Leader Of Historically Black Cemetery Resigns After Upset Over Allowance Of White Man's Burial
"Even heaven and hell is integrated," said James Ruttlen, the former Vice President of Samson Community Cemetery board.
The vice president of an Alabama cemetery has resigned after allowing a white man to be buried at the site.
Like what you're reading?
Get more in your inbox.
The Samson Community Cemetery in Geneva County, which has been historically reserved for Black families, has been designated a Black cemetery since 1925, reports WDHN.
But a few months ago, the site allowed its first known burial of a white person. Reverend James Ruttlen, vice president of the Samson Community Cemetery board, said Wayne Troublefield's family was granted permission after asking to use the burial site several months ago.
Ruttlen, who is Black, doesn't believe it's wrong for white people to be buried at the cemetery. According to WDHN, some community members are outraged by the inclusion.
“Everything now is integrated,” Ruttlen told WDHN. “Even heaven and hell is integrated. You know, there’s no more Black and white. It’s all the human race, and we have to love each other and show love, compassionate, toward each other no matter what, which is great. I was very excited when I got the call he was wanting to grant his wish to be buried into this cemetery."
Even if many people are upset, Ruttlen said, "It's a lot of people upset about it but we can't change the way people feel."
The vice president said he is now resigning from the Samson Community Cemetery board because of the stress caused by the controversy.
"At this time, to take the pressure off me, to take the stress off me, just step down, I will be resigning,” Ruttlen said.
In 2017, residents complained about the conditions of the cemetery. Billy Couch, who pays $25 a year for upkeep because his mom is buried at the site, expressed concerns about the cleanliness.
"Half of the time the cemetery isn't cleaned up," he told WTVY in 2017.
Tom Knoles, another resident, said "this is Samson's history. It has been here since the early 20s and it needs to be kept up and cleaned."
"Some of these markers are from before the 20s. There needs to be a little more respect for it," Knoles said.
The city council discussed the idea of annexing the cemetery in 2017, according to WTVY. In Tampa, a historic Black cemetery from the 1950s was recently discovered under a high school. According to The Washington Post, the Ridgewood Cemetery was found on the campus of King High School in 2019 after it was abandoned in the late 1950s and sold.
"Based on evidence from underground scans, leaders from Hillsborough County Public Schools announced today they believe the historic Ridgewood Cemetery has been located on the campus of King High School," the district announced last year. "Ground-penetrating radar found approximately 145 coffins, buried 3 to 5 feet deep."
Hillsborough County Public Schools said it "remains committed to respecting the individuals who are buried there, and their families."
According to the Tampa Bay Times, another Black cemetery known as Zion Cemetery was replaced by a housing project.
“People are hurt, they’re angry and they have questions,” Rev. Larry Roundtree of the New Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Tampa told The Post. “No one can claim ignorance of this. The city knew back then that these graves were there.”