Segregation of cemeteries apparently by choice, not law

Published 7:00 am Saturday, April 7, 2018

The fact that cemeteries within the city limits of Picayune were segregated until recently is apparently not based on law, rather personal preference.

Statements that city owned cemeteries were segregated were made during recent City Council discussions concerning installation of a wrought iron style fence at the city owned cemetery on Eighth Street. The request was for installation of a fence similar to the one around the cemetery on Palestine Road.

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Council member Larry Breland has requested installation of the fence at the Eighth Street cemetery during several of this year’s meetings, at times leading to division between other councilors. However, he said he intends to continue to fight for the installation of the fence because it’s only fair that both cemeteries have matching borders.  The fence around the cemetery on Palestine Road was built shortly after the city bought the property to make room for additional gravesites, since other city owned cemeteries are reaching capacity.

Breland said during the meetings that the cemetery on Palestine Road is segregated, but clarified during an interview this week that it is not due to a city or state law. 

City Clerk Amber Hinton confirmed that fact, saying she is unaware of any law or rule that caused the cemeteries to be segregated, even an unwritten one.

Even if there wasn’t a law, Breland said the first black person buried at the Palestine cemetery occurred on January 14 of 2017.

“Why it was that way, I don’t know,” Breland said.

However, both black and white people are buried at the Eighth Street cemetery, Breland said.

No matter who is buried at what cemetery, Breland said he would like to see a wrought iron style fence installed at Eighth Street.

The city spent $30,460 to install the fence at the new Palestine cemetery, Hinton said. Estimates to install a similar fence at the cemetery on Eighth Street are more than double, $75,000. Breland said the increase is due the Eighth Street cemetery’s larger size.

This current budget year was the first time Breland and Councilor Lynn Bogan Bumpers formally requested the fence be added to the city’s budget. When it wasn’t approved by the Council, Breland and Bumpers took a hiatus from Council meetings for about two months.

He said he and Bumpers did that to shed light on his perception that requests for improvements within their precincts are voted down 4-2 more often than not, while improvement requests submitted by their fellow Councilors are usually approved unanimously.