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Texas Cemetery Scraps "Whites Only" Policy

After drawing ire for its alleged “whites only” policy, a Texas cemetery has admitted its refusal to bury Latino residents is discriminatory and violates federal and state law.

The San Domingo Cemetery in Normanna, Texas. Donna Barrera claims she was told that  her deceased husband Pedro could not be buried in the cemetery because of his Hispanic ethnicity.

After drawing ire for its alleged “whites only” policy, a Texas cemetery conceded its refusal to bury Latino residents is discriminatory and violates federal and state law.

Lawyers for the cemetery association, which oversees the San Domingo Cemetery in the tiny, rural town of Normanna, admitted defeat in court on Friday as part of a lawsuit filed after Dorothy Barrera was unable to bury the ashes of her husband, who was Latino, in the cemetery.

As noted in a court filing, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund accepted the cemetery association’s “offer of judgment,” proposing that a judge should enter a ruling against them for the policy and should declare their “rule of discriminating” based on race and national origin as “void.”

MALDEF brought the lawsuit after Barrera found herself at the center of a modern-day desegregation fightAfter the death of her husband of more than 40 years, Barrera, who is white, realized she would be unable to be buried beside her husband Pedro because of the cemetery’s whites only policy.

According to the lawsuit, cemetery operator Jimmy Bradford told Barrera that her request to bury her husband at the cemetery had been denied by the Normanna Cemetery Association. When Barrera questioned the vote, Bradford allegedly responded that her husband couldn’t be buried there “because he’s a Mexican,” the federal complaint detailed. Bradford then directed her to “go up the road and bury him with the n------ and Mexicans” in the nearby Del Bosque Cemetery.

The Del Bosque Cemetery is locally regarded as the burial sites for Hispanics and other non-whites. There are no burial sites for Hispanic residents within the chain-link fence enclosure of the San Domingo Cemetery, according to the lawsuit. Just outside the fence is one headstone with a Spanish surname dated 1910.

The cemetery association later backtracked, allowing the burial to move forward. As of May, Barrera had not buried her husband’s ashes in the cemetery.

Responding to the original complaint, an attorney for the cemetery association insisted it has "no rule restricting burials based upon race" and sought to dismiss the case. The attorney sent MALDEF the offer of judgment a week and a half later.

“It is difficult for communities to heal from historic racial wounds when discriminatory policies such as segregation still exist,” said Marisa Bono, a MALDEF attorney who served as lead counsel.  “This case sends a clear message — these practices are against the law and lead to serious consequences.”

Segregated cemeteries — which were historically common in Texas largely because of Jim Crow laws — have been illegal since 1948 when the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed racial covenants on real estate. State law also dictates that cemetery organizations may not “adopt or enforce a rule” that prohibits burials based on “race, color, or national origin of decedent.”

Since then, local leaders have continued to work to formally invalidate such policies, which remained on the books in some areas of Texas.

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