Archaeologists continue to excavate the historic cemetery recently discovered at a construction site in Sugar Land.
“As of today, they have identified approximately 70 (graves),” said Amanda Bubela, spokesperson for the Fort Bend Independent School District.
The school district is building the James Reese Career and Technical Center at University Boulevard and Chatham Avenue. The first human remains were found about a month ago and were immediately reported to police. It was determined that the remains could be older than a century and as excavation of the site continued, more graves were found.
“The work is still in the early stages, so we will continue to work with the (Texas) Historical Commission to determine the most appropriate next steps when we have more information about the history of this cemetery, its age and size,” Bubela said.
Construction of the facility continues on other portions of the 65-acre site away from the cemetery.
“The crews at the site are working diligently under the guidance of the Texas Historical Commission, which is providing their expertise to ensure that the district is following all rules and regulations in this situation,” Bubela said. “We are thankful for their expertise, as we want to ensure that we are treating these lives with respect and dignity.”
Fort Bend ISD Superintendent of Schools Dr. Charles Dupre said in a press release that the district is taking every precaution with the site.
“We are proceeding under the guidance and expertise of the Texas Historical Commission to ensure we are respecting the history and lives of the people buried on this site. One of our community members, who has a passion for history, brought to our attention the possibility of archeological artifacts in the general area. We were careful as we began work, with an archeologist on site from the beginning,” Dupre said.
Although there is a good probability the gravesite contains the remains of prisoners, officials have not yet identified a time frame for the cemetery or determined who is buried there. At one point the site had a state prison and before that a private prison. It’s also possible the cemetery predates the prisons as the site was once a plantation.
Fort Bend ISD said it is operating in compliance with the Texas Health Code and the State Antiquities Code as the excavation and investigation continue.
Chris Florance, director of public information and education for the Texas Historical Commission, said the district will have several options to consider once the investigation is complete.
“There are a number of options for the reinterment of the remains,” he said. “That’s a decision the school district will have to make.”
Retired state corrections officer Reginald Moore, who is now a historian and caretaker of the Old Imperial Farm Prison Cemetery in Sugar Land, said in published reports that he alerted FBISD to the possibility of human remains on the site before they began construction. Moore said he believes the remains may be those of slaves and former slaves who were convict laborers who were leased to plantations after slavery came to an end after the Civil War.
“The system said you were free unless convicted of a crime, so that’s how they were able to get slavery back,” Moore said.