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California Prison Industry Authority Offers to Replace Offensive Grave Markers

Over fifty years ago, during the construction of Folsom Dam, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needed to relocate graves from a California grave site known as Negro Hill Cemetery. The Corps moved the graves in 1954. It even placed headstones over the 36 relocated (but previously unmarked) graves, marking them as having been moved from their prior location.

But in the 1950s, racial insensitivity was more blatantly ingrained in the fabric of American society than it is today. Thus, rather than marking the relocated graves with the actual name of the original cemetery, the Corps stamped the new headstones as having been “Moved from Nigger Hill Cemetery” – language that, in the words of the Corps. Lt. Col. Andrew B. Kiger, reflected “a shameful period in American history when racial intolerance was more commonplace.”

The racist language remained on the headstones until 2011, despite offending for years the sensitivities of the El Dorado Hills community in which the transferred graves are now located. Why? Due to bureaucratic red tape.

In May 2011, the California Prison Industry Authority offered to replace the offensive headstones free of charge. “That graveyard is right around the corner from our offices, and it’s pretty easy to know that that’s the right thing to do,” said Charles Pattillo, the agency’s general manager. The El Dorado County Board convened to discuss the issue and the prison industry’s proposal, but took no action at that time.

Apparently, however, publicity helps to cut through red tape. Following news reports about the offensive grave markers, including national media attention, the El Dorado County supervisors voted unanimously on May 24, 2011 to replace the headstones that included the racist language.

“Thirty-six markers are going to be removed,” said El Dorado Supervisor John Knight. “The offensive words are going to be gone.”

The headstones were finally removed in June 2011 after more than five decades.
According to Eric Reslock, a spokesman for the California Prison Industry Authority, new markers without the racist language will be installed using “free” prisoner slave labor.

Sources: news.blogs.cnn.com, New York Times, Sacramento Bee

 

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