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Cemetery Prohibits Burial of African-American Veteran

Raised in rural Arkansas, World War II Army veteran Pete Williams went to work in 1943 for the Southern Pacific Railroad in Klamath County, Ore.

He died of unknown causes when he was 27 years old.  Normally, Williams would have qualified to be buried in the indigent veterans section of the Klamath Memorial Park Cemetery.  But Williams was an African-American and the cemetery rules stipulated that the section “be used for underground burial of human dead of the white race as defined by decisions of the United States Supreme Court and none other.”

The Linkville Pioneer Cemetery instead of Memorial Park accepted William’s body for burial.  Roused by a Klamath Falls Herald and News article headlined “Jim Crow Ruling Prevents Negro Burial at Cemetery,” citizens of many races protested the ruling.  They confronted the Memorial Park cemetery committee on July 16, 1949, which referred the issue to the City Council. 

The city attorney said the cemetery rule was unconstitutional and ordered a separate plot for non-Caucasians be set aside in the cemetery.  The NAACP and others opposed that idea because it still represented segregation. 

The Klamath Memorial Park Cemetery later ended its discriminatory racial policies.

Sources: "Linkville Cemetery." National Register of Historical Places Registration Form. National Park Service, Department of the Interior, 28 May 2014. Web. 8 July 2015. .

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.