The Rev. Jesse Jackson stands in an area in the rear of Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip Ill. Thursday, July 9, 2009. Prosecutors on Thursday charged three gravediggers and a manager in an elaborate scheme in which hundreds of corpses were dug up at a historic black cemetery near Chicago and strewn in a weeded area or reburied with other bodies so that plots could be resold, authorities said.
Photo by AP Photo/M. Spencer Green
Rev. Jackson to Extend Investigation of
Historical Chicago Cemetery Plot Scheme
National civil rights leader The Rev. Jesse Jackson has called for an extensive investigation into Burr Oak Cemetery, an African American historical burial site where the bodies of Emmett Till, former world heavyweight boxing champion Ezzard Charles and the father of First Lady Fraser C. Robinson III were buried.
Located in Alsip, Illinois, a suburb slightly southwest of Chicago, Burr Oak is also where many musicians from the Chicago blues era such as George ‘Sony’ Cohn ( a jazz trumpeter with Count Basie) and ‘Queen of Blues’ Dinah Washington were buried, but last week came under national scorn for when four people were charged for digging up more than 200 graves and dumping the bodies into unmarked mass graves and Burr Oak resold the plots to unsuspecting members of the public.
Three men and one woman, all Black, were arrested and charged with one count each of dismembering a human body. The cemetery has since remained a crime scene.
Till’s death on July 25, 1948 sparked a national civil rights movement when as a 14 year-old he was murdered in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white woman. His mother Mamie Carthan Till was also buried at Burr Oak.
“Here was a case where there was a pay to maneuver plot scheme,” Jackson said on Monday July13 from his Chicago home.
Jackson said the cemetery was selling the plots to relatives and them removing them to the back of the property and crush the bones of the dead and then burn the books for cash money.
Reports indicate that the plots were resold for between $5000 and $10,000.
Jackson plans to urge congress to regulate cemeteries as funeral homes are.
“Funeral homes are regulated and they are licensed embalmers, but cemeteries are not regulated,” Jackson told the Sentinel.
Jackson was at the cemetery on July 11 for a memorial service for people whose family members are buried at Burr Oak, but says that this is an alarm that perhaps all cemeteries should be regulated.
Burr Oak is owned by a Tucson, Arizona based company Perpetua Inc., but attempts to reach the company revealed that the phone number has been disconnected.
Calls to Burr Oak went to a voicemail box that was full and could not accept messages.
The plight of Burr Oak, one of just two cemeteries where Blacks in the region bury their relatives has brought about massive protest in Chicago and heightened attention to cemeteries throughout the nation.