Honoring the Sugar Land 95: Final report shares history, plight of convict laborers assigned to the Bullhead Convict Labor Camp following abolition of slavery (8/31/2020)
FORT BEND ISD (August 31, 2020) -- The Fort Bend Independent School District is pleased to present the executive summary of Back to Bondage - Forced Labor in Post Reconstruction Era Texas: The Discovery, Exhumation, and Bioarcheological Analysis of Bullhead Convict Labor Camp Cemetery (41FB355) , the final report prepared under the guidance of Goshawk Environmental Consultants, INC, Fort Bend ISD, and various contributors. The final report, submitted to and approved by the Texas Historical Commission this month, documents the site, discovery, historical context and bioarcheological research findings associated with the Bullhead Convict Labor Camp Cemetery, which was abandoned and hidden for decades.
“The historic discovery of the Sugar Land 95 two and half years ago has had a significant impact on not only FBISD and the Fort Bend community, but on the state and national level as well,” said FBISD Board President Jason Burdine.
“The finalization of this report marks an important milestone in the ongoing efforts to educate the community about the Sugar Land 95 and the atrocities of the state-sanctioned convict leasing system. The Bullhead Camp laborers played a fundamental role in building Fort Bend County and the city of Sugar Land, and we remain committed to bringing awareness to their lives and legacies, and revealing the true story of the injustices and exploitation associated with the system of convict leasing.”
Researchers, historians, scientists and archaeologists contributed countless hours to compile the report that illustrates the important story of the Sugar Land 95 and what happened on the site. The executive summary, posted on the FBISD website, provides a comprehensive overview of the discovery, historical context, and progress made related to the Sugar Land 95. The summary includes the name of 72 men who died at the Bullhead Camp between 1879 and 1909, according to historical documents. The data helps create a precise timeline for the use of the site as a forced labor campus and increases our understanding of the brutal treatment and unimaginable conditions that caused the death of the men buried at the Bullhead Camp Cemetery. However, without a DNA match to living descendants, there is no way of identifying which of the 95 interments belong to the 72 men in the report.
A commitment to education and awareness
In an effort to educate and bring awareness to the Sugar Land 95 and the historical implications of the discovery, Fort Bend ISD has developed an education program including the keynote presentation, “Found and Not Forgotten: the Sugar Land 95.” This presentation is available to be delivered to audiences in other school districts, as well as other educational, governmental, and religious institutions. Along with this keynote presentation includes a professional development session titled, “It’s Under our Noses: Using Local History in the Social Studies Classroom,” which highlights Fort Bend ISD’s accomplishment of creating a local standard to address local history.
“Fort Bend ISD has been dedicated to ensuring that we educate our students about the history of convict leasing, and the integration of this local standard will ensure that this continues for years to come,” said Fort Bend ISD Superintendent of Schools Dr. Charles Dupre.
“It is heartbreaking that the Sugar Land 95 were previously forgotten, left in an abandoned cemetery that lay hidden for decades. Educating our community and bringing awareness to their plight will ensure that they – and the injustices they suffered – are never again forgotten.”
Fort Bend ISD’s local history standard, adopted by the FBISD Board of Trustees in May 2019, was implemented in the 2019-20 school year, integrating the Sugar Land 95 discovery into the District’s social studies curriculum. Information regarding convict leasing in the state and the Sugar Land 95 will also be included in course curriculum and the corresponding TEKS for the State’s African American Studies course, which was approved by the State Board of Education in April and will be offered to FBISD students in the 2020-21 school year.
Fort Bend ISD’s Coordinator of Community and Civic Engagement, Chassidy Olainu-Alade, worked with SBOE Representative Aicha Davis to develop the state TEKS after presenting research on the discovery of the historic cemetery to SBOE Representative Pat Hardy.
“There is still more work to be done to properly honor the Sugar Land 95 and the countless others who fell victim to the system of convict leasing. It is my hope that Fort Bend ISD can lead in bringing awareness to this lost part of history by educating the masses. I hope to engage the community as we take steps forward in educating and memorializing the Sugar Land 95,” said Olainu-Alade.
In November 2019, following a somber ceremony, the remains of the Sugar Land 95 were reburied at the same site where they were found. Prior to reburial, each gravesite and burial vessel was carefully marked so that individuals could be reunified with family, should descendants be identified in the future. A community memorial service, initially planned for the spring of 2020, was postponed due to the pandemic, and will be scheduled for a later date.
DNA analysis to identify the Sugar Land 95
The published executive summary includes information about the ongoing DNA studies at the University of Connecticut, and that the only method to positively identify the individuals exhumed from Bullhead Camp Cemetery is to conduct a DNA analysis, followed by intensive genealogical investigation. By combining the results of these studies, researchers hope to narrow down possible identities and compare data to local populations to find descendants, thus confirming the identities of at least some of the individuals from the cemetery population. FBISD is pleased to announce that the University of Connecticut has established a permanent fund to support the DNA extraction and related costs for the "Sugar Land 95." The UConn Foundation is leading this research which includes but is not limited to analysis, comparisons to existing databases, public outreach, and genealogical studies. Donors will receive a tax letter from the UConn Foundation for deductions. Information on how to donate is available at www.fortbendisd.com/Sugarland95.