Saturday, July 11, 2009

Crossing the Cemetery Gates

At first I wasn’t going to go. When I watched the news of the actual unearthing and disrespect of the grave sites at Burr Oak Cemetery my immediate thought was “Stay away. That place is not safe.” But something inside of me over rode the obvious internal good advice. Call it my inquisitiveness or my attraction to the uniqueness of the it stupidity. It just might be me not wanting my people to be taken advantage of and endangering their beings.

I quickly sent out the call on Facebook to an old comrade who has family buried out in Burr Oak, after wards I contacted other friends with loved ones interned there. I made up a list and started thinking of ways to organize the people. As of right now, Operation P.U.S.H. has set up meetings at their headquarters for anyone who needs to weigh their legal options as it pertains to class action lawsuits. Good, while I really wanted to help, the people will get what they need quickly.

Friday was the day I decided to drive to Burr Oak and see about my grandfather. His name is Basil Duke Walker, my mother’s father. My aunt says he passed in 1972. I don’t have a memory of my grandfather that I can call up. My mother told me I met him when I was a sickly baby of two. I’m sure if I go into trance or meditate deeply enough I can find his face. The thought that the next time I see my grandfather will be his disturbed bones...shakes me.

As it turns out, the cemetery manager and 3 yard workers targeted a lot of graves that had no headstone, been there for a long time and no one came to visit. I believe that my grandfather may very well be one of the bodies disinterned and discarded because my family didn’t know where he was buried. I admit when I first thought of the idea of my family’s grave being disrespected in that manner I devised a plan to get to those responsible and crack their skulls open. A thought that took about 0.1 second. For me that was a lifetime. Even though I came to my senses I was still angry. Despite the heavy FBI presence, despite the rain, despite the extramundane harm that could befall me, I decided to go down to the cemetery.

I wasn’t going without attempting to set things right or at least to protect myself. I made a call for consultation to a friend and got the instruction I needed. I felt better about going to the scene.

Driving there was an experience, it seemed like the closer I got to the cemetery the more nervous I got. I had a list of names my friends gave me so that I could look for their loved ones for them. I soon hit heavy traffic that slowly turned into a parking lot. Something told me to park the car in the mall lot and walk the rest of the way. I asked a store worker where Burr Oak Cemetery was and in a gesture of familiarity she told me it was one block away. My intuition was right on, I parked my hog in the lot and prayed that I wouldn’t get towed after viewing a sign warning me of such. No worries, I feel protected.

It’s hot as hell, I forgot the suburbs get the more extreme temperatures than the city. Half way there I could see people walking from the cemetery. Soon I could see a gathering of people at the intersection. The cars in the street are at a stop. I walk in the street because for some reason there’s no sidewalk, That’s one of two things Chicago suburbs seem to not have a lot of, sidewalks and lights. I get to the cemetery gates and my nervousness climbs but something in me keeps me cool.

The scene is a calm chaos. Emotions overloading the area, choking me just as the intersection is choked with police, people and lots and lots of cars. Every face I see is one of confusion, disgust and sadness. The vibe is heavy but not the heaviest I’ve ever felt.

The cemetery is crawling with detectives, sheriff officers, cemetery workers and tons of Black people. People are on cell phones calling family members to get information or to report on what they find out. Most of the conversations are a mixture of cursing, crying, arguing and consoling. One of the officers is on a bull horn informing the people to fill out some forms or to direct them to the two lines forming at makeshift offices. The lines are out the gate and down the street. An officer asks me if I needed help. I let him know what he’s heard all day, “I’m looking for my grandfather.”. The officer hands me a form to fill out and tells me where to take it. I ask him if I can walk the grounds, “Most definitely.”

It was important for me to walk the grounds, to get the full extent of the energy emanating from the people...and from the ground itself. The cemetery is breathing, heaving a subtle motion underneath my feet. I walk on the concrete road at first, talking with people, trying to put some at ease while informing others. As I feel my way through the grounds I feel a sudden familiarity. I approach the spot where a comrade least I hope his body is there. Heru, a very popular brother shocked us all with his rather peaceful passing in late 2007. I miss his smiling face and his sense of humor. A few feet from him the mother of a dear old friend of mine hopefully is in her spot. Standing still near their spots I am still, I perform my actions and move through the mounds where the graves are. No longer am I on the road.

“Damn” I think to myself, I should have brought my camera and documented all of this. But then again, that might not be a good idea. There’s already huge amounts of disrespect of the hallowed ground beyond
the criminal acts. Maybe it’s best I don’t bring a camera in here. The last time I used an electronic device in a cemetery, my cell phone, I got in big trouble. For now, screw the camera.

Red flags are marked throughout the grounds. I am later informed that the flags are there to indicate the grave violations. There are flags everywhere. There are open unearthed graves, headstones are over turned, grass is dead, the land is lumpy and uneven, huge mounds of dirt are collected at certain spots and next to them huge holes in the ground. In the holes are the large concrete containers for the coffins....but no coffins. In the back, I can see in the distance. The large green gate the feds put up to fence off the area where the corpses were unceremoniously dumped.

That’s where I need to be.

Walking through the ground, voicing my respect and pardons on the way. I get to the green gate and I can see forensics detectives wading through the area next to mounds of dirt, discarded headstones and cement containers. In the background behind me I can still hear the voices of the people.

“Oh my lord.”

“Who would do such a thing?!”

“His headstone is gone! It was right here!!”

“I found her!”

Frozen in the space for what seems to be an hour I direct my attention to a tree near the gate. There, it’s perfect, almost. The people gradually move away from the tree as if something is driving them away so that I can be alone.

I do what I came to do. Calmly. Gently. Respectfully. Fearful. Hoping no one interrupts. Hopefully this will be enough. Finished, I start walking looking back.

Not today grandfather, I will not look for you nor my friends family. Time needs to pass. There are a lot of very angry people....there are a lot of very sad people...and then there are the ones looking for them.

It’s dangerous out here, I’ll come back when it’s better.


  1. I'm so sorry you had to experience this. I feel deeply saddened for all of the people who have departed family members who have been disrespected in such a way. I'm even more disturbed by the fact that the people running this scheme are people of color. But I saw their pictures, and I saw their eyes...they were not one of us.

  2. I was looking at their pictures and even though they are typical police/media shitty pictures, I was like you, looking for humanity. I wanted to see the type of person who would do such a thing. Especially a Black person.