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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Filed under: California • U.S.
soundoff (481 Responses)
  1. Winton Ben-Wa

    This jig's got a passport.

    May 7, 2011 at 8:05 am | Report abuse |
  2. Alton

    My personal take(and that all it is) is this- todays Blacks were greatly blessed via the manner their ancestors entered this country. It was very difficult for their forefathers. BUT, if it were not for their forefathers, they wouldn't be in
    America today. And I believe Blacks are, by far, better off here than in Africa. If they believe otherwise, then they can always return to Africa. Lincoln established Liberia for that purpose. The history of slavery is what it is and there's no turning back the clock. Doing away with old books, movies, letters, tombstones, etc is to no avail- changes nothing- never will. The history of it remains. Some gain much satisfaction in attempting to re-write history. It will never work and can't be done. We should all NOW count ourselves as one and move ahead as one nation OR ELSE-
    but if its the "or else", the its very predictable who will suffer the most.

    May 7, 2011 at 8:23 am | Report abuse |
  3. Joseph

    Now its time to turn prisons back into prisons instead of free housing for lazy prey your entire life on others,.free ride for life homes.

    May 7, 2011 at 8:31 am | Report abuse |
    • JomoDaMusicMan

      Fool, maybe you should do about ten yrs in prison and see if its FREE HOUSING AND A FREE RIDE. THERE IS NOTHING FREE ABOUT BEING AN INMATE IN PRISON. EVEN THE GUARDS FEELS THE STRESS, I AM AN EX CORRECTIONS OFFICER AND YOUR COMMENT OFFENDS ME

      May 7, 2011 at 8:44 am | Report abuse |
  4. Dennis

    "N" Word? CNN is race baiting again for clicks.

    May 7, 2011 at 8:33 am | Report abuse |
  5. unknown

    Do not replace them,but if so it needs to be visable for the public what it was once called and dates!! These things in history should never be swept under the rug anymore. It is an embarrasment to our country and the state of California and i dont think its being changed for the people that are buried there or there families.....

    May 7, 2011 at 8:40 am | Report abuse |
    • John Galt

      I agree. We cannot have historical revisionisn AND this is history. Replace the tombstones if you wish or get one big STone for the group and put the rest in a display on African American history in this nation.

      May 7, 2011 at 8:52 am | Report abuse |
    • kallen

      Americans are shameful. We never take responsiblity for the mistakes we make. We just cover them up and move on. Those words on those graves are disgracful but they are apart of American history as ugly as they are. Erasing them means erasing history.

      May 7, 2011 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Todd

      I agree. Replacing the markers may be the right thing to do, but the markers themselves (or some of them) should be displayed in a museum to teach of America's history of racial inequity.

      May 7, 2011 at 10:16 am | Report abuse |
    • DKing

      Agreed. Erasing history does not mean it did not happen. As a nation we need to remember both the good and bad to be able to continue to grow. By ignoring the dark parts of our past we will soon be forced to face them in the present.

      May 7, 2011 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
  6. Jeff

    LOL.......that's all I have to say.

    May 7, 2011 at 8:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Gina

      As much as I hate the racism shown on the gravestones, erasing a part of our ugly historical path will only create ignorant generations that may not learn from what was once done to people. If I could undo the past, I would. But since that is not possible, we must not forget that IT IS part of our past.

      May 7, 2011 at 9:34 am | Report abuse |
  7. Benny

    Lets all get angry and say what awful people the "whites" are...

    This cra p gets sooo old. I am a proud white American. I've served my country with men and women of all color for 8 years until my spine was broken in Kosovo in the Army. I can honestly say neither I nor any of my last 4 generations have owned anyone yet my government decided to issue a formal appology in 2007 (i think) to the former slaves. Popular myth is the last "slave" died in the 70's (look up Charlie Smith, 137 yrs old?) and slavery was abolished in the 1800's... Any of you born then? Any of your great-grandparents born then?

    How many generations have to pass that weren't slaves that we whites have apologize to? Yes. Racism is real and sucks. Get over it. It's not going to go away. The majority of the world are uneducated troglodites. Maybe one day, but I expect to be long dead when it happens.

    Yep. Slavery in today's concensus is and was terrible. Had it been today, it would have never happened. The other side of the coin is that all of those supposedly harmed by the slave trade alive today (keep in mind they would be over 200 years old from prior to 1800's) wouldn't be here today. Most likely their ancestors would never have left Africa. Before you yell, I'm not saying it was right or they should be thankful. I'm just saying that they likely wouldn't have ever left.

    For the record. I love all people, except the taliban. I truly wish we could all live peacefully and comfortably in this world. It really is big enough for us all. I just think it's sad.

    By this way of thinking maybe we should apologize to the Egyptians for the thousands of years of slavery they endured. Or maybe all people of Germanic decent should apologize to all the Jews for the holocost and the actions of a few. My grandmother was directly from Iceland. Maybe I should apologize to all the people of Europe for the actions of my Viking ancestors who raided their costal towns a thousand years ago. I wonder how much the postage would cost to mail a letter to everyone in Europe?

    No matter how much those Uber Anti-Racists want to tote the card, the simple fact is that we didn't do this. Yet "reverse racism" is OK. BET... United Neg ro College Fund... National Association for the Advancement of Colored People... All great organazations, except for BET (get a real show please), but wholeheartedly racist. I'd love to see WET, UWCF & NAAWP get by Jesse or his crew...

    Again. I love all people, except the taliban (and illegals). I'm not saying defacing graves is right. Just tired of all the crying over injustices that happened 2 centuries ago.

    A message to all you young people looking at the world for the first time and you old people who've seen it all before. The world really is a big place. There is enough space for all of us. Make what you can with this life. Enjoy it. It's way too short not to. Be happy with yourself. Be content with your surroundings but always strive for better. You'll make your life infinately better. Stop worring about everything and worry about yourself and your family. Love them as you love yourself because they will be gone all too soon and you will have missed your chance.

    May 7, 2011 at 8:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Zoe

      1st off, thank you for your service! Secondly, I am in 100% agreement with you. I have used this same argument numerous times. It is a shame what happened so long ago, but I am NOT going to continue apologizing for the sins of SOMEONE ELSE'S past.

      May 7, 2011 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
    • ckerst

      I'll bet you have no problem crying about injustices done to you, like having to pay taxes. You're a great example of the worst this country has to offer. I doubt it but, someday maybe you'll wake up and realize what a waste of skin you are.

      May 7, 2011 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      It is true that slavery was abolished in 1864, but don't forget that the civil rights amendment was only signed in the 1960's. There are quite a few "living" people who remember was it it was to be considered a "second class" citizen, to use different water fountains as whites, to use different entrances and exits, etc. South Carolina only stopped flying the Confederate flag over the state capital in the 1990's. I don't believe this article is saying how terrible whites are, it is stating that there was a time not too long ago (not 2 centuries) were racism was prevalent and even condoned by the general population.

      May 7, 2011 at 9:23 am | Report abuse |
    • judith

      The first and only completely sensible response is yours! Kudos to you and I am sorry you were injured but grateful for your service to the country....

      May 7, 2011 at 9:42 am | Report abuse |
    • mslman71

      ckerst said "You're a great example of the worst this country has to offer. I doubt it but, someday maybe you'll wake up and realize what a waste of skin you are."

      Wow, we're a dramatic little one aren't we?

      May 7, 2011 at 10:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Benny

      @ ckerst.... I'm terribly confused. At no point did I say that people shouldn't "cry about injustices done to (them)". Quite the opposite actually. I believe they should ONLY cry about injustices done to THEM, not their great great ancestors. The world today is what you make it. If you choose to insult people you are well within your rights, but if you choose to "get along" with all people you only make yourself happier.

      As for paying taxes... Why, yes! Of course I "cry about injustices done to me, like having to pay taxes". In case you haven't noticed, taxes are rediculously high, there is no appreciable return for our monies spent and they generally just suck. So in that way, you are correct and your point has no merrit.

      To quote a great person out of context... "I doubt it but, someday maybe you'll wake up and realize what a"... wonderful world we live in, stop, take a deep breath and enjoy it.

      @ Ryan.... You are absolutely correct. I wasn't trying to imply that the article was making the "how terrible whites are' statement. I was just answering the rediculous comments that are being posted here. There were terrible injustices done to blacks in America, but the solution of the civil rights amendment to the problem of racism and segrigation seems to have mushroomed into a deformed semblance of what it was ment to be. In essince beginning the era of the white minority and the white shame. At this point in our history, although racism will never end unfortunately, we should be able to "get along" without the unnecessary burdons of the past.

      Learn from the past, don't continue to live in it. Hasn't anyone ever heard the rhyme "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me."?

      May 7, 2011 at 10:06 am | Report abuse |
    • scabplumber

      don't forget fairy tales for every child. that cartoon gets on my nerves.

      May 7, 2011 at 10:48 am | Report abuse |
  8. Benny

    BTW... Can't wait till your namesake comes. Looking forward to getting back to my roots. Mad Max anyone?

    May 7, 2011 at 8:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Benny

      @ 12-21-12

      May 7, 2011 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Fun-N-Sun

      ...........and then there is that, the Mayan Calendar.

      May 7, 2011 at 9:57 am | Report abuse |
  9. gfg

    im ashamed to live in a place where adults say things like n-word, s-word, f-word...grow up

    May 7, 2011 at 9:27 am | Report abuse |
  10. tessa

    In the 50's it wasn't considered a bad word. Slang maybe, but accepted as descriptive of race, not a bad race, just a race. Nothing wrong with fixing it now that it's considered offensive, go for it. But stop trying to weave it into some sort of horrible, bad thing. Cemeteries used to be separated by race, all races, not just black and white. Who cares? Respect your ancestors, love the living and get on with life. Most people are not racist. That's the real bad word in this story.

    May 7, 2011 at 9:30 am | Report abuse |
  11. JD

    You can't change or wipe out history. It's stupid and a waste of money to try.

    May 7, 2011 at 9:30 am | Report abuse |
  12. JD

    Colorless? You don't make sense.

    May 7, 2011 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
  13. Rg

    Are all of these graves "unknown"s? That should be more offensive than a racial epithet.

    May 7, 2011 at 9:35 am | Report abuse |
  14. Fun-N-Sun

    Those that scream racism, every chance they get, are the very ones that continue to perpetuate racism.
    When are people going to stop trying to erase history and start living in the present and future. No matter what you cover up on head stones, rename, or pretend did not happen, it did happen, so get over it and stop opressing yourself, it happened, we can't undo history, so stop trying to hang the injustices of history on the peoples of today.

    May 7, 2011 at 9:47 am | Report abuse |
  15. Fred Slade

    I don't understand the uproar over the "N" word on grave stones. Every interview you see with rappers, every song, even common black folk use it profusely. If it's so damn offensive, why do they still use it? The reason being is that it's only offensive if "white" people use it. This is racism. Get over yourselves and stop using the past as a crutch for your lack of self motivation. Pay attention in school, go to college with special grants, (paid for with taxes from all colors) get a good job and enter society as a productive citizen, not a welfare sucking gang banger using the "N" word. "Nowhat i sayin"

    May 7, 2011 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Fun-N-Sun

      .........like I said, those that yell racism the loudest are the very ones that perpetuate it.

      May 7, 2011 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
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