Compiled by Joe Southern
The Fort Bend Independent School District and the City of Sugar Land entered an agreement, along with other stakeholders, to move forward with relocating the skeletal remains of 95 people that were discovered earlier this year at the construction site of the school district’s James Reese Career and Technical Center to the city’s Old Imperial Prison Farm Cemetery.
The city and the school district announced the agreement last week in separate statements.
“Fort Bend ISD entered into an agreement with the City of Sugar Land recently as a first step toward the planned reburial of remains at the Old Imperial Prison Farm Cemetery, which is operated and maintained by the City of Sugar Land. The agreement comes as an extensive exhumation process continues with additional details to be finalized at a future date. This process is guided by the expertise of the Texas Historical Commission,” the district said.
“Fort Bend ISD is working with Mr. Reginald Moore and The Convict Leasing and Labor Project (CLLP); the Fort Bend Historical Association, which operates the Fort Bend Museum; subject-matter experts such as Dr. Helen Graham, with Houston Community College, George Mason University and the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society; and other stakeholders such as the National Black United Front. These groups were invited to the site today to get a better understanding of the district’s continued diligence to ensure appropriate protocols and processes are being taken during the extensive exhumation and analysis underway,” the district said.
“The school district and the Texas Historical Commission have been working together and told us the cemetery was uncovered during construction activity,” said First Assistant City Manager Steve Griffith. “The city of Sugar Land is an adjacent property owner, so we’ve closely monitored the ongoing developments and worked to establish a continued dialogue with all groups involved in the process.”
City leaders recently organized a meeting with representatives of the Texas Slave Descendants Society – a group now called the Convict Leasing and Labor Project – to discuss preliminary plans for the relocation of the remains to the city’s cemetery and conceptual ideas for enhancing and memorializing the cemetery. Local activist Reginald Moore participated.
“The land owned by the city was proactively acquired in 2006 to preserve and protect the Old Imperial Prison Farm Cemetery and surrounding land. The property comprised just over 63 acres and has been designated as parkland – no development has occurred on the city’s site. The action taken by the city ensured that the cemetery would not suffer the same fate as many others across the country that have been neglected, forgotten and disappeared into history,” the city said.
According to the FBISD, “the ability to identify descendants is one of the shared goals for all of the stakeholders and the district remains open to partnering with other organizations to identify possible funding and hopefully permission for this deconstructive analysis. While we understand that the National Black United Front has expressed concerns on various issues such as intellectual control over the project and reparations for past injustices, Fort Bend ISD remains committed to continuing the dialogue with all appropriate parties as we move forward toward appropriate reburial.
“As previously shared, preliminary analysis indicates the remains located at the site are most likely those of individuals who were part of the convict leasing program. This discovery has brought a dark chapter of our community’s history back to light, and it is our intent to continue to partner with our community and rebury the individuals in an appropriate manner,” the district said.
In 2016, the city’s cemetery was designated a state historical site. An official marker designating the history of the cemetery and prison was installed; this city-led initiative was the result of more than a year of extensive research and coordination with the Fort Bend Historical Commission and the Texas Historical Commission.
The city’s cemetery contains the remains of prisoners and guards who died from 1912-1942 at the Texas Department of Corrections’ Central Prison Unit. For more about the city’s cemetery and efforts to preserve, protect and honor the area’s past, visit www.sugarlandtx.gov/1694/The-Imperial-Farm-Cemetery.
“Just as we’ve worked hard to honor and protect those buried at the Old Imperial Prison Farm Cemetery, the city of Sugar Land has a common interest in ensuring that the remains discovered on the school district’s property are memorialized with the utmost dignity and in a manner that honors their historical significance,” said Griffith. “We look forward to facilitating a coordinated effort that achieves this purpose and sharing more specific details as we work toward a more formal agreement.”
Sugar Land’s interest in historical preservation is consistent with past efforts such as significant contributions to the Houston Museum of Natural Science in Sugar Land, which was built inside what was once the Main Unit, known as Two Camp, where the prison’s African-American inmates were held.