Advocates worry unmarked graves will surface during elementary school construction in Fort Bend

Lileana Pearson Image
Thursday, October 19, 2023
Advocates worry about FBISD plan to build school over old prison farm
After what happened with Sugar Land 95, advocates are pushing for the right precautions to be taken before building a school in a fast-growing area in Fort Bend County, which is near an unfound cemetery.

FORT BEND COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- The Fort Bend County community is pushing to ensure a new elementary school isn't built on unmarked graves.

The proposed school would be situated to serve a fast-growing part of the county. The undeveloped field is between two newer subdivisions off of Harlem Road in the Harvest Green community, and the district says it picked this location because so many people are moving to the area. But the hustle and bustle of a growing modern community masks what might be just below the surface.

"The school is sited near an unlocated cemetery. So we may be reliving history again," Jay Jenkins with the Texas Center for Justice and Equity said.

According to Jenkins, a former farm, once located on this land, used to lease prisoners from the jail for unpaid labor. In the late 1800s, just after slavery was abolished, the treatment of the people on this farm wasn't good.

"We know there were hundreds of deaths on sight from the historical records," Jenkins said.

Jenkins was one of the people who pushed Fort Bend ISD to do an in-depth survey before expanding a career center in 2018. Jenkins said the survey was not in-depth and led to construction workers finding the Sugar Land 95 - 95 convicted laborers in unmarked graves who worked for the same farmer that once owned the currently scrutinized parcel of land.

SEE ALSO: 'Slavery by another name': How cold case technology is helping researchers identify Sugar Land 95

"All we're asking is that the right precautions be taken here, and we don't think that's outrageous given last time they were ignored and the debacle that ensued," Jenkins said.

To ensure those who may be buried in the undeveloped field are honored, Jenkins wants the proper steps to be taken.

"We get the right people out here to look comprehensively, not just in certain spots so we can find the cemetery or proceed with construction in good conscience," Jenkins said.

Fort Bend ISD said a survey was done this past January. In a statement, the district said, "None of the archeological excavations have turned up evidence of human remains, grave shafts, grave markers, or coffin hardware. Some brick, miscellaneous metal artifacts, glass, ceramics, and animal bones have turned up. The Harlem Road Prison Cemetery is located near the school site, but its exact location has not been mapped."

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