FORT BEND COUNTY, Texas – It was an emotional night as dozens gathered to remember the "Sugar Land 95" for a Blessing The Ground ceremony.
"We want to honor them, we want to pay them respect," said Charles Dupre, the district's superintendent.
The Sugar Land 95 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 first discovered in February 2018 during the construction of the FBISD's James Reese Carter Career and Technical Center, and they are set to be reburied in the coming days.
"There are some members of our community who have asked us to not re-inter the bodies until DNA testing was done and families had a chance to identify if they had anyone buried here, but as I mentioned that process is a two to three years process," Dupre said. "We didn't feel that it would be appropriate to leave these individuals out of the ground in a storage unit for that length of time."
The district's handling of the remains has been controversial. Members of the National Black United Front stood in protest and interrupted the ceremony just minutes after it started.
"You've only done what you've wanted to do, which is build a school on sacred ground," said Swatara Olushoa, a member of the National Black United Front.
Protesters demanded the district conduct DNA testing, insisting that the Sugar Land 95 be identified.
"The right thing to do is to find out the names of the remains they unearthed," Olushoa said.
Dupre was quick to point out that DNA testing will happen but funding for the project is needed.
"The materials necessary have been extracted from each of the remains and they're in storage now in Austin, under the care of the State Historical Commission," said Dupre.
Dupre said funding would cost tens of thousands of dollars and was now the responsibility of the
University of Connecticut.
Donations to help with the effort can be sent to:
CLAS Shared Services Business Center
(Attn: Sugar Land DNA/ Deborah Bolnick)
215 Glenbrook Road, Unit 4158
Storrs, CT 06269