Cemetery's racial epithet spurs prayer

30 gather for ceremony to bring attention to ‘n-word’ on grave stones
By: Art Garcia Telegraph Correspondent
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Black History month ended in El Dorado Hills and Folsom last Sunday with a gathering of about 30 at the Mormon Island Relocation Cemetery for a ceremony intended to bring global attention to “the earliest California Gold Rush pioneers of African descent” buried in graves marked “Unknown” and as having been moved from “N-word” Hill. The event, billed as an International Faith-Based Prayer Circle, was part of the “continued quest to bring global dignity and respect to the earliest Gold Rush pioneers of African descent” in 2011, the United Nations International Year for People of African Descent. The observance was arranged by Michael Harris, a Sacramento student of African American history and culture, director of the Negro Hill Burial Project and an historian for the National Black Farmers Agriculturists Association. Harris, 47, said he is attempting to win the support of federal, state and regional politicians, administrators, educators and business leaders in removing the “foul, wicked and racist language” from 36 grave markers. The burial plots were moved to the 5-acre relocation cemetery at the end of Shadowfax Lane off Green Valley Road by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1954 before they would have been flooded by Folsom Lake, created by the building of Folsom Dam in 1955. A source tells the Telegraph offers were made by a county historical group to replace the relocation cemetery headstones for free in 1998 but were rejected by El Dorado County, despite the case made that the community was Negro Hill, not “N-word” Hill and that the markers were historically inaccurate. A lawsuit against El Dorado County threatened by Harris has put the brakes on any moves by the county to replace the grave markers. He said he has contacted “the highest level” of U.S. government agencies, including the departments of Justice and the Interior, for guidance on steps for filing a complaint about the grave markings. “‘Unknown (racial slur)’ does not reflect the authentic historical and modern contributions from people of African descent,” Harris proclaimed. “Yet, today the values and beliefs that established the egregious action continue unaddressed through silent capitulation to demonic behavior. “This historic pattern of behavior is consistent with the wide generational educational achievement gap throughout the Sacramento region and ongoing intentional efforts to limit and distort the contributions of people of African descent,” Harris continued. Since 1994, he said, the Sacramento African Cultural Center has “consistently worked tirelessly and diligently” to connect African “high cultural achievement” with the legacy of the earliest black farmers in Gold Rush communities. Harris said Sunday that Rep. Dan Lungren’s district office indicated an interest in helping learn what the federal government can do to help, “which is the main challenge, since the U.S. government was responsible for moving the graves.” Lungren is chairman of the Committee on House Administration. Jeff Ferreira-Pro, vice president of the 500-member Folsom Historical Society, said at the Sunday ceremony that while African Americans certainly were players in the Gold Rush and early California farming, “We don’t know who they were and where they came from. We hope to find people who can help fill in that important part of Folsom history.” Harris hopes to convince government officials to “facilitate providing dignity and honor to create a worthy lasting memorial.”