Bodies relocated from a California graveyard more than 55 years ago now have new markers that remove a reference to the “N” word and more accurately reflect history.
According to The El Dorado Hills Telegraph, the United States Army Corp of Engineers in 1956 moved 36 unidentified bodies, both Black and White, from a cemetery in Negro Hill, Calif. while building the new community of Folsom Lake. Each was given a headstone at their new location in the Mormon Island Relocation Cemetery in El Dorado County, but which identified their original resting place as being in “N—r Hill.”
Following a decade of work by the Negro Hill Burial Ground Project, on Oct. 5 the original monuments were replaced with new markers which correctly name the original graveyard, according to a press release from the group. The change was the result of a cooperative effort between the organization, founded by Michael Harris, El Dorado County Supervisor John Knight, and the California Prison Industry Authority.
Authorities were initially hesitant to claim responsibility for the incorrect markers, according to CBS San Francisco affiliate KCBS, with the Corps of Engineers saying the matter was turned over to the county, and the county saying they welcomed a solution from the engineers.
In undated letter on the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers Sacramento District web site, Lt. Col. Andrew B. Kiger wrote, “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.”
“With no concrete evidence either way in the records we have, we can’t speculate as to why this was done or where the name originated. We can only say with certainty that it is reflective of a shameful period in American history when racial intolerance was commonplace,” Kiger wrote. “Regardless of the context, we are deeply ashamed and regretful to find this word in our records, and for having perpetuated a racist, hateful word that has no place in public discourse.”
In an effort to help local authorities decide how to move forward, the Corps of Engineers added to their Web site all documents in their records pertaining to the issue. “We genuinely hope to be a part of the solution,” Kiger wrote.
“Telling the accurate story of what happened and putting the positive correction is something that this region has a responsibility to do,” Harris told KCBS. Knight campaigned with Harris for the change, according to the Telegraph, while the Prison Industry Authority agreed to make new stone markers for free.
With the new markers in place, Harris said in a press release, the “positive contributions by people of African descent in Gold Rush California,” are properly recognized.