Controversial grave stones replaced

Folsom inmates replace markers with ‘N-word’ at Mormon Island Relocation Cemetery
By: Eric Laughlin, Telegraph correspondent
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A plan to remove and replace three dozen gravestones bearing the “N-word” at El Dorado County’s Mormon Island Relocation Cemetery was finally carried out last week with the help of some Folsom Prison inmates. Over the course of two days, inmates replaced grave markers that had for years generated controversy due to their racist inscriptions. All had been in place since 1954, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers moved the graves to make way for Folsom Lake. Although the graves had been moved from “Negro Hill,” the stones were engraved using the “N-word” in front of the word “Hill.” The effort to change the stones was finalized this past May, when the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors voted on a plan to replace them. The total cost for the stones was around $15,000; $6,000 of that came from donations, with the county picking up the remainder of the tab. “It took longer than it should have, but it’s great to have the project completed,” said El Dorado County spokesman Mike Applegarth. Other government officials who took part in the replacement effort were also pleased to see the old stones come up. Eric Reslock serves as chief of external affairs for the Prison Industry Authority. “The good people of El Dorado County were unfairly tarnished by something they had nothing to do with,” he said. “So it’s a great feeling to replace them. It’s also great for the inmates and very helpful to the rehabilitation process.” Former Stockton City Councilman Ralph White represented the African-American community in its effort to get the stones replaced. “It feels good to have them changed, but I’m still writing letters to the federal government, because I think it should have to pay for it since they are the ones that put them there in the first place,” he said. Applegarth said the county does not plan to seek any kind of federal reimbursement. “As far as we’re concerned, that would be just like taking money out of one pocket and putting it in the other,” he said. White said he plans to hold a celebration event at the cemetery in the coming weeks. Roseville resident Matt Wise said he believes the new stones reflect a more tolerant country when it comes to race. “Things are obviously much different now than they used to be and it’s good to see a reminder of that horrible past be tossed out,” he said. Michael Harris, who has been at the center of an effort to create a national monument honoring the residents of Negro Hill and their contributions to society, refused to be interviewed for this report. In an e-mail response seeking comment, Harris wrote, “Authentic Negro Hill, California, will rise from the depth of Folsom Lake and one bright day we all will embrace the notion, ‘to form a more perfect union.’ Today, the hate crimes and hidden agenda (are) on full display.”