Thieves target African-American cemetery in California, steal bronze plaques for scrap

A California cemetery was targeted by thieves over the weekend, who stole more than 100 bronze name plates of those who’ve passed away as well as a plaque dedicated to Black World War II soldiers.

Community members said that the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday was supposed to be a day to celebrate Black history, but instead, they are mourning parts of Black history now missing from one of the first African American cemeteries in Los Angeles.

Volunteer Aisha Woods oversees the Lincoln Memorial Park Cemetery in Carson, the final resting place of about 40,000 people, many of whom she says are of African American descent and Veterans, dating back to the 1800s.

When Woods arrived Saturday morning, she thought a pipe had burst.

“I went to investigate, I noticed that the whole housing that was made like of copper was gone,” said Woods.

Instead, she found more than 100 bronze name plates pried off the mausoleum and a 1944 bronze plaque dedicated by heavyweight champion Joe Louis to honor the World War II Black soldiers buried at the cemetery missing.

It’s just terrible, 1944. The purpose of fallen soldiers that were disrespected everywhere else but still fought to make this world, especially the U.S., a better place, for me, being African-American and everybody else of diversity, who they were fighting for, and now it’s gone,” Woods said.

The thieves also attempted to steal the 1934 Abraham Lincoln bust statue right behind the plaque.

“They sprayed some type of liquid to see the patina, they sprayed it and then they wiped it down to see that it was bronze,” said Woods.

The thieves appeared to have tried to saw and then melt away the bronze from the plaques.

Woods believes it was more than one person due to the amount of damage done and how heavy the bronze is.

“When Black veterans came back, these two cemeteries were the only two available,” said Benjamin Walker Sr., a Vietnam Veteran.

Walker is part of a Veteran’s organization hoping to do more in-depth history on the soldiers buried at the site. Walker also spoke about the Woodlawn Celestial Gardens, directly across the street in Compton, which also saw similar thefts of bronze plates and plaques.

Tool used in an attempt to steal an Abraham Lincoln plaque from the Lincoln Memorial Park Cemetery in Carson. (Photo by Anastassia Olmos/NBCLA)

City of Compton Councilman Jonathan Bowers confirmed Angeles Abbey Cemetery in Compton was also hit with similar thefts recently.

A spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said they are looking into these reports, confirming that people steal this material to sell to recycling centers for money.

Right now, scrap bronze is going for nearly $2.50 a pound and copper is going for more than $3 a pound, according to Rockaway Recycling.

I would like to just send a message out there to any of the recycling companies that receive this, do not take it,” Bowers said. “If you can get those people’s information, turn that into the local law enforcement so we can apprehend and prosecute these people and hopefully end this reign of terror.”

Bowers added that the city council is looking into legislation to curb these crimes.

“To come and to pay respects… to my father’s father and his brothers and his mother,” said Marvin Lakey who came to check on his family’s graves Monday. “It’s saddening. I just wish they catch them, I wish they catch them and don’t give them any mercy as they pretty much have nothing in their heart, nothing in their soul.”

The volunteers at the cemetery are asking people to come and check on their family members’ graves so they can compile a list of names that were taken and need to be replaced.

They will be holding a community meeting on Jan. 21 at 1 p.m. at the Lincoln Memorial Park Cemetery. They also hope to raise enough money to hire security guards and staff in the future for upkeep at the cemetery.

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