an entire cemetery is Black or White or Latino, etc… that raises the question. I’ve just always wanted to ask the question of people, but it’s never a good time to do so when they’re grieving over the lost of a loved one. Even when we’ve buried people within my own family (Grandmother, Great-Grandfather, Great-Grandmother, Great Uncles) they’ve been buried in an integrated cemetery, but that because they served in the military, with the exception of my Great-Grandparents. It just interests me, because I’ve been to funerals and burial services of people from various races and cultures and noticed no matter how diverse the funeral may have been, they were buried in a cemetery that I knew was primarily the resting place of one race of people in the city.

      I just think the Whites-Only, Colored-Only signs should not continued to be hung over the headstone too.

      Anyway, I appreciate your comments as always Frank. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so I guess this too will take time, but I feel the construction is behind schedule.

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