REALITY CHECK: Oaklawn Cemetery in Mobile rundown, unkempt. Who is in charge?
MOBILE, Ala. (WPMI) —
Lebaron Patterson wants his ancestors to rest in peace with dignity. Instead, their final burial site is riddled with tires and trash. Oaklawn Cemetery in Mobile is filled with hundreds of headstones, along with piles of tree limbs, overgrown lots, and family members forgotten.
“But as you can see, it’s grave upon grave, you can barely get to any of them,” Patterson said, “you got limbs, trash, whatever…this place is a dumping site”.
Oaklawn Cemetery in Mobile is a predominantly black cemetery dating back to the 1930’s. It was founded by a group of citizens and is a “non-perpetual” cemetery meaning family members are responsible for keeping it clean. It’s that aspect and the poor conditions that has led to numerous complaints and even court cases.
Back in 2011, Local 15 reported that a judge stepped out of his courtroom and visited the cemetery to listen to residents’ complaints. At the time, Mobile County Judge Holmes Whidden determined that the owner Cornelius Woods was responsible for keeping the common areas on the lot clean.
Local 15’s Jasmine Williams called Cornelius Woods on Wednesday. He is the current owner of Memorial Funeral Home in Prichard. He said he is no longer the owner of Oaklawn Cemetery and it’s up to the families to keep it clean. According to property records and business filings, Woods isn’t listed on any current documents.
But, who is responsible?
Without a paper trail or listed owner, even city officials are regrouping to find out who is in charge and possibly prosecute. City officials have issued citations in 2015 and 2016 for “high grass and debris”. But without a definite owner, who do you issue the warnings to? Those like Lebarron Patterson want someone to take responsibility. Patterson keeps his family’s plot clean because he knows beyond the tall grass lies his history. He said so many other people have forgotten.
“It’s disheartening when you see it, that’s I why I say the city needs to take over and get people out here to keep it up,” Patterson said.