Historic cemetery discovered at the construction site
of the James Reese Career & Technical Center
Construction of Fort Bend ISD’s new James Reese Career and Technical Center has unearthed a forgotten piece of Sugar Land’s past: a historic cemetery where 95 individuals were buried, likely part of a convict-leasing program that began in the late 1800s.
In February 2018, crews discovered the first human remains while backfilling a trench. That led to the discovery of more burial sites, and ultimately, the remains of 95 individuals in the months that followed.
In June 2018, the 434th District Court granted Fort Bend ISD permission to exhume the graves for investigation and analysis. The exhumation and onsite analysis was a methodical and extensive process, with each exhumation taking approximately 36 to 48 hours per grave, followed by 4-8 hours for cleaning and an additional 12-15 hours for analysis.
Following this analysis, archaeologists believe that the individuals buried at the property are likely convicts who were leased by the State to provide convict labor to a local plantation.
In October of 2018, Fort Bend ISD and City of Sugar Land agreed to final resting place for the remains at the Old Imperial Prison Farm Cemetery, an existing city-owned and maintained cemetery that has shared history with the land where the remains were discovered. Both the Texas Historical Commission and the Fort Bend County Historical commissions participated in the planning discussion and supported the District’s plan.
Fort Bend ISD has petitioned the 434th District court for permission to reinter the human remains in the Old Imperial Prison Farm Cemetery as agreed by the District and the City of Sugar Land. While the individuals remain without a permanent resting place for now, Fort Bend ISD continues to work with an advisory committee of local community members, historians and other organizations to develop plans to properly memorialize the individuals and teach future generations about this forgotten piece of history.
On February 12, the Fort Bend County Commissioners Court voted unanimously to authorize the county attorney to negotiate an Interlocal Agreement with Fort Bend Independent School District for conveyance of land where the abandoned cemetery was discovered to allow the county to construct and maintain a memorial park and cemetery pursuant to state law. Fort Bend ISD applauds the action taken the County which has the legal authority, capacity and resources to address the complex issues related to the discovery of the abandoned cemetery.
Fort Bend ISD is grateful to the Commissioners Court for recognizing what the District stated for months – the perpetual care of a cemetery is beyond the District’s expertise and is not legally permissible. An agreement between the District and the county which addresses the complexity of issues may include reinterment and memorialization on property aquired by the county and not at the Old Imperial Prison Farm Cemetery.