APIECE OF HISTORY IN RETROSPECT Efforts remain to memorialize 95 individuals believed to have died at the Bullhead Convict Labor Camp in the late 19th century. The 2018 discovery lead to the remains of 95 people being found and exhumed.
WHO THEY WERE The Sugar Land 95 final report maps the burial locations of all 95 individuals. The outline marks the boundary of the cemetery. Each dot represents one individual. 95 bodies exhumed 14-77 is the estimated age range of the Sugar Land 95 16K+ individuals could be related to any of the Sugar Land 95.
JAMES REESE CAREER AND TECHNICAL CENTER CEMETERY SITE
FEB. 19, 2018: A bone is discovered at the James Reese Career and Technical Center. Goshawk Environmental Consulting Inc. contacted. Later in February, the bones are confirmed to be human. MARCHJUNE 2018: Goshawk Environmental Consulting Inc. is mobilized for exploratory survey at the location of bone findings, ending the search in June after finding the remains of 95 individuals. Later in June, a judge grants an order to exhume the remains. SEPT. 1, 2018: The exhumation of remains and over-dig of the cemetery are completed. SEPTEMBER 2019: Fort Bend ISD board of trustees approves agreement with local funeral home for Sugar Land 95 reburial. NOVEMBER 2019: A ceremony is held prior to the reburial of Sugar Land 95 remains. A community symposium is held at the James Reese Center. DECEMBER 2019: The Sugar Land 95 are laid to rest. AUGUST 2020: FBISD releases the final report of findings, “Back to Bondage: Forced Labor in Post-Reconstruction Era Texas.” FEBRUARY 2021: The Texas Historical Commission approves and grants Historical Cemetery Designation to the Bullhead Labor Force Camp Cemetery. FEBRUARY 2022: FBISD opens Sugar Land 95 exhibits at the James Reese Center.
SOURCE: FORT BEND ISD/COMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER
COURTESY IMAGES OF AMERICA: SUGAR LAND, SUGAR LAND HERITAGE FOUNDATION
“Education, obviously, is the first facet of the memorialization proj- ect,” Olainu-Alade said. “We’ve really invested a lot of our time and energy on advancing education and aware- ness not only of the discovery, but the system of convict leasing statewide and nationally.” As a part of this educational compo- nent, an exhibit for the general public detailing the story of the Sugar Land 95 opened in February at the James Reese Career and Technical Center. One part of the exhibit highlights the history of convict leasing in Texas, while another focuses primarily on the discovery, scientific research and forensics that went into providing an accurate account of what occurred on the property, Olainu-Alade said. Since the exhibit’s opening, Fort Bend ISD has been hosting public tours three times per month along with pri- vate tours. InMarch, the district hosted five private tours. Because demand has been so high, the district increased the number of public and private tour slots, Olainu-Alade said. “It really says that people are eager to learn,” she said. The exhibits are just one way the dis- trict is improving student education on the convict leasing system. In May 2019, for example, the FBISD board of trustees adopted a locally developed social studies standard related to local history associated with the Sugar Land 95 and convict leas- ing. The standard has allowed teach- ers to incorporate instruction related to that history, according to a district announcement. This joins broader efforts by the
Texas State Board of Education to bring more African American studies into the classroom. In April 2020, the board approved an African American studies elective for high schoolers that includes information regarding convict leasing and the Sugar Land 95. Meanwhile, the second and third prongs of the district’s project tar- get memorialization and community engagement, Olainu-Alade said. Memorializing the 95 individu- als who still reside in a cordoned-off cemetery space adjacent to the James Reese Center revolves around install- ing a kind of outdoor learning plaza. However, what form that takes and the details, costs and timeline of that project depend heavily on what design arises from the ongoing community engagement sessions. The sessions are led byMassachusetts architectural firm MASS Design, which has designed doz- ens of high profile memorials, includ- ing The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. “How do we convert the environ- ment into a space that is conducive to honoring, restoring dignity, and learn- ing at the same time about the system of convict labor and the victims of con- vict leasing?” Olainu-Alade said. Discovery On Feb. 19, 2018, Daniel Diaz, a back- hoe driver on the James Reese Center construction site, uncovered a human thigh bone. The district had hired Goshawk Environmental Consulting Inc. to investigate the 23-acre site for the upcoming CTE Center, but it had found no evidence of bone remains when it
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a slice of Sugar Land’s history that ignited conversations about how best to memorialize these people and edu- cate the public on the convict labor leasing program, according to officials from Fort Bend ISD, which owns the landwhere the bodies were uncovered. “It’s an extraordinary discovery,” FBISD Chief Operations Officer Oscar Perez said. “It’s a part of history that has been untold. Since the discovery of the first bone until now, I know more about convict leasing than I ever knew.” With one eye on the past and the other on the future, Fort Bend ISD has rolled out the first steps to its Sugar Land 95 Memorialization Project. The project is designed to properly recog- nize the 95 individuals—all who are suspected of being Black and dubbed the Sugar Land 95—and stimulate com- munity and student discussions on the convict leasing program and Sugar Land’s past role in that program, said Chassidy Olainu-Alade, the district’s coordinator for community and civic engagement. Convict leasingwas a sys- tem of forced penal labor historically practiced in the Southern United States in which states leased out prisoners to businesses and is seen by experts as an The district’s memorialization proj- ect began with the discovery of the first human remains in February 2018, Olainu-Alade said. The project has taken a three- pronged approach to restoring dignity to the Sugar Land 95, she said. extension of slavery. Proper recognition
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