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NorCal County To Replace Headstones Bearing N-Word

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One of 36 grave markers that had been moved from the gold rush era Negro Hill Cemetery to the Mormon Island relocation cemetery near Folsom. The burial plots from Negro Hill went unmarked for more than half a century, until a contractor hired by the Army Corps of Engineers moved the bodies to make way for a lake, and marked the graves with stones that used a derogatory term for African-American. (CBS / AP)

One of 36 grave markers that had been moved from the gold rush era Negro Hill Cemetery to the Mormon Island relocation cemetery near Folsom. The burial plots from Negro Hill went unmarked for more than half a century, until a contractor hired by the Army Corps of Engineers moved the bodies to make way for a lake, and marked the graves with stones that used a derogatory term for African-American. (CBS / AP)

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EL DORADO HILLS (CBS / AP) — Supervisors in El Dorado county voted Tuesday to replace 36 gravestones that bear the N-word, giving the green light to state, county and community officials to design an alternative.

The graves hold the remains of pioneers of various races from a Gold Rush settlement called Negro Hill. The federal government moved the bodies from the mining town in 1954 to make way for a dam, and in the process, concrete headstones were erected that say the settlers came from N-word Hill.

The vote by the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors was its most decisive action yet in unanimously agreeing to get rid of the gravestones. But it didn’t directly hand over authority for the project to the California Prison Industry Authority, as Supervisor John Knight had originally proposed.

Knight, whose district includes El Dorado Hills, where the cemetery is located, had wanted a partnership between the county and the state agency, which runs work programs for inmates and offered its services free of charge.

Instead of adopting the Prison Industry Authority’s proposal, supervisors invited outside input after a group of advocates seeking the headstones’ removal said the black community should be behind any changes.

“It’s embarrassing, and it’s insulting to us for it to be there, and for you to take under consideration to let some prisoners fix it?” said Ralph White, one of the community members at the meeting. “We would love for them to help us, we would love for you to help us, anybody to help us. But we would like to be the leading agent, to show what we want.”

White’s group presented to supervisors a prototype of the headstones it wants as replacements.

Despite all the debate swirling around the cemetery, there has been little worry over who will foot the bill. Donors are stepping up to help fund the project, which could cost $400 per headstone.

Chuck Pattillo, general manager of the Prison Industry Authority, said he’s already written a $500 check and lined up other donors. Knight also said that if necessary, he’ll request the funds from the county.

Supervisors left the question of what to do with the original markers for another day.

Some, including a workforce coordinator at the prison agency, have requested a monument that includes one of the 36 old headstones and explains how the graves were wrongfully designated. Others have suggested sending them to museums and universities around the country for display.

Supervisor James Sweeney said he wants them gone for good.

“I don’t want a statue in Washington, D.C., that says those idiots made a mistake,” he said.

“I’m dead serious about that, because I have a love for this county that most of you people probably can’t understand,” he said. “But I don’t want to be made a disgrace.”

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

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