Fort Bend ISD board unanimously in favor of working with county on memorialization of human remains found at district construction site

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The Fort Bend ISD board of trustees unanimously approved during a Feb. 18 meeting a motion to work with Fort Bend County on an interlocal agreement for memorialization of the Sugar Land 95—the remains of 95 victims of convict leasing from the early 1900s discovered at the district’s James Reese Career and Technical Education center about one year ago.

“I move that the Fort Bend Independent School District authorize the superintendent and its attorney to negotiate an interlocal agreement with Fort Bend County relating to the abandoned cemetery discovered at the James Reese CTE center site,” trustee Addie Heyliger said during the meeting.

Last week, the Fort Bend County Commissioners Court approved an item in favor of pursuing an agreement with the district, offering an option for the county to construct and maintain a memorial at the site.

Reginald Moore, board president for the Convict and Labor Leasing Project, who initially warned the district of the likelihood the historic cemetery would be uncovered at the site at Chatham and Easton avenues in Sugar Land, publicly thanked FBISD during the meeting for its desire to work with the county as the situation is navigated.

“Over the past year both local and national media has been focused on the Sugar Land 95, hoping for some agreement as to the memorialization of these 95 souls,” Moore said. “Last week we witnessed a victory when the Fort Bend County commissioners came to an agreement to approach a settlement.”

Swatara Olushola, a former member of the now-dissolved Sugar Land Task Force and member of the district’s advisory committee for reburial, said she wants to see the remains identified and any descendants identified regardless of time or cost involved.

“It has seemed, in my experience on both committees, that Fort Bend ISD just wishes to rush through the process as much as possible and cloak it in saving taxpayer dollars,” Olushola said. “There is no price you can put on a historical find that is as important as this. There is no price you can put on my history. There’s no price that you can put on our connection to our ancestors, and they are speaking to us. They did not ask to be uncovered on that ground when you started construction there or continued construction there. I don’t feel like they should be swept under the rug.”

It will cost FBISD roughly $18 million to rework the design of the school around the gravesites, according to district officials.

State Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City has proposed three resolutions this legislative session regarding memorializing the unearthed remains.

House Resolution 217 involves honoring the Convict Leasing and Labor Project for its contributions and was referred to the Corrections Committee on Feb. 19.

House Concurrent Resolution 51 involves creating a joint interim committee to study the legacy of convict leasing in Texas. HCR 55 would direct the State Preservation Board to initiate steps to provide for the replacement of the Children of the Confederacy plaque at the Capitol in Austin with a plaque to honor victims of the state’s convict-leasing system in which prisoners were leased to plantation or corporation owners.

As the process continues, more decisions will be made regarding details of reburial as well as construction at the school site.

“Hopefully we can get this done quickly, and it won’t be any interference because we want to make sure that everybody’s on the right side of justice,” Moore said.

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Beth Marshall
Born and raised in Montgomery County, Beth Marshall graduated from The University of Texas at San Antonio in 2015 with a bachelor's degree in communication and a minor in business. Originally hired as a reporter for The Woodlands edition in 2016, she became editor of the Sugar Land/Missouri City edition in October 2017.
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