Unmarked graves like this outside the James Reese Career and Technical Center in Sugar Land are currently the only on-site evidence of the Sugar Land 95. (Photo by Matt deGrood)

Fort Bend ISD is moving forward with its plans to build an exhibit and cemetery to honor the 95 people whose remains were discovered on school district property, known as the Sugar Land 95, and could have an exhibit ready for the public as soon as this spring, according to the district.

Chassidy Olainu-Alada, the district’s community and civic engagement coordinator, unveiled FBISD’s plans for the site at a meeting earlier this month. The remains of the Sugar Land 95 - who were believed to be Black people who were part of a state-convict leasing program to farm sugarcane more than a century ago - were discovered in 2018 during the construction of FBISD's James Reese Career and Technical Center.

The district will open an exhibit to the public sometime later this year – likely when the current omicron wave of the coronavirus subsides, she said. It will feature two exhibits that teach students about the history of the leasing program, and the scientific process that led to the identification of the remains and learning about the property, she said.

“The exhibit will provide us with an enrichment opportunity for our students as they participate in tours at the Reese center,” she said.

The opening of the new exhibit is the first in a series of phases planned for the Sugar Land 95.

Late in 2021, the district’s board of trustees approved a $170,000 contract with a renowned architecture firm to design an outdoor exhibit space and cemetery for the Sugar land 95.

The district contracted with MASS Design Group, a Boston-based architectural group that has focused in recent years on museums and exhibits geared toward forgotten aspects of history and racial justice.

The firm garnered honors in recent years for its work on the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. Also informally known as the National Lynching Museum, the facility sitting on a 6-acre site overlooking the Alabama state capitol opened in 2018 and is dedicated to the more than 4,400 victims of racial lynchings across the south, according to a New York Times article about the memorial.

The facility took as its inspiration such renowned architectural feats as the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, Germany, and the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa, according to the Times.

Representatives with the design group will meet with residents and community members starting in March during a 10-week community engagement, Olainu-Alade said. The district will host four sessions to give residents a chance to voice their input, she said.

Construction crews first found the remains of 95 people in 2018 while doing work on the James Reese Career and Technical Center. Historians have said the people buried there were part of the state's convict-leasing program, which operated during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

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