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Offensive El Dorado gravestones will be replaced

6:10 PM, May 24, 2011   |    comments
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PLACERVILLE, CA - The solution seemed simple, but it took 90 minutes of debate to arrive at it.

Following a lengthy public hearing Tuesday, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a plan to replace 36 racist headstones in the Mormon Island Relocation Cemetery with markers that are both more sensitive and more accurate.

Three dozen graves from the Negro Hill Cemetery were moved in 1954 by the U.S. government to make way for Folsom Lake. 

Plain stone markers on the relocated graves carried the inscription "UNKNOWN - MOVED FROM NIGGER HILL CEMETERY BY US GOVERNMENT - 1954."

Two different factions had their own ideas of how to deal with the situation, debating not just the style of the new headstones but also what to do with the offensive markers.

The California Prison Industry Authority, which offered inmate labor to replace the racist gravestones, proposed a triangular vertical marker with the inscription "PIONEER GRAVE MOVED FROM NEGRO HILL CEMETERY BY THE U.S. GOVERNMENT - 1954."

The PIA also advocated keeping at least one of the old markers in the cemetery to remind visitors of America's openly racist past.

But a coalition of African American activists advocated a flat polished granite stone that that simply replaced the single offensive word, and objected to keeping any trace of the old markers.

Both proposals would rely on private donations and not government money.

The county supervisors seemed exasperated by the seemingly minor disagreements, which at one point included a gospel sung by Michael Harris, one of the black activists.

They instructed their staff to work with the two groups and come up with a solution on their own, which apparently happened in the waning moments of the hearing.

PIA General Manager Chuck Pattillo said he actually liked the gravestone suggested by the coalition, and did not appear to be stuck on saving any of the 36 offensive markers.

Pattillo estimated the gravestone replacement project will cost about $23,000.

by George Warren,


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