Sugar Land - Missouri City Edition | May 2022

WHAT IS CONVICT LABOR LEASING? A system of forced penal labor historically practiced in the Southern United States in which states leased out prisoners to businesses and corporations. Convicts were often sent to sugar and cotton plantations as well as coal mines, turpentine farms, brickyards and sawmills. LOCAL LOOK Sugar Land sugar planters Edward H. Cunningham and Littleberry A. Ellis made large profits utilizing the convict labor system. In 1878, the duo signed a lease to take on their first convicts and used a loophole in the system to sublease a portion of their laborers to pass on the entirety of their costs—feeding, clothing, guarding, etc.—to the sublessees. 1,564 convicts leased by

scoured the area between October 2017 and January 2018, said Reign Clark, the consulting firm’s archeological project manager at the time. When Clark received an email from a colleague about the bone discovery, he said he was certain that they had come across human remains. “I was thinking to myself as I looked at the photos that there was a 95% chance that what I was looking at was human,” Clark said. “I had moved entire cemeteries before, and I had seen a lot of human bone fragments, and to me it was the right size and shape to be human.” To district officials, however, the discovery was not a complete surprise, Perez said. The district had been tipped off for years by Reginald Moore, the late community activist and convict leasing historian. He warned FBISD administrators of the possibility of remains being discovered at the James Reese construction site because it had formerly been the Bullhead Camp between 1880-1910. By August 2018, the exhumation and reinterment of the 95 bodies was complete, though conversations on the convict leasing system and Sugar Land’s role in that system remained. The convict leasing system, used to help Southern states supplement their depleted treasuries in the wake of the Civil War, was not unique to Sugar Land nor Texas despite the cru- elty it inflicted on its prisoners, said Matthew Mancini, chair of the Depart- ment of History at Southwest Missouri State University. Mancini is also the author of the 1996 book “One Dies, Get Another, Convict Leasing in the Ameri- can South, 1866-1928.” “The states were the lessors, and the businesses and corporations the les- sees, and they leased these prisoners,” Mancini said. “The states were com- pletely uninterested in having any- thing to do with prisoners. They gave

outdoor learning plaza and memorial space. According to Olainu-Alade, the last session is scheduled for May 25. Through those community engage- ment sessions, MASS Design should have a final design rendering ready for the public by late summer or early fall. “I would like to see [a] way for them to find out who is in what unknown gravesite,” Cole said. “Let’s work together and raise money so we can find out who these people are. I would also like a design that would allow peo- ple to come and be able to pray or med- itate with something like a bench that would allow people to pray for their souls. Also, maybe have a statue in the middle. Something positive.” Using historical documents from the Texas State Penitentiary and death records from Fort Bend County, researchers have compiled a list of 71 men who worked and died at the Bull- head Camp between 1879-1909. How- ever, further ancient DNA analysis—a process through which a DNA test con- nects a living descendent to the dis- covered remains and works backward using genealogical records—is necessary to match those names to individual remains found at the cemetery, accord- ing to the Sugar Land 95 final report, whichwas released in August 2020. Through a partnership between the University of Connecticut and Othram Inc. in The Woodlands, 14 ancient DNA sample extractions from the site will be sequencedover the next twomonths to help identify 14 individuals, Clark said. The remaining test samples, how- ever, require more than $50,000 in funding before the sequencing can be completed. “We need funding,” Clark said. “We desperately need funding to perform that sequencing.”

the prisoners to the businesses, and they could do anything they wanted with them. The whole point for the state was to avoid any expenditure.” In 1878, Sugar Land business owners Edward H. Cunningham and Little- berry A. Ellis signed a lease to take on 1,564 convicts, according to Mancini’s book. Of those, 700 were assigned to cut sugarcane; the rest were subleased out for major profits, according to Mancini’s book. According to Mancini, it’s unclear how many convicts were assigned to the Bullhead Camp. Though Texas may have held the lowest proportion of Black people among its prison population—about half—that did not change the convict leasing system’s status as a brutal, race- based system, Mancini said. According tobothMancini andRobin Cole, president of civil rights group The Society of Justice & Equality for the People of Sugar Land, many Black men were arrested for trumped-up charges and put in the convict leasing system. “So they came up with things that would be considered to be a crime,” Cole said. “If you walked on the wrong side of the street, if you were unem- ployed, if you were an orphan, if they said, ‘Oh, you’re out past the curfew. That’s $10. And now you’re a criminal because you can’t pay that $10.’” Looking forward With the exhibit open at the James ReeseCenter, the Sugar Land95Memo- rialization Project will involve students more fully, Olainu-Alade said. FBISD is planning on ways to train students to become docents or tour guides through summer sessions and workshops. Should the plan go for- ward, students would be tour guides beginning in the 2022-23 school year, Olainu-Alade said. This comes as MASS Design is half- way through hosting community engagement sessions on the future

Cunningham and Ellis in 1878

convicts set to cutting cane, all of them were Black


convicts subleased 864

($XX) amount adjusted for inflation

HOWTO TEST DNA Matching the remains of the Sugar Land 95 with living humans requires ancient DNA testing. • Samples taken from teeth and/or bones are collected. • Samples are then sent to an ancient DNA laboratory for analysis. • Samples are thoroughly cleaned. • DNA is extracted using procedures optimized for the recovery of ancient DNA. SOURCES: “ONE DIES, GET ANOTHER, CONVICT LEASING IN THE AMERICAN SOUTH, 1866-1928,” MATTHEW MANCINI, BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS' CONSUMER PRICE INDEX, ROBERT SAHR AT OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY, $36.12 annual payment required to Texas per convict ($1,038) $125 annual payment received from sublessees per convict ($3,594) $90K+ Cunningham and Ellis’ profit in 1880 ($2.5M+)

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Located in Sugar Land 18802 University Blvd. Sugar Land TX 77479 281.207.6111



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