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Jessica Tilson, a Maringouin native, buried many family members in Immaculate Heart of Mary Cemetery. 

“My sister is buried on top of an enslaved person,” Tilson said. “My grandfather dug her grave and found a bone.” 

However, this cemetery still has Jim Crow practices engraved among the deceased.

“In Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, we were segregated,” Tilson said. “Blacks to one side, whites to the other side. Therefore, the cemetery also operated as Blacks to one side, whites to the other side with a middle isle dividing us.”

Tilson did not question these practices in the 1980s. 

“It was just a cohesive thing where both sides just agreed that we are segregated,” Tilson said. “Separate but equal.” 

While Immaculate Heart of Mary Cemetery may not enforce racial segregation in by-laws and deeds, cemeteries throughout Louisiana are also still divided by race. 

Oaklin Springs Cemetery in Oberlin rejected a Black sheriff’s deputy in January 2021 because of a white-only bylaw in their regulations.

 “I can tell you that the Board has opened a formal investigation into that cemetery, so there isn’t an awful lot of detail I can go into about the investigation,” said Assistant Attorney General of Louisiana, Ryan Seidemann. 

But Title VIII legislation and the Louisiana Cemetery Board’s regulations require that cemeteries self-report. The burden of self-reporting allows cemetery managers to continue old practices.

“I think they (Louisiana Cemetery Board) should find them,” said Karla Semien, the wife of the Black officer Oaklin Springs rejected. “It is the loved ones that suffer for it. It shouldn’t be just whatever you want to do and if you want to report something.”

Several cemeteries throughout the state are still unregistered under the board like Oaklin Springs was. 

“Most of the smaller cemeteries that are not reporting to the Louisiana Cemetery Board don’t know that there is a mandate for them to do that,” Seidemann said.

The Board is currently investigating Greenwood, Colvin Memorial, Smyrna and Hasley cemeteries to register these cemeteries in the database.

But even some cemeteries that are in the Board’s database consist of only-white and only-Black members of the community.

However, whether the Maringouin community lost a Black member or a white member, Tilson said respect for the dead still remained.

“My sister died in 1996,” Tilson said. “I remember the white people in the area telling my mom and daddy, ‘I’m sorry for your loss,’ because you all grew up together.”

Integrated in life but segregated in death, Tilson hopes to join her deceased son, sister and family members.

“When I pass away, I’m going to go to the Black side,” Tilson said. “I am perfectly fine with that.”