The City of Sugar Land is frequently praised because of its diversity and inclusion and is one of the fastest growing cities in the Texas. Esteemed Rice sociology professor, Stephen Klineberg and his team, salutes Fort Bend County as the most diverse county in Ameraica, and declares that Sugar Land is one of the most diverse cities on the planet.
But when you pull back the layers, Sugar Land features a gateway back to one of the most heinous chapters in American history, and was even was once dubbed “Hellhole at the Brazos” due to the barbaric slave-like work conditions and horrific beatings inflicted upon black prison laborers for not meeting daily production quotas. Many of these men were arrested on trumped-up charges and should have never been serving time in the first place. Reminders of that unconscionable history resurfaced last spring here in Sugar Land, as dozens of graves were discovered at the construction site of the new James Reese Career and Technical Center.
I personally believe that the discovery of those bodies underneath that palatial new educational training facility is much more than mere coincidence. Those in the know are aware that the James Reese Career and Technical Center has been designed and constructed to equip young people with the education and technical skills that will hopefully lead to good paying jobs and steady careers. The hope is also that a higher percentage of kids of color will take advantage of these programs, especially young black males who may not have plans of attending college.
Black men today represent the largest demographic in U.S. prisons. One in three black males between the ages of 16-26 will have ties to the judicial system before they reach age 30. The James Reese Career and Technical Center has the potential to become a beacon of hope for so many young black boys and other young men of color.
I am also cognizant of the fact that no one alive in Sugar Land today took part in those treacherous transgressions dating back to more than a century ago, but let all of us proudly and triumphantly showcase to the rest of the country that we, the people of Sugar Land, Texas, will do what’s right and finally honor these poor men who are inextricably intertwined with Sugar Land’s storied and rich history and it’s promising future.
I believe interjecting the important tenant of education into the conversation is an effective and antidotal approach. Plus, I can’t think of a better way to impress upon our children that we were not always a perfect society, but that we are innately good people who are willing to recognize and rise above the evil transgressions of our past.
I don’t believe that an obligatory salute or mere mentioning of these men in some corridor of a scarcely populated and existing building is enough. As a vibrant community, we are better than this. With education (and training) serving as the gateway to success in the country, the only true way to bring some level of accord and closure to this horrible chapter in our history is to name the soon-to-be new elementary school at Aliana “Freedom at the Brazos Elementary School” in their honor and in their memory.