Construction of Fort Bend ISD’s new James Reese Career and Technical Center 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 2018, Fort Bend ISD and the City of Sugar Land agreed to a 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 Commission participated in the planning discussion and supported the District’s plan; however, no action was taken.
On February 12, 2019, 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.
In June 2019, the Governor signed a law that will allow the County to own, operate and maintain the cemetery.
The District has been in negotiations with the County to convey the cemetery to the County as well as an additional 10-acre tract for a future County memorial parkwhere members of the community can visit and pay tribute.