District 1 county Supervisor John Knight is offering a plan that may allow the Mormon Island Relocation Cemetery’s resident souls to rest in peace, in the wake of newly born publicity over an offensive, racial slur.
In a May 13 letter to his colleagues on the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors, Knight outlines a possible resolution to remove and replace 36 grave markers that were created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1954. Construction of Folsom Lake required the removal of remains from eight cemeteries and six individual burial sites that were later interred at the Mormon Island Relocation Cemetery at the far west end of the county.
The inscriptions on the stones read, “Unknown, Removed from Nigger Hill Cemetery by U.S. Government – 1954.”
In fact, there was no such place as “Nigger Hill Cemetery” and no such place as “Nigger Hill,” according to Michael Harris, director of the Negro Hill Burial Project. Harris spoke at an El Dorado County Board of Supervisors meeting back on April 26. For the past 10 years, Harris said he has been working to correct both the language and the history associated with the issue.
“This information regarding the 36 markers was brought to county staff in 2006 and in 2007 the Cemetery Advisory Committee voted to have them changed,” Knight’s letter reads in part. “In 2009 a local Boy Scout was looking for an Eagle Scout project and presented to the county a detailed plan to replace the markers. In addition, the Scout received a $20,000 donation from AT&T to cover the costs for all the work. This plan was never carried out.”
Joshua Michael of El Dorado Hills was the young man who eventually was awarded Eagle Scout status, based on his efforts after hundreds of hours and more than a year of research and planning.
Knight’s letter is slated for next Tuesday’s board agenda, and it describes “an offer to the county to make and install replacement markers for the Mormon Island Relocation Cemetery” from the California Prison Industry Authority.
He notes that General Manager Chuck Pattillo of the CALPIA proposes to make 36 replacement gravestones, remove the old ones and install the new ones along with a plaque that explains the history of the cemetery. “This will be done at no cost to the county of El Dorado,” Knight’s letter states.
Part of Knight’s recommendation to the board includes directing county staff to work with the Prison Industry Authority on the project and follow up with AT&T regarding future grant opportunities.
In addition, he asks that board Chairman Ray Nutting sign “a letter of gratitude to (Joshua Michael) the Eagle Scout who initially sought a solution to this matter, and thank him for his sincere efforts in attempting to replace the 36 headstones with an appropriate epitaph.”
Michael Harris, responding to an e-mail request for comment from the Mountain Democrat and to a preview copy of Knight’s letter, called the proposal “a wonderful conversation, no documentation.”
He also characterized Knight’s effort as: “Nothing in writing, no staff report substantiating the background language suggested in Supervisor White’s (sic) ‘Master Report” and information … heretofore the ongoing secret plans best called a ‘stay tuned proposal.’”
Knight will have the opportunity to expand on the proposal, and the board will likely hear public testimony on the matter Tuesday.