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Sugar Land 95 update: Small protest at Fort Bend ISD’s administration building

(Fort Bend ISD – August 9, 2019) -- Earlier today, less than a handful of individuals protested the district’s plans for reinterment of the Sugar Land 95 outside Fort Bend ISD’s administration building. The protest was apparently in response to the District’s announcement made on July 25, 2019 that it would reinter the remains of the 95 individuals in the spots from where each were exhumed.

“We don’t understand why these few individuals are protesting,” said Jason Burdine, FBISD Board President. “For more than over a year, we have engaged in discussions with members of our community, community leaders, and activist groups from outside our community. We listened to them and honored the wishes of those who did not want the remains removed from the site. To make this happen, we had to redesign and eliminate an important wing of the career and technical center. We have also paid more than a million dollars to archaeologists to ensure the proper and dignified treatment of the remains, and to preserve DNA samples so that future testing might help us learn more about the Sugar Land 95 and their possible descendants. We think the greater community recognizes our commitment to respectfully handling this historical find and preserving this important part of our local history.”

The remains of the Sugar Land 95 were Discovered during the district’s construction of the James Reese Career and Technical Center, a state-of-the art career and technical education center that is scheduled to open this school year. The District had previously filed a petition in a Fort Bend District court requesting that it be allowed to reinter the bodies at a nearby historic cemetery operated by the City of Sugar Land so that it could complete construction of the center as it was originally designed.

After some objection to the District and city’s plans to reinter the remains in the city cemetery, the District abandoned its plans and redesigned the center to eliminate a wing of the building that was to be constructed in the cemetery area. Because the District was no longer requesting to remove the remains from the site, the court no longer had jurisdiction and the district dismissed the lawsuit.

District officials have taken great care to ensure the remains have been handled in a dignified manner while also recognizing the need for historical preservation. Upon discovery of the first bones, the district reported the find to the Texas Historical Commission and engaged an archaeological firm to conduct further investigation and eventual exhumation. Before exhumation occurred, the District court issued an order granting permission for the archaeologists to exhume the remains. A team of archaeologist then worked throughout 2018 to exhume the remains and catalog all historical artifacts found on the site.

Working under authority granted by the Texas Historical Commission, the archaeologists have also gathered materials needed for DNA testing. These materials will be transferred to the Texas Archaeological Research Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin. Curating the DNA materials with the UT archaeological research laboratory will allow future DNA testing that may help determine the identities of the Sugar Land 95 and their possible descendants. 

The District is also working with college research facilities for the performance of isotope analysis that will also provide additional information about living conditions of the Sugar Land 95. 

Upon completion of their work, the archaeologists will prepare a report that will be provided to the district and the Texas Historical Commission. The District looks forward to sharing this report with the public. To further ensure that the historical significance of the find is not forgotten, District staff have been working on a student curriculum about the Sugar Land 95 and the State of Texas’ convict-leasing program. 

The District’s plans for reinterment remain ongoing. District officials are in the process of procuring burial vessels and internment services. The District hopes to announce a timeline for reinterment, including plans for a memorial service, in the near future. 

The District has also been negotiating with Fort Bend County officials to transfer the cemetery to the county once the reinterment process is complete. The District has agreed to convey another 10 acres of district property to the county for the construction of a memorial park to commemorate the 95 individuals who historians believe were convicts in the state’s convict- leasing program.