The July 5, 2008 edition of the New York Times features an article that could have come out of a time capsule.
Authorities in Waller County, near Houston, Texas, had the responsibility to deal with the remains on an unknown murdered white woman. The cadaver was found in the jurisdiction of Justice of the Peace DeWayne Charleston. Cemeteries were still segregated in the county, but Judge Charleston, who is Black, ordered that the body be buried in a Black cemetery. He explained his reasoning as follows:
“ I’ve come to understand that I am to call black funeral homes to pick up black people, white funeral homes to pick up white people . . . I didn’t want to cross that line when I was dealing with white bodies . . . But here was a case where the body was unidentified. I believed this was it, this was the opportunity for the cemeteries to be integrated without offending anyone.”
However, Judge Charleston’s efforts were thwarted. Without Judge’s Charleston knowledge, the county’s top elected official, Judge Owen Ralston, who is white, decided that the woman’s remains should be interred in a white cemetery.
Black county leaders rose in protest. However, Mayor Michael Wolfe, who is Black, defended Judge Ralston as being fair-minded. He said that people in the area knew that there were segregated cemeteries but nobody made an issue of it.
Hi, what an interesting story. I usually conduct research with African American students in this particular area of Texas and this, unfortunately is not uncommon to hear about. I guess my concern is with how Mayor Wolfe justified the perpetuation of segregated cemetaries. It appears to be a clear indication that he is operating from the ‘white racial frame.’
Thanks, Lou. Is there still a racially segregated cemetery in Jena, other parts of Louisiana?
Hi, most definitely there are still segregated cemetaries in most parts of Louisiana, including Jena. We can probably say that this is one of those “social facts” in these parts. I’m sure that most people never even think of this; it is one of those unspoken things that just continues.
It continues BECAUSE it remains unspoken.