A shocking decades-long chapter of race-based segregation after death perpetrated by a South Texas cemetery association that had a long-held "whites only" policy has finally come to an end — courtesy of a federal court order.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, announced Monday that the Normanna Cemetery Association agreed to end its discriminatory policy of excluding Latinos and African Americans from burial in the San Domingo Cemetery.
Normanna is barely a blip on the map. It's a small town of a little more than 100 people half way between San Antonio and Corpus Christi that made larger than life headlines earlier this year when news broke that the cemetery's caretaker, Jimmy Bradford, told local resident Dorothy Barrera that she couldn't bury her husband Pedro in the cemetery because he was Mexican American. Bradford told Dorothy that the Normanna Cemetery Association had already voted against allowing Pedro to rest in the cemetery and that she could "go up the road and bury him with the niggers and Mexicans," according to court documents. There is a separate cemetery in Normanna for minorities. However, Dorothy, who is white, planned to be buried in the San Domingo Cemetery and wanted her husband of more than 40 years laying in rest next to her.
MALDEF, on behalf of the American GI Forum of Texas, Inc., a veterans advocacy organization, sued Bradford and the Normanna Cemetery Association in April. There is at least one U.S. citizen who is Latino and a veteran who lives in Normanna who wouldn't have the option to be buried in the San Domingo Cemetery, according to the federal complaint. Last Friday, the Normanna Cemetery Association agreed to a court order stopping it from denying burials to people on the basis of race.
Marisa Bono, MALDEF Southwest Regional Counsel and lead lawyer in the litigation, said the case sends a clear message that the Normanna Cemetery Association's "whites only" policy is illegal. “It is difficult for communities to heal from historic racial wounds when discriminatory policies such as segregation still exist,” Bono said. Thomas Saenz, MALDEF president, said the cemetery's racist policy should stay in the realm of antiquity, where it belongs. “Separation after death is one of the cruelest and most wholly inexplicable of all historical policies of racial exclusion,” Saenz said.
Dorothy Barrera's lawyer, Sid Arismendez, tells the Corpus Christi Caller-Times
that she will likely sue the Normanna Cemetery Association in the next few weeks seeking compensation for mental anguish. She was not part of the MALDEF litigation.