Plan would replace controversial grave markers
On gravestones taken from the Negro Hill Cemetery, the word “Negro” has been replaced with a racial epithet.
May 6th, 2011
03:30 PM ET

Plan would replace controversial grave markers

[Updated 6:52 a.m. ET]

After more than a half-century, gravestones etched with racial epithets in a California cemetery may be replaced, thanks to a plan by the California Prison Industry Authority.

The graves, in Mormon Island Cemetery in El Dorado Hills, were transferred from a cemetery in a town called Negro Hill to make way for the construction of Folsom Dam.

On the gravestones, the word “Negro” has been replaced with a racial epithet.

On Thursday, the California Prison Industry Authority offered to replace the gravestones free of charge.

“That graveyard is right around the corner from our offices, and it’s pretty easy to know that that’s the right thing to do,” Charles Pattillo, general manager of the authority, said Friday.

"If we can help the Army Corps of Engineers and the county and restore some honor and dignity to the people that are buried there, then that’s what we’ll do,” Pattillo said.

The El Dorado County Administrator's Office supports the plan, but the process, like many things in government, may be slowed by bureaucratic red tape.

"The prison authority's offer was a great offer and unexpected," said Mike Applegarth, a spokesman for El Dorado County. "We all want to see this project make it through, but it may take some time, a few weeks or so," he said.

Although the offensive term has riled members of the community for years, and many have tried to get the markers replaced, according to CNN affiliate KXTV, no one knew when the word had appeared on the markers - until now.

This week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released 1950s-era records on the construction of Folsom Dam. Also included were documents related to the relocation of  several cemeteries, including Negro Hill. The epithet is repeatedly used in the documents.

In the 1950s, the Army Corps of Engineers completed the relocation of the gravesites, "transferring all original markers where we found them," Lt. Col. Andrew B. Kiger wrote in a letter on the Corps of Engineers website. "Finding none at Negro Hill, we marked the graves with new ones, noting the name of the original cemetery by another, deeply offensive slur," he said.

"We don’t know why, when in so many other instances the cemetery was called Negro Hill, the new gravestones and our records use the more offensive word. Our records contain no documentation of its original designation. Yet this word appears throughout these records; in contracts, in project maps, in legal affidavits, signed by local, state, and, of course, federal officials," Kiger wrote.

“We can only say with certainty that it is reflective of a shameful period in American history when racial intolerance was commonplace,” he said.

Last month, county officials met to discuss the issue but took no action, according to CNN affiliate KCRA.

"To see this is unacceptable," Ralph White of the Stockton Black Leadership Council was quoted by KCRA as saying at the time. "That word won't be there another year. Either God's going to remove it, or Satan will know what to do about it," White said.

The California Prison Industry Authority plan awaits approval from the El Dorado County Board.

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soundoff (481 Responses)
  1. Cathy Kayser

    This is tantamount to rewriting history to comply with modern day thinking. History is history and should be preserved not whitewashed. It would be more instructive to make the grave markers an historical marker with educational information.

    May 7, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steph from CT

      As a black woman I totally agree that history should not be re-wriiten or in this case re-etched. Creating a marker explaining the history of the stones will provide an education of sorts, as generations of people pass through the cemetery, for years to come. It will show how far we have come in this country..... I would not find it offensive to find a marker with such words from that era...I would of course be offended if it were to occur today.

      May 7, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bobby

      Ahmen Steph!!! Ahmen...........

      May 7, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      Blacks have to be proud of their history, and remember it, My ancestors from Ireland did'nt get treated much better, but we remember, and even smile about how far they took us

      May 7, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • chefdugan

      Steph, or anyone else that doesn't like the word should tell her fellow blacks to stop using it,.For every white person that uses the word there are a thousand blacks who also use it, every day. Something about having your cake and eating it too.

      May 7, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
  2. marty

    White Knight., I heard your wife has a secret lover of color, on the down low of course. This is 2011 – lets leave racism and bigotry in the past.

    May 7, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Musomesa

    Go ahead and post the location of your family burial plots and invite everyone to mark them as they will.

    May 7, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Joe

    I'm strongly against this change. It is blatant disregard for the preservation of History. Good or bad, history should be preserved in it's purest state, so that generations after can ingest it as what it is. Aushwitz is around for this same reason. It gives us appreciation for what we have. I'm sorry that there are ignorant people out there who only oppose this change because it uses racial slurs, now considered unacceptable by society, but again, history is what it is. If you destroy it, you destroy the lessons learned, and the significance of everything and everyone who fought for equality. I'm sorry history isn't full of gum drops and sunshine, but it is what it is. This sort of stuff disgusts me.

    May 7, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
  5. TK

    I think changing them is understating the existence of jim crow and the massive discrimination of that era. We need to be reminded of where we've been and how far we've gotten. Should we should tear down Auschwitz? Any reminent of the past should be preserved, not only for historic context, but it should also stand as a lesson.

    May 7, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • chefdugan

      You're absolutely right. However, when are the political correct loonies going to stop discriminating against white people?

      May 7, 2011 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Andyvon

    Well said White Knight! What has happened to America? Everyone else in the world is comfortable with who they are and what they were born – except this lot. No one else takes offence at anyreference to their race or colour so why should these people? Your country has now become very sick indeed.

    May 7, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Lynn3765

    I certainly agree that history needs to be preserved. It is one of the reasons we are having so many problems today is becasue everyone keeps wanting to change make it more warm and fuzzy so as not to "offend" today's society. Maybe the heard part in all this is knowing that people of color call each other that "n" word, both in friendship and in anger yet no one gets on them for the use. Let a white person use it, even in passing, and the media, ACLU, NAACP and every othger "human rights" group is ready to crucify them. We also don't see too much defense from these same groups when racial slurs are used agsint that point it's..oh big deal. I'll go with a few of the others that say leave the markers as is but put up a memorial of some sort that educates visitors of the history behind the cemetary and the "n" word on the markers, with a statement that indicates the use of the word is no longer acceptable as a racial slur. What is the phrase..."those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it." We, as a society, need to be reminded of both the good and the bad in the past.

    May 7, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  8. whight_knight

    @Jenn I do too because at least I would be known for something other than a mass follower of the ignorant masses since I can at least think for myself and am not afraid to use my freedom of speech.

    May 7, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Michael Mallon

    This is revisionist history. As offensive as this word is to me and others, black or otherwise, it is part of our nation's history. Removing it from grave markers, books and every other written record will only empower the spirit of the word to endure. Hate thrives in the shadows. In another generation or two, will anyone even remember its etymology? We are raising our children and their children to be a nation of babies afraid of the truth.

    May 7, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Barbara

    Remove all traces of history and we cannot learn from it.

    May 7, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Julie

    Like Kristofferson said, "Yesterday is dead and gone." Time to move on, people.

    May 7, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  12. whight_knight

    I think it's really funny how many people whine about something that's much before their time and a word that will exist much after their time. I can't help but laugh at the senseless masses about how this is such a great justice to society that they are destroying historical artifacts because everyone is so sensitive..get over yourself and stop acting like a bunch of fools because a simple word will only hurt you if you let it. I am sure there will be a lot of parasites that disagree with me, and if you match the above description then you should really stop and think about this little thing we have in America called the freedom of speech, and how maybe the U.S. wouldn't be such a crappy place to live if you did something really crazy and say.....USED IT!!

    May 7, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  13. daveugber rewriting history...

    May 7, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  14. JaddaJadda

    What an incredibly mature and adult society this is: afraid to look at unclothed bodies, afraid of invisible gods flying with the wind, afraid of words.


    May 7, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • B12D7

      Agree with you 100%

      May 7, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Shane

    When the author refers to the N***** word, is he referring to what most Republicans call President Obama when in private company?

    May 7, 2011 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sebastian

      Whatdoya mean "in private company"?

      May 7, 2011 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
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