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Battle Waged Over Removal Of N-Word From NorCal Graves

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The N-word is blurred out on a headstone at an El Dorado County cemetery (CBS)

The N-word is blurred out on a headstone at an El Dorado County cemetery (CBS)

EL DORADO HILLS (CBS) - A serious mistake by the government more than a half century ago led to dozens of graves being engraved with a racial slur, but an effort by a local Eagle Scout to replace the markers has been blocked.

Joshua Michael, 15, said he spent hundreds of hours raising money to buy replacement headstones for the graves of 36 unidentified remains resting in an El Dorado County cemetery, but he wasn’t expecting so much resistance. He even secured a $20,000 grant from AT&T to buy new markers.

“I didn’t think we were rewriting history, I thought we were righting a wrong,” Joshua said.

In 1954, 8 cemeteries that were about to be flooded by the construction of the Folsom Dam were moved to El Dorado County, including three dozen graves from Negro Hill.

The Army Corps of Engineers replaced “negro” with the n-word.

The effort to replace the markers was blocked by a threatened lawsuit against El Dorado County. Michael Harris is at the forefront of efforts to identify the remains and said he wants a public investigation into how the government made such an offensive mistake.

Different organizations want to “sweep this under the rug,” Harris said, “and that’s not something that’s going to happen.”

County officials said they will erect signs explaining where the graves came from and the nature of the error. There are no plans to replace the graves until the legal process determines whether they can be replaced at all.

(© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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