SUGAR LAND, Texas – The remains of 95 former slaves that were uncovered in Sugar Land more than a year ago will be reburied during a ceremony later this month.
The “Sugar Land 95” as they have become called, are believed to be African American slaves who were forced to work as part of the Texas Convict Lease System in the late 1800s. Their remains were unearthed in February 2018 during the construction of a Fort Bend Independent School District high school.
Wednesday, Fort Bend ISD officials said the remains will be reburied Nov. 17 in the same place they were found.
“We are not in support of this ceremony,” said Swatara Olushoa, of the National Black United Front. She served on an advisory committee to Fort Bend ISD office since the unmarked graves were found. “They’re trying to clean up the mess they made and put as many black faces on this issue.”
When district officials first purchased the land, they said they had no knowledge of graves on the site of the future school. However, in October 2017, the Texas Historical Commission contacted Fort Bend ISD to share concerns that graves might be at site. Construction of the school moved forward with oversight from an archeological firm.
After opposition, district officials modified plans for school construction and said the remains would be moved to another cemetery. A judge halted that plan.
“The land has been desecrated,” Olusha said. “They have been holding school in a partially built building on this sacred ground where our ancestors were found and they have no remorse.”
Fort Bend ISD officials declined requests for an interview Friday, but in a 12-minute video posted online, Superintendent Charles Dupre defended the district’s actions.
“This has not been an easy journey, but our commitment to doing what is right for these individuals and for our students has never changed,” Dupre said in the video.
After the Nov. 17th ceremony, the remains will be reburied in a process that will likely take several weeks to complete.
District officials said they are in talks with Fort Bend County officials to turn the cemetery over to them once the reburial is complete.
Identifying the 95
"I'm not happy until the nameless are named and their families are identified," said Olushoa. "How can we involve the families in the process of reinterment? They might have a family cemetery or some special way they would like to reinter their own father, their own great, great uncle."
DNA taken from the remains is in the hands of the University of Connecticut, where researchers are working to put the information into a database and search for relatives. That process could take more than a year.
A nonprofit group overseeing the DNA testing said some of the 95, who are believed to have been mostly young, unmarried men, may not have direct descendants. Researchers will eventually match the DNA to that of living people, which is a long and expensive process.
Donations to help with the effort can be sent to the following:
CLAS Shared Services Business Center
(Attn: Sugar Land DNA/Deborah Bolnick)
215 Glenbrook Road, Unit 4158
Storrs, CT 06269
Here's a closer look at how this story unfolded.
- 2011 - Fort Bend ISD bought the land.
- Oct. 2017 - Fort Bend ISD begins construction of Jesse Reese Career and Technical Center
- Oct. 2017 - Texas Historical Commission contacts Fort Bend ISD to share concern graves might be at site of construction. Construction moves forward with oversight from archeological firm
- Feb. 2018 - bone fragments discovered at site
- April 2018 - construction halted on part of site where large, unmarked cemetery is discovered
- June - August 2018 - remains exhumed
- October 2018 - Fort Bend ISD finalizes plans to rebury remains at different location
- Early 2019 - Fort Bend County takes first steps to take control of land where remains found
- August 2019 - Jesse Reese Career and Technical Center opens
- November 17, 2019 - ceremony to honor Sugar Land 95, followed by private burials