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YOUR VOICE: Family members say Carver Cemetery is in deplorable condition

Family members sound off on cemetery conditions. Cemetery owner responds.
Updated: Jun. 3, 2021 at 9:37 AM CDT
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SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) - Embarrassing, nuisance, unkempt. These are all words used to describe Carver Cemetery in Shreveport. The cemetery is located off Linwood Avenue on Kennie Road. Family members who have loved ones buried there contacted KSLA News 12′s Domonique Benn to take action on what seems to be forgotten land.

Caver Cemetery entrance off Linwood Avenue on Kennie Road
Caver Cemetery entrance off Linwood Avenue on Kennie Road(KSLA)
Conditions at Carver Cemetery
Conditions at Carver Cemetery(KSLA)

It’s the final resting place for thousands from the Shreveport area. The sacred burial ground is home to local legends, historians, and scholars. Land records show Carver Cemetery dates back to the 1960s. Family members who have loved ones buried there say what they signed up for is not what they’re getting. Pastor Evelyn Khelama has cried out for many years.

“That is neglect and there is no other way to put it and there needs to be something done about it and the only way to make change is to call attention to the fact that there needs to be,” she said.

Misplaced headstone lying against another plot
Misplaced headstone lying against another plot(KSLA)
Overgrown grass at Carver Cemetery
Overgrown grass at Carver Cemetery(KSLA)

It’s not hard to zero in on the problems. The cemetery is plagued with fallen trees on graves, overgrown grass, and misplaced tombstones. A fresh grave already appears to be sinking. Marie McDonald is an advocate for those with family members buried at Carver. She says they deserve better. McDonald’s fight turned personal on Mother’s Day after she drove up to the baby section, where a large tree had fallen, covering many of the plots in the special area dedicated to babies.

Family members sound off on conditions of cemetery
Family members sound off on conditions of cemetery(Marie McDonald)

McDonald’s son has been buried at the cemetery since 2004. She also has several other family members at Carver, including her mother and grandmother.

McDonald requested removal of the trees, but instead, she says they were cut back and remain up against graves. While some headstones were placed upright again, there were other markers thrown aside.

“Where these two babies at? If you remove this off of them, where are they at? How do their parents know where they are at?” McDonald questioned.

McDonald visits Carver Cemetery every day and with each trip, her fight grows bigger and her voice stronger.

Marie McDonald advocates for families with loved ones buried at Carver Cemetery
Marie McDonald advocates for families with loved ones buried at Carver Cemetery(KSLA)

She showed KSLA’s Domonique Benn some of the problem areas at the cemetery, pointing out a fallen tree on top of vaults and a headstone.

“I asked him, ‘Could they be removed, replaced, or could you mark these graves?’ He told me he doesn’t have that kind of time,” McDonald said, recalling a conversation she had with cemetery owner, Arthur Walsh.

Benn caught up with Walsh at his office located off St. Vincent Avenue in Shreveport.

Arthur Walsh, Carver Cemetery owner
Arthur Walsh, Carver Cemetery owner(KSLA)

Walsh runs Liberal Development Company, which owns Classic Monuments and Carver Cemetery. When questioned about the upkeep of the cemetery, he responded, “Everything will be done at a reasonable time.”

KSLA’s request to the Louisiana Cemetery Board revealed a handful of complaints in the last 10 years. Over the years, families have complained about the unpaved roads and high grass.

Letter from a family member to Louisiana Cemetery Board expressing disappointment in the upkeep...
Letter from a family member to Louisiana Cemetery Board expressing disappointment in the upkeep of the cemetery(Louisiana Cemetery Board)
Family member letter to the Louisiana Cemetery Board detailing conditions at Carver
Family member letter to the Louisiana Cemetery Board detailing conditions at Carver(Louisiana Cemetery Board)

In rebuttals back to the cemetery board, Walsh blamed weather conditions, like rain, for delays in getting the property mowed. The latest issues are again blamed on rain and now, COVID-19, adding in an extra kink when trying to get things done.

“I want people to know I am sorry the virus come about and the help won’t come and I am trying to get a new crew to take care of the cemetery and I will,” Walsh said.

According to the Louisiana Cemetery Board, it’s important to note Carver Cemetery does not operate as a perpetual care cemetery.

Section on Louisiana Cemetery Board website details perpetual care
Section on Louisiana Cemetery Board website details perpetual care(Louisiana Cemetery Board)

Perpetual care means plots are sold under the representation that the cemetery will receive perpetual care. The cemetery board says to the best of their knowledge, Carver does not sell with a representation of perpetual care and is not licensed as such. In comparison to cemeteries like Lincoln Memorial Park off W 70th Street in Shreveport, which is a perpetual care cemetery that has funds dedicated to cemetery upkeep.

Lincoln Memorial Cemetery is a perpetual cemetery, which means there are funds dedicated to the...
Lincoln Memorial Cemetery is a perpetual cemetery, which means there are funds dedicated to the upkeep of the property.(KSLA)
Lincoln Memorial Cemetery is a perpetual cemetery, which means there are funds dedicated to the...
Lincoln Memorial Cemetery is a perpetual cemetery, which means there are funds dedicated to the upkeep of the property.(KSLA)

Shreveport area civil rights attorney, Jay Florence, says families can still take action.

“If he is the property owner, just because there is no fund does not alleviate him from his obligations. As a property owner, just like your home, if you own your home, you are obligated to keep it up, to cut the grass, to keep it from devaluing the other properties,” Florence said.

But family members KSLA spoke with, like Mary King, aren’t convinced much will change.

“My dad’s headstone has shifted and it is leaning over and I have an aunt buried by the fence. It has gotten so bad that the ground is completely sunk down and you can’t even get back there,” King said.

One day before this story aired, KSLA checked back in at Carver. Not much has changed, however, a mound of dirt has been placed on top of the plot that was sinking because of the rain.

Fresh dirt is now covering the plot that was sinking in because of the rain.
Fresh dirt is now covering the plot that was sinking in because of the rain.(Gray)

This isn’t the first time KSLA News 12 has covered these cemetery problems. In 2005, Walsh was arrested and charged with five counts of desecration to a grave, the act of treating something sacred with violent disrespect.

The Louisiana Cemetery Board looks into all complaints, whether a property is designating as a perpetual cemetery or not. Those wishing to file a complaint can do so online here.

The same day this report aired, someone was seen afterwards on a riding lawnmower cutting the grass at Carver Cemetery.

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