November 22, 2012
CHARLESTON — People with loved ones in a desecrated Logan County cemetery are waiting to see if the gas company responsible for the damage appeals a ruling against it. In the meantime, many of them say the destruction of the graves is a crime that should be prosecuted.
James Olbert of Holden, who grew up in the mostly-segregated Crystal Block coal camp, says he was heartbroken when he discovered a contractor for the gas company Equitable had bulldozed a road through the African-American graveyard there.
“What was done was a felony. They give you a few dollars and think that’s going to take care of everything. But I want the world to know what has happened here, instead of just pushing it under the rug.”
Olbert says his father’s gravestone had been knocked aside, and it’s now impossible to tell where the actual grave is. In fact, he says, the whole site has been completely changed.
“Part of the cemetery is missing; it’s been hauled away. My father’s headstone was still there, but it wasn’t where it was supposed to have been.”
The company argued in court that it was not directly responsible for what happened, and that no one knew the cemetery was there. Olbert says evidence that came out during the case says otherwise.
“The bulldozer was told before he did his work there was a black cemetery there. He was told this, and he made a racial comment and just continued to do what he was doing, so it didn’t make him any difference.”
Last month, after an eight-year legal battle, a Logan County court ruled Equitable’s parent company would have to pay $900,000. The company called the destruction a “regrettable situation for everyone,” but has not ended its legal challenge of the ruling.