The remains of The Sugar Land 95, the individuals discovered at an unmarked, historic cemetery at the James Reese Career and Technical Center's construction site in Fort Bend ISD have been laid to rest at the site where their remains were originally found, according to a Dec. 3 release from FBISD.
The reburial of the Sugar Land 95, completed last week, followed a ceremony Nov. 17 to honor the unnamed individuals, which was met with some backlash from community members who felt the remains should not have been reburied until their identities and descendants could be determined.
The remains are believed to be African American men and boys who were leased to a local plantation to provide labor through the state-sanctioned convict leasing system. This system provided inexpensive labor to wealthy plantation owners following the abolition of slavery in 1865. Prior to reburial, each gravesite and burial vessel was carefully marked so that individuals could be reunified with family should descendants be identified in the future, the release said.
The process is ongoing to identify any possible descendants through DNA analysis, the release said.
During a Nov. 21 community symposium hosted by FBISD at the James Reese Career and Technical Center, archaeologists, historians and geneticists shared information about the abandoned Bullhead Camp Cemetery, which is the name the Texas Historical Commission has given the cemetery, the release stated. The symposium also provided an update on the accompanying research that is underway, including genealogical and genetic research, which could take three to four years to complete.
The Texas Attorney General issued an opinion in June 2019 confirming the commission had the authority to authorize the extraction of biological samples for isotope analysis and DNA sequencing. Following this opinion, the archaeologists and genetic researchers extracted the tooth and bone samples necessary for future DNA and isotope testing. These samples have been entrusted to the University of Texas’ Archaeological Research Laboratory in Austin for curation.
This fall, the commission granted an antiquities permit to a team of researchers based on a research proposal for the extraction and analysis of ancient DNA at the University of Connecticut. Pursuant to that permit, TARL forwarded samples to the University of Connecticut for genetic analysis, the release stated.
Researchers have secured some grant funding to begin the DNA extractions, but additional funding will be needed to complete the remaining DNA extractions, analysis, comparisons to existing databases, public outreach and genealogical studies, according to the release.
FBISD students will lead a public memorial in the spring of 2020 to celebrate the historic discovery, and the release said the district will keep the community updated as plans are finalized.
For more background on the discovery, visit www.fortbendisd.com/sugarland95.