Burr Oak Plan Offers $100 Per Victim

Agreement providing blueprint for cemetery's future finalized, awaiting shareholder approval

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The long, sordid saga of Burr Oak Cemetery may finally be coming to an end.

    An agreement reached in U.S. Bankruptcy court would provide a blueprint for the cemetery’s future care and operation.  And perhaps most importantly, it would provide a compensation package for families of those buried in the cemetery.

    Burr Oak Plan Offers $100 Per Victim

    [CHI] Burr Oak Plan Offers $100 Per Victim
    Victims need to prove direct relationship to someone buried at historic cemetery and relinquish rights to sue later. (Published Friday, Apr 8, 2011)

    Those amounts are not large, and are certain to inflame passions anew in some families.  Under terms of the agreement, which still must pass a vote of all concerned parties, anyone with a direct family link to those buried at Burr Oak will receive a one-time-only payment of $100.

    "The plan is the best overall resolution of this situation, for the greatest number of people," said  attorney Robert Fishman, who represented Burr Oak’s owners, Perpetua Holdings.  "I know there’s people who imagined that they might get big returns.  I know there’s plenty of lawyers who thought they would get lots of money prosecuting lawsuits."

    "Some other case, some other time, maybe that would have happened," he said.  "It’s just not what happened here."

    Fishman said the uphill fight for anyone trying to prove damages, would be exactly that:  proof.  And many observers believe that for most, proving that their loved ones were moved would be very difficult.

    History of Burr Oak Cemetery

    [CHI] History of Burr Oak Cemetery
    The Burr Oak Cemetery was for a time the only cemetery where Black people could be buried in Chicago. Keiana Barrett, with the DuSable Museum of African American History, talks about what the desecration means to the community. (Published Tuesday, Jul 28, 2009)

    "We all have a decent idea of what kind of claims could really be maintained, and more importantly, what kind of proof you’d have to have to successfully prosecute a claim," he said.

    Indeed, Fishman said a "creditors' committee," which included representatives of families which might have sought damages, signed off on the agreement. 

    "Not only did we take their input," he said, "we largely deferred to their input."

    Families availing themselves of the $100 payment would forfeit any future rights to sue for damages.

    Sheriff Tom Dart, whose office first broke news of the alleged grave-selling scandal two years ago, signed off on the agreement, after receiving a promise that two areas designated as crime scenes would be considered off limits forever.

    "The big hurdle was just the understanding that going forward, these two areas that are the largest areas supposedly without remains, are not going to be utilitzed for burials," Dart said. 

    The proposed settlement does not affect an ongoing criminal case, involving the cemetery’s former manager and a group of gravediggers accused in the 2009 scandal.

    A searchable database on grave sites at Burr Oak continues to be online at BurrOak.net.
     

    A Look Back: Desecration at Burr Oak