SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Workers on Tuesday began installing new markers at a public cemetery near Sacramento where relocated Gold Rush-era gravestones had been marked with the N-word.
California prison inmates who are part of a work program were placing granite headstones on many of the 36 graves at the Mormon Island Relocation Cemetery near Folsom, about 25 miles east of the state capital.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers relocated the graves from a site a few miles away known as Negro Hill to build Folsom Dam in 1954. The N-word was chiseled into the new markers, and activists have long sought for them to be replaced.
The new stones say: "Unknown. Moved from Negro Hill Cemetery by U.S. Government, 1954."
"We are providing inmate labor and construction materials to rectify these historically inaccurate and offensive headstones," said California Prison Industry Authority spokesman Eric Reslock.
He said the work was expected to be finished Wednesday.
El Dorado County supervisors voted in May to replace the offensive gravestones for $18,000. Community activists who wanted the markers removed also wanted federal officials and the county to hire archaeologists to study the remains and determine who is buried there, as well as document the history of the black pioneers who lived in Negro Hill.
"When they decided to move the graves, how did the (N-word) get on the graves? That's not something they want to know," said Michael Harris, who has pushed for the headstones to be replaced.
Reslock said two of the tombstones bearing the N-word will go to the California State Archives, while the county is holding the remainder for now.
El Dorado County spokesman Mike Applegarth did not immediately return a call seeking more information.