Memorial planned at Burr Oak Cemetery

February 27, 2012 2:29:57 PM PST
New initiatives were announced Monday to move beyond recent problems at south suburban Burr Oak Cemetery.

Burr Oak was rocked by scandal in 2009 when it was discovered that the previous managers were reselling graves and had dug up and dumped older remains in order to put new ones in. Now, the cemetery is on its way back.

"One of the priorities is that we would try to identify the markers and make sure that they're visible so when families come to visit it's easy to identify and located their loved ones," said Willie Carter, Burr Oak Cemetery manager.

It hasn't been an easy job. But so far, according to the cemetery's new managers, through landscaping and improved record-keeping, they have been able to locate nearly all of the grave markers a judge ordered them to find after being reported missing by their families.

"We've removed quite a few trees and bushes to make it more visible," said Carter.

While many graves have been identified, there are still families who do not know where their loved ones are. A memorial is to be erected for them sometime this year.

"Make it a peaceful and serene location that families that can go to pray or reflect on their loved ones," said retired Judge Patricia Brown Holmes, Burr Oak Cemetery trustee.

The memorial has some prominent backers, including Muhammad Ali's daughter, Rasheda Ali. She became involved after discovering that family friend and boxer Ezzard Charles is buried at Burr Oak.

"It resonated with me personally and I felt that I really needed to restore dignity to people, to Ezzard's family and others that are buried there," said Ali.

Though the new management has made a lot of improvements, officials are the first to admit a lot remains to be done.

"It's probably going to take a year or two to bring this cemetery back and hopefully people will appreciate what we're doing," said Carter.

Besides the memorial, an essay contest for middle and high school students was announced Monday to help people rediscover the cemetery's rich history.