95 bodies found at historic slave cemetery in Fort Bend closer to getting proper memorial

The bodies of 95 African-Americans who were part of the convict leasing and labor program are close to having a final resting place.

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.

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

HB 4179 amends the state statute to allow counties with a population of more than 550,000 and border a county with a population of more than 3.3 million to own, operate and maintain a cemetery.

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.

"It would be great if we had an apology, some type of reparation, a memorial, a museum, a cultural center, to represent these people here in this county, the state and the nation (for) what transpired under this convict leases system," said Rev. Reggie Moore, Sugar Land convict leasing researcher.

The next step is to finalize the plans on what to do between the county and Fort Bend ISD.

The school district plans to vote Monday night at its board meeting. Meanwhile, we're told the county needs more time and will meet next week.

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