Sugar Land City Council approved a resolution last Tuesday supporting proposed legislation that would allow Fort Bend County to own and maintain an historic cemetery.
The Texas Legislature is now considering House Bill 4179, a bill that would allow Fort Bend County to provide perpetual care for the remains of 95 people buried on property owned by Fort Bend ISD. The school district informed the city that human remains were found on a school construction site in February 2018. It was later determined that the bodies were former prisoners who were part of the state of Texas’ convict leasing program.
Events that occurred after the discovery follow:
• July 2018: City leaders met with representatives of the Texas Slave Descendants Society – 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.
• August 2018: Sugar Land City Council approved a memorandum of understanding for the possible future relocation of the 95 bodies to the city’s Old Imperial Prison Farm Cemetery. Sugar Land City Manager Allen Bogard appointed a task force to provide community input and recommendations regarding reinterment, memorialization and public education.
• September 2018: The City Manager’s Task Force on the Convict Lease Memorial met for the first time and unanimously supported DNA testing.
• October 2018: Additional meetings of the task force took place at Sugar Land City Hall. The task force recommended two options. Their first choice was to reinter the historical remains on the site where they were found. If the first option was not possible due to legal restrictions, the task force recommended re-interment of the remains at a nearby historic cemetery owned and maintained by the city of Sugar Land. The city of Sugar Land previously worked with the state of Texas to have its cemetery designated as an historic landmark.
• October 2018: Sugar Land City Council approved an interlocal agreement with Fort Bend ISD to honor and preserve the memory of victims of the state’s convict leasing program. Sugar Land’s interlocal agreement with Fort Bend ISD provided the option for the school district to reinter historic remains at the city’s cemetery if they chose to do so. The decision continues to be the legal responsibility of Fort Bend ISD.
• November 2018: The task force’s work concluded. Fort Bend ISD assumed leadership of the group, which was to be restructured to serve as an advisory committee for the school district.
• January 2019: The city closely monitored the progress of a judge’s deliberation on Fort Bend ISD’s recommendation for the possible relocation of historic bodies found buried on school district property. Once the judge issued a ruling, the city was and still is ready to assist as needed and support the school district and community with memorialization and educational efforts.
• March 2019: The city of Sugar Land is partnering with Fort Bend ISD and Fort Bend County to support legislative efforts to find a legal way to allow the county to operate a cemetery on land currently owned by the school district, reinter remains on the site and memorialize 95 people lost to history. The disposition of the remains is the legal responsibility of the school district, and they have decided to reinter the remains where they were found if legally possible.
“We’re looking forward to partnering with Fort Bend County, the school district and the community to support efforts to honor the memory of these 95 people,” said Assistant City Manager Doug Brinkley. “We also remain committed to working with Fort Bend ISD and the community to build on educational and historic preservation efforts implemented by the city in the past. Ensuring this part of our history is never forgotten is much larger than our community; it’s the story of our state and nation. We’ve started the process with past efforts, but we think there’s an opportunity to do more.”
For more information about the city’s supporting role in Fort Bend ISD’s efforts to reinter people found buried at a school construction site, resources on the state’s convict lease program and the city’s historical preservation efforts, visit www.sugarlandtx.gov/ConvictLeaseMemorial, www.sugarlandtx.gov/ImperialFarmCemetery and www.sugarlandtx.gov/history.