95 slaves reinterred at Fort Bend school work site where they were found

SUGAR LAND, Texas (KTRK) -- The bodies of 95 African-Americans who were part of the convict leasing and labor program were laid to rest at the site where they were found.

Their bodies were discovered last April at the construction site of Fort Bend ISD's James Reese Career and Technical Center off Highway 90. They are now known as the Sugar Land 95.

"Its been an ongoing fight for a couple years since those bodies were found and now the fight is trying to make sure that they're dignified and buried in proper way with the judges order and community input," said activist Reginald Moore.

A blessing the ground ceremony last week brought together dozens to honor the Sugar Land 95. Community members, historians, and Fort Bend ISD representatives joined together for a candlelight walk.

Once all of the remains are reinterred, the district plans to memorialize and honor the Sugar Land 95 with a promise to ensure their lives are not forgotten.

As part of ongoing negotiations with the county, the district also plans to dedicate 10 acres of land to the county for a future planned memorial park where members of the community can visit and pay tribute.

"This has been an unprecedented journey for Fort Bend ISD," said FBISD Board President Jason Burdine. "We are thankful for the offer of county leaders to join us in this effort to memorialize these individuals and learn as much as we can about the convict-leasing system. We appreciate our local lawmakers who worked together to support the legislative changes that made it possible for us to take these steps forward."

The district says it's also collecting DNA analysis from the bodies, which will be processed at the Texas Archaeological Research Laboratory at the University of Texas. The district hopes to identify the descendants and their families.

In June, Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill into law allowing Fort Bend County to own and operate the land where the graves were uncovered.

Under previous rules, the Health and Safety Code only allowed smaller cities and counties to run cemeteries.

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

In February, the school district dropped pursuing legal action, with its board of trustees voting 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.

READ MORE: FBISD drops legal actions linked to graves on school site

With the new legislation, plans can move forward to get the people found in the field the recognition they deserve.

Sometime after slavery ended, the Sugar Land 95 were still forced to work on plantations and on public works projects.

The bodies found were part of what was called the Convict Leasing Program, which funneled profits to the state for leasing inmate labor. The bodies include one woman and a 14-year-old child.

The practice ended in the early 1900s.

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