Rainbow PUSH lends helping hands to victims of Burr Oak tragedy July 14, 2009 by Joseph Phillips, Editor-in-Chief, SC Media
Questions of political foul play were raised as hundreds gathered at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition building on Saturday morning with feelings of hurt, anger, confusion and distress as they would try to claim the remains of their love ones who were lost in one of the most diabolical crimes in US history.
“The owners are careless thieves, the workers are careless thieves.” said Illinois state comptroller Daniel Hynes as he’d addressed the crowd.
“They deserve a soft spot in hell!”
Hynes comments were specifically aimed at the four cemetery workers who were charged with digging up hundreds of graves and reselling the plots. The grave scam netted the workers about $300,000 as bodies were dumped into at least one mass grave.
“What I saw was nothing short of a horror film in the making” said Hynes with a disgusted look on his face.
“We are now taking action against the owners of the cemetery to have their license revoked.”
Hynes explained that in the past he has made efforts to get legislations passed that would penalize cemetery owners who’d refused to keep their maintenance intact, grass manicured and to operate in ethical business practices that would benefit the public.
“I believe we must bring about revolution and justice to bring about change in situations like these, so that something this horrible….never happens again!” said Hynes.
As Hynes exited stage, founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Jessie Jackson would deliver one of his most effective speeches since his run for presidency in 1988.
“Bones were crushed, graves were unidentified and people who have once grieved are now grieving again.” said Jackson who would sum up the horrible tragedy in three distinctive phrases.
“We must not only punish the ones who were caught, but the ones who’ve plotted politically behind the scenes.”
Jackson believes that the four suspects did not act alone in this heinous crime giving the crowd the assumption that they were only the puppets controlled by ventriloquists’ in such a perverted political scheme.
After Jackson’s made his comments, several victims would express their frustrations too as they would exit the Rainbow PUSH building more frustrated than the day begun.
“Let them out of jail and let us bury them alive.” said Yvonne Williams, a Chicago South Side woman who lost several relatives in the Grave plot displacement crime.
“We should all line them up and stone them for putting us through this tragedy.”
After expressing her frustrations, Williams could no longer bare to discuss the issue any longer as she would abruptly end the interview due to grief.
“I can’t talk anymore.” Williams said with a look of frustration and tears in her eyes.
“I can’t, I really can’t.”
Others who were affected by the tragedy expressed dissatisfaction toward the Reverend Jessie Jackson for asking the families of the Burr Oak tragedy to donate money to the cause. Some say they were angry after hearing Jackson announce this and thought their reason for coming was to receive help from Jackson not give help.
“We came here to get help and he turned around and asked us for money. What type of mess is this?” said Gloria Johnson, a south side woman who felt insulted by Jackson’s plea to the victims to give money.
“It was inappropriate.”
In spite of mixed emotions from the crowd, some would continue to express their emotions based on the number of family members that they’ve lost in the tragedy.
“I know I have at least three family members who were buried there.” said Joyce Sanders, a Chicago South Side woman.
“At first it was hard for me to think about it, but now it has been 16 years since I’ve buried my people.” She said.
“We should not only deal with the four people that were caught, but we should also deal with the corrupt leadership in the state of Illinois that allow things like this to happen.”
The question is who’s really the blame for Burr Oaks corruption?
Some blame politicians, for their refusal to past legislation's that may have helped prevent a tragedy such as this.
Some blame racism from white’s that lived in the area throughout the years who refused change by not allowing the only predominately African American cemetery in the state of Illinois to expand their real estate and make more room for bodies to be buried.
And last, ownership, Perpetua Holdings Inc. who may have known about the problem way before hand and allowed the four rogue employees to perpetuate and commit these atrocities.
In the past the cemetery has had a long tragic history being it the most prominent burial site for African Americans in the state of Illinois. Some longtime African American Chicagoans say this problem didn’t just start with the current owners this should be attributed to the founders of the cemetery for its refusal to screen the people who they sold the company to (Perpetua Holdings Inc). They believe that the owner’s willingness to sell the 100-year old cemetery to any willing buyer was merely motivated on just making a profit and not about the care of others, mainly African Americans.They believe that the past owners should have conducted a principle and character test of those individuals who were willing to purchase the company.
One prominent African American family who was affected by the incident was the grave site of civil rights figure Emmitt Till.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times in an article from the SouthtownStar newspaper, Till’s relatives wants his casket back after reading columnist Mary Mitchell’s description on how the civil rights figure’s casket had been left to waste away in a Burr Oak Cemetery shack, his relatives say they want to restore it and donate it to a black history museum.
“I did view the casket, and it is appalling to see the condition in which it has been allowed to decay.”
Till, 14, was abducted from his uncle’s Mississippi home on Aug. 28, 1955, for whistling at a white woman at a grocery store. His mutilated body was found three days later in the Tallahatchie River.
His mother, Mamie Till Mobley, had her son’s body returned to Chicago for an open-casket funeral, revealing his mutilation, Till was exhumed in 2005 as part of an FBI probe. He was reburied in a new casket. Cemetery officials were to preserve the original casket for a museum. Instead, investigator's found it rusting away.
As of Friday July 10, Cook county Sheriff Tom Dart declared all of Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip a crime scene after more remains and altered grave sites were found in a second part of the cemetery.
“It has become abundantly clear to us that this crime scene is going to continue to grow,” dart said. “We do not have an end in sight.”
Here are comments from other’s that were affected by the Burr Oaks Cemetery tragedy:
“I had two babies buried in Burr Oak……no graves…no marks…they are no longer there. Today is actually the 20th anniversary of my son Arsenio’s death. I named him after talk show host and comedian personality Arsenio Hall; he died on July 11, 1989. I also lost my other boy Marsean on April 1, 1993. He was 12 days old.”
Renee Harris, mother of two from Chicago South Side
“We have lost a lineage….. It was a total of eight family members that were displaced…that includes both of my grandparents, parents, three brothers and my sister’s husband.”
How to get Help? If you have any family members or loved ones buried at Burr Oak Cemetery, please email your information to: firstname.lastname@example.org or call their designated hotline at: 800 942 1950 or 708 865 6070.
In addition to the Burr Oak Cemetery and the Cook County Sheriff’s office information, you may also contact the Cook County Bar Association at 312 630 1157 for legal help.