Caravan to Sugar Land honors remains of forced labor workers found at historic cemetery

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Caravan to Sugar Land honors remains of forced labor workers found at historic cemetery. (KTRK)

The 95 graves found on property where a new Fort Bend school is being built have no markers, but local historian and advocate Robert Moore is committed to putting names to the remains.

"We want blacks to come out and do DNA tests so maybe a lot of hidden stories will come out. Sugar Land has a hidden story and it's not sweet," he said.

Moore and state archeologists believe the graves are those of prisoners used in what was called a convict leasing program by the state prison system until the early 1900s. Prisoners were used to work in the fields, and plantation owners paid the state for the forced labor. Most of the prisoners used in the practice are believed to have been African American.

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Earlier this year, when the land on what had been the state's prison unit in Sugar Land was being prepared as the site of the James Reese Career and Technical Center, the burial ground was discovered. Moore had suspected it for years. Since the discovery, environmental consultants and the Texas Historical Commission have recovered 48 sets of remains, as well as chains and pieces of tools that were buried with them.

The estimated ages of the remains range from 14 to 60 years old. One set of remains was that of a woman, according to Fort Bend ISD.

On Sunday, the National Black United Front drove in a caravan procession from Houston to the site, to honor the dead.

"It took our breath away when we heard the details of what was found," said Kofi Taharka, chair of the NBUF. "One spiritualist said they've been crying out for acknowledgement. Today we're going to commune with their spirits, and raise questions to those in authority."

Members marched in front of the construction fence to the sound of drums. During a ceremony, sage was burned as people chanted.

Moore said he plans to meet this week with Fort Bend County officials to discuss what happens next to the remains.

"We want them in coffins and interred in a cemetery with a memorial," he said.

He also wants apologies for injustices of the past.

"From the city, from the county, and from the state," he said. "Bones are rattling and flesh is coming on for the dead, who know they haven't been forgotten."
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community-eventsdead bodycemeterySugar LandFort Bend County
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