Emmett Till must be spinning in his grave. At least he would be if he was still in it. Who knows for sure with all the happenings at the Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois, a close suburb of Chicago? Three grave diggers and their manager are accused of digging up bodies and reselling plots at the historic black cemetery in order to make about three hundred thousand dollars on the side in a scheme believed to have stretched back at least four years, authorities said Friday.
It is feared that hundreds of graves have been disturbed with corpses being evicted from their resting place and either unceremoniously dumped in the nearby unkempt weeds on cemetery grounds or double-stacked in the graves of others who were simply pounded deeper into the ground to make room for others. Thousands of black families have descended onto the cemetery for answers about their ancestors.
Police first learned of the allegations when Trudi Foushee, an attorney for the cemetery, alerted authorities about skeletal remains and the fact that the facility was unable to account for some funds. Mr. Foushee had been acting cemetery manager after the previous manager was removed from her post because of allegations she stole money from the cemetery. Illinois Comptroller Daniel Hynes said that the process of revoking the cemetery’s license has been started and said that his office is investigating whether past monies received from for the perpetual financial needs of the cemetery is still safely held in a trust. The cemetery is owned by Perpetua Holdings of Illinois who started an investigation by calling Cook County authorities to report suspicions of financial problems by the cemetery staff.
The love of money drives despicable people to do reprehensible things. The violation of the human remains entrusted to a cemetery is about as low as human nature gets. These people weren’t pharaohs or the well to do from some bygone era. Many of the people in this cemetery were common black folk who were buried at Burr Oak Cemetery when no other cemetery would have our ancestors and elders. You would think that living in modern America we would make us all more respectful of humanity. The emotional trauma for the families associated with these desecrations is only beginning. Old wounds, scabbed over by time, have been ripped opened by the serrated edge of personal greed. No soul can rest in anything resembling peace at this place of such wickedness.
Records have been destroyed or altered or never made in the first place. As various law enforcement agencies try to piece together what remained of the cemetery’s paperwork, a small army of forensic anthropologists will try to assess the entire scope of this crime. The identity of all the human remains has to be established. And given the size of the open grave out back, an area measuring about a quarter million square feet, it will be a daunting task. It was reported that the grave robbers focused on older graves that were believed to have received few if any visitors. The combination of older grave sites and the lack of complete records and the desecration of remains mean that DNA testing would probably be the only way, if any, to identify the deceased. And even then, without DNA from descendents to use for comparison the effort could be useless. The DNA test will identify their genetic string but we may never know their identity. This is truly a crime without measure.
In African spirituality, ancestors hold a special place in the belief system. Ancestors rank right up there with the Supreme Being Olodumare and the Orisas. And of these three entities, only ancestors have the residual of earthly vessels, bodies held in graves. Like funerals, the choice of the perfect grave is for the living. Earth is earth and ground is ground to the deceased. Nature has a very practical way of looking at things.
But it is the living that wants the perfect shade under the tree or a scenic view from the grave site. We the living want those who go before us to be in the most scenic part of the most beautiful cemetery available. Such an emphasis on what we believe to be the more beautiful location brings an emphasis on value into the picture. And in human terms value equates to dollars. Those who can pay the higher dollars will get the better plots. Like real estate for the living, other than money the three most important factors are location, location, and location. And whenever money gets added to the mix there will always be someone who will be willing to throw human decency out the window and submit to their most sordid nature.