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  • Phil Latham

Finally, the dead in Mineola achieve equality

Big doin’s in Mineola last week.

Two cemetery associations, working together, tore down the chain-link fence that separated the graves in on the west side Cedars Memorial Garden where Black people are interred from the east side, where white people are buried.

The story made all the news and if not quite as spectacular as, say, the Declaration of Independence’s “All men are created equal,” it was at least better than actual racial strife we’ve been seeing across the country.

The two cemetery associations began this thorny process in 2007. That may seem like a lot of time to you because, well, it is. Probably both associations had to appoint committees to consider the ramifications and all that. In that 13-year interval there may have even been a few deaths that had to be dealt with.

One cannot measure progress in East Texas the same way it is measured elsewhere. Where race is a factor, all movement is glacially slow when it happens at all. Even then, something actually has to actually happen – that is an event that rattles people from their feet planted in the ground – to encourage their taking a half-step forward.

In this case it probably was the death of George Floyd and the other persons of color who have died at the hands of police, events which have caused rioting from one side of the United States to the other.

The rioting – almost all of the demonstrations were actually quite peaceful – would never have happened in Mineola, of course, but it was enough to shake up people everywhere.

Wherever negotiations were at that moment, any logjam must have been cleared. It’s hard to imagine people who saw the Floyd video and weren’t shocked to movement of some kind.

This can’t be the only step, though, not in Mineola, not in Tyler or anywhere else in East Texas. Taking down a chain-link fence in a cemetery in 2020 is not enough. Mineola was patting itself on the back so much last week it about created a north wind from Wood County.

It’s OK to feel some sense of accomplishment all around, to feel proud of your community for finally doing something that matters, even as tiny as this was. It is not OK to presume you can let everything else slide for a few more decades.

Cemetery segregation probably exists throughout East Texas. It is not an indignity to the dead, who don’t know where they are being buried, but to those are left to remember.

All those souls in heaven must be thinking just how goofy it is to not allow Blacks and whites to be buried together unless they are separated by a fence.

I haven’t been to paradise just yet but – this is just a guess – you won’t find any segregation. Whites won’t have streets of gold while people of color get streets of tin. There won’t be high-class clouds and low-class clouds.

We’ll all be together in a harmony unlike any we’ve ever experienced. At least that’s what I get from reading the Book.

We cannot create heaven on earth but that is no excuse not to try to get as close as possible. I believe that is what we should try to do.

The people in Mineola are decent folks, at least the ones I’ve encountered. Inertia has kept them stuck from doing the right thing for years. But now that the wheel has been nudged forward, another push can get it rolling freely.

But someone has to supply the effort. It shouldn’t take another national tragedy for Mineola, or any of the rest of us, to put our shoulders to the wheel.

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