Sugar Land 95 memorial ceremony postponed due to coronavirus; historic discovery to live on in statewide curriculum

In mid-December, the Sugar Land 95 grave sites were marked with stakes after reburial occurred. (Beth Marshall/Community Impact Newspaper)
In mid-December, the Sugar Land 95 grave sites were marked with stakes after reburial occurred. (Beth Marshall/Community Impact Newspaper)

In mid-December, the Sugar Land 95 grave sites were marked with stakes after reburial occurred. (Beth Marshall/Community Impact Newspaper)

Originally planned for the spring semester, Fort Bend ISD had to put a public memorial ceremony for the Sugar Land 95 on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"In the meantime, we continue to maintain the burial site, and we are waiting for the ground to dry so that we can add soil to each grave," said Amanda Bubela, FBISD director of external communications and media relations.

The Sugar Land 95 are the historical remains of 95 bodies discovered at FBISD’s James Reese Career and Technical Center’s construction site in February 2018. The remains are believed to be from those who were convict laborers, leased to plantation owners in the early 1900s.

To provide an honorable reburial for these remains, the FBISD board of trustees opted to move forward with reinternment where the bodies were found last fall.

The human remains were reburied late last year, after the district hosted a public ground-blessing ceremony at the center.

Bubela said because it is important to the district to have students and community members attend the memorial ceremony, and because the district is focusing all of its operations on the transition to online learning at the moment, there are no updates on when the memorial service will be held.

"At this time, we are focusing all of the district’s operations on the transition to online learning and the successful completion of the school year," Bubela said.

The district is still moving forward with procurement and placement of the 95 grave markers, Bubela said. However, it is not clear when those will be placed as the grave sites still need to settle, she said.

While final reburial decisions are still being made for the Sugar Land 95, district and state education officials have been working to ensure their history lives on through curriculum.

According to an April 24 release from FBISD, the State Board of Education approved an African American studies course for high school students to begin in the 2020-21 school year. This elective course was approved unanimously by the SBOE and is the second ethnic studies course available to all Texas high school students.

The course will include information about convict leasing and the Sugar Land 95, the release states. FBISD Curriculum Coordinator Chassidy Olainu-Alade developed the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for this statewide course.

"This journey has been a truly exciting and honorable experience," Olainu-Alade said in a statement. "I've had the opportunity to be a part of the memorialization and education efforts of the district for the past two years. As I've stated many times, this is only the beginning. We are committed to ensuring that the Sugar Land 95 and others impacted by the convict leasing system earn their rightful place in history."

According to the release, Olainu-Alade has also shared more about the convict labor leasing system's impact on local, state and national history to social studies educators across Texas.

"I am proud to say that the Sugar Land 95 will be appropriately recognized and honored as students across Texas learn this important part of history,” Superintendent Charles Dupre said in a statement. “This has been an unexpected journey for Fort Bend ISD, and we have remained committed to honoring the Sugar Land 95 by ensuring that future generations are aware of this important piece of local history. Now, the approval of this course will benefit not only our students, but students across the state."
By 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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