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Wed Oct 31, 2018, 09:29 AM

Sugar Land May Relocate Skeletal Remains of African American Inmates Against Advice of Task Force

The fate of the skeletal remains of 95 African American inmates that were recently discovered in southeast Texas continues to plague officials in Fort Bend County. Now a task force that had been set up to recommend what to do with the remains is expressing concerns that officials in that county never intended to follow their advice and, instead, plan to move the bodies to a place that may be inaccessible to the public—once again burying an ugly part of this region’s history.

In March, construction workers in Sugar Land stumbled upon an unmarked cemetery while building a new career center for the Fort Bend Independent School District. Archaeologists and anthropologists called in to investigate eventually unearthed the skeletal remains of 95 African Americans prisoners who were buried there in the early 20th century, victims of the brutal convict leasing system under which Texas rented out its prisoners to sugar plantations like the one operated by Isaac H. Kempner and William T. Eldridge, founders of the Imperial Sugar Company.

Activist Reginald Moore had been telling the city for years that such a cemetery likely existed on the site, but he was largely ignored until the March discovery. Fort Bend ISD initially tried to keep Moore away from the dig, but after receiving worldwide media attention school officials and the city decided to change course. In August, Sugar Land created a task force to advise the city on how to properly reinter and memorialize the 95 convict laborers—and invited Moore to be a member.

But after the first three meetings, Moore and several other task force members believe Sugar Land never intended to take the group’s suggestions seriously. On October 17, the task force voted 19 to 1 to recommend that the remains be reinterred in their original location, on the property of Fort Bend ISD. (The only dissenter was Veronica Sopher, the school district’s chief communications officer.) Only two days earlier, the Fort Bend ISD board of trustees had voted to approve a so-called “interlocal” agreement with the city to transfer the remains to the Old Imperial Farm Cemetery, a few hundred yards away— the task force’s preferred alternative if the remains had to be moved. On October 23, the Sugar Land city council ratified the interlocal agreement.

Read more: https://www.texasmonthly.com/news/sugar-land-will-relocate-skeletal-remains-african-american-inmates-advice-task-force/

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