Louisiana cemeteries segregation customs remain despite laws

Published: May 10, 2021

By: Allison Kadlubar, Bailee Hoggatt and Ezekiel Robinson | LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE (WVUE) – Jessica Tilson spent many Sunday mornings in the early 1980s playing outside with her white friends under the shady oak trees in front of the fleur-de-lis stained glass windows of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Maringouin. But as soon as the church bells rang, they parted.

“When it was time to go into the church, it was time to split up,” Tilson said.

The church has a main entrance with double doors, but members typically enter through separate doors on the sides of the building – to the left for Black members, to the right for white members. Once inside, Black and white members sit on opposite sides of the sanctuary to worship in front of one altar – even though Tilson said the church abandoned formal segregation in the 1980s.

Jessica Tilson said Blacks and whites sit on separate sides of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Maringouin and are buried on separate sides in its cemetery.
Jessica Tilson said Blacks and whites sit on separate sides of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Maringouin and are buried on separate sides in its cemetery. (Source: Allison Kadlubar/LSU Manship School News Service)

Immaculate Heart of Mary Cemetery also divides graves by skin color on the left and right sides of the main pathway mirroring the church practices. The right side presents a spacious, organized pattern of granite and marble tombstones. The left side is crowded and scattered as many present-day graves are layered on top of people who, in life, were enslaved.

Immaculate Heart of Mary Cemetery in Maringouin is spacious on the white’s side and more crowded on the Black’s side.
Immaculate Heart of Mary Cemetery in Maringouin is spacious on the white’s side and more crowded on the Black’s side. (Source: Allison Kadlubar/LSU Manship School News Service)

“By it being a small town, the Blacks are related, and the whites are related,” said Tilson, now in her 30s. “It’s only natural that all of the Blacks would be on one side, and all of the whites would be on the other side. We still practice that to this day.”

Louisiana cemeteries no longer enforce racial segregation. But customs and practices remain, ensuring that many cemeteries throughout the state are still divided by race. Directors, managers and patrons of cemeteries statewide said that while the cemeteries do not reject the burial of anyone based on race, their plots do consist primarily of one skin color.

The exact number of cemeteries still practicing similar racial customs as those enforced in the Jim-Crow era is unknown. The Louisiana Cemetery Board has certified about 2,000 cemeteries across the state.

Read more at Daily Advertiser

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