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Remains of 95 People Found at Texas Construction Site: Historic Cemetery Unearthed

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When a school district broke ground for its new technical center, they had no idea what they’d discover hidden beneath the earth. Months afterward, archaeologists discovered the remains of 95 people. Believed to be African Americans who were forced into working at convict labor camps, the first of these remains were discovered in Sugar Land, Texas, in February. For more than a century, the bones have been untouched.

Focusing on an era which has been largely overlooked in history studies – a time when some African Americans were fundamentally still enslaved, despite slavery being illegal – it’s an important discovery for research into the time period in the Houston suburb. In a statement to CNN, Superintendent Charles Dupre explained, “It’s a remarkable opportunity for our community and our school district to learn much more about the history of our local region.” Reign Clark, the site’s archaeological project manager from Goshawk Environmental Consulting, told CNN, “It’s a rare opportunity. We’ll be telling the story of what it was like to live here, work here, and, in some cases, die here.”

Remains of 95 People Found at Texas Construction Site: Historic Cemetery Unearthed

Photo: Facebook/Sola Paola

The findings were a result of years of interest and work, not to mention advocacy, that Reginald Moore had in historical cemeteries. Moore worked for a number of years as a Texas state prison guard before becoming a community activist. An integral component of Moore’s passionate drive is informing people of the Sugar Land convict-leasing system and the abuses which prison inmates once had to tolerate, including the forced labor they endured. Moore said he felt as though he had a duty to speak from the grave for these people Moore is presently the caretaker of the Imperial Farm Cemetery in Fort Bend County. Since the school district’s new James Reese Career and Technical Center was nearby, he advised officials that other such cemeteries could yet be in existence.

Remains of 95 People Found at Texas Construction Site: Historic Cemetery Unearthed

Photo: Facebook/Sola Paola

The conditions and ages of each of the bodies vary, although the common thread is that they were either sick or malnourished, and they all faced tremendous physical stresses. They’re believed to have been buried between 1878 and 1910. Old cemeteries are often missing their markers, so it’s difficult to determine a precise time frame. The Texas Historical Commission has stated that across Texas, it’s estimated there may be as many as 50K cemeteries, with only 1,706 having a historic Texas cemetery designation. Back at the time in question, Sugar Land’s economy thrived on sugar cane plantations. These relied heavily on slave labor. In 1878, Edward Cunningham and Littleberry Ellis, two Confederate veterans, signed a contract with Texas to lease the state’s prison population. Conditions in that area were known to be so bad that the city was nicknamed “Hellhole on the Brazos.” It earned a reputation as the worst prison farm in Texas.

Remains of 95 People Found at Texas Construction Site: Historic Cemetery Unearthed

Photo: Facebook/Marcell Cattouse

Going forward, Moore would like to have a memorial erected to honor the group as a form of restitution. Upon the completion of forensic archaeology, the school district will work with the Texas Historical Commission to determine where to have reburial completed. Moore explained that he’s speaking for those who didn’t have a voice, and he feels as though he’s been called to set them free.