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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Comments (11)
  1. Kristers says:

    What’s really sad is that it took 57 years for someone to notice.

  2. danny says:

    it is apart of the past, be it a big mistake. replacing these, imo, would be like erasing the past and getting rid of mistakes that we can learn from

  3. Seriously. says:

    Danny, maybe your family won’t say anything when something ignorent or hateful is written on your headstone… by mistake. It can be left for the next generation to learn from.

  4. Richard L. Kent, Esq. says:

    1957? Hardly historical. That’s only 53 years. Replace them and destroy the originals. End of story.

    1. Ozwestie says:

      You know when someone proclaims ” end of story” after a comment it makes me want to keep on hearing the story. Exactly who are you to say that there is no more discussion to be heard?

  5. K. Westmont says:

    Eagle Scout Michael deserves praise for noticing and for taking action. How best to treat hateful history is debated always. Let’s all take care that Johusa’s lesson from trying should be a positive one. We need more humans like Joshua who pay attention and take action, even —perhaps especially—if one’d debate the action.

  6. kc says:

    You don’t know when these people died. It just says the the Army Corp of Engineers moved them in the 50’s and gave the headstones shown above.

    To try and identify would be impossible at this point; seeing as how they have no idea who these people were! What are they going to do – take DNA samples from every Black person in the country and compare to these remains! And at this point there may not be much to compare.
    Let the kid get his Eagle and at least give them a more dignified headstone.
    Really sad that in the 50’s in California those men thought that it was just fine to replace Negro with something else.

  7. ChurchSox says:

    I’m looking at the headstones and don’t see the problem.

    I mean, of course, you don’t want to leave the n-word inscribed in stone, sitting in plain sight.

    I just mean that if there’s an objection to moving the stones, surely someone could fabricate a free-standing cap that covers the offending stone and contains a dignified inscription.

    I bet if you pass the plate among local churches, you could come up with the money. So the archaelogy remains intact, the dead have been given their dignity, the kid gets his Eagle Scout badge. Is there a problem I’ve missed?

  8. Wombat says:

    “He even secured a $20,000 grant from AT&T to buy new markers.”

    Well, at least AT&T wasn’t being niggardly in their support of this project.

  9. Find a Real Problem says:

    Is this really a problem? I hear African-Americans call each others the “N” word every day. So if it is okay for them to throw the word about freely, is it so wrong to care about something from 54 years ago that uses the same term?

  10. brian holmes says:

    “N…..-Hill Cemetery” appears to be a proper place-name, not a racial slur.

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