State representative proposes bills to honor buried slaves found in Fort Bend County

Tuesday, March 5, 2019
SUGAR LAND, Texas (KTRK) -- Over a year ago, the graves of 95 freed slaves were uncovered at a Fort Bend ISD construction site. Now, a state representative wants to see the Sugar Land 95 honored.

RELATED: FBISD drops legal actions linked to graves on school site

The discovery was made on a parcel of land off Highway 90.

In the months after the graves were discovered last April, a court battle took place between the school district and historians who wanted to preserve the site.

The bodies were found, each in its own wooden casket.

Last month, the school district said its board of trustees voted unanimously to give the superintendent the power to negotiate with Fort Bend County on establishing an alternate site for James Reese Career and Technical Center, while also preserving the historic grave site.

Researchers believe the bodies are those of freed slaves forced to work in convict labor camps.

Although the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibited involuntary servitude, it created an exemption for people convicted of crimes.

State Representative Ron Reynolds says southern states, including Texas, took advantage by enacting "Black Codes," laws that applied only to African Americans, who could be prosecuted criminally for such offenses as loitering, breaking curfew, or not carrying proof of employment.

The state of Texas leased prisoners as cheap labor to private railways, mines, and agricultural operations, including the sugar plantations along the Brazos River. While receiving no pay, convicts often endured brutal conditions. More than 3,500 Texas prisoners died between 1866 and 1912, when the legislature finally outlawed convict leasing.

Reynolds says for these reasons he's proposed six new bills. They include HB 2036, HB 2428, HB 2430, HCR 51, HCR 55, and HJR 87.

This legislation includes proposals to replace the confederate monument in the capitol with a plaque to honor the victims of convict leasing, to commission a study to determine the legacy of convict leasing, to establish a museum to educate the public on the history of convict leasing, and to administer $95 million in reparations to the descendants of the 95 victims of the convict leasing system discovered in Sugar Land.

The video above is from a previous story.

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