DNA research ongoing for Sugar Land 95

Image description
Image description
The Sugar Land 95—the historical remains of 95 bodies discovered at Fort Bend ISD’s James Reese Career and Technical Center’s construction site in February 2018—were reburied where they were found in late November.

FBISD officials felt the most respectful option was to rebury the remains sooner rather than later, despite pushback from community members who felt the Sugar Land 95 should remain exhumed until DNA analysis is completed and descendants are identified.

“You’re not here to bless anything,” Swatara Olushola, a resident who has provided input throughout the reburial process, protested at the Nov. 17 ground blessing ceremony at the James Reese Career and Technical Center. “How are you going to bless the ground you desecrated?”

Conducting DNA research

According to the district, DNA analysis could take up to four years to complete.

“Due to the nature of this work with ancient DNA, it is anticipated that [analysis] could take several years, which is why the district decided it would be more respectful to move forward with the reburial now,” said Amanda Bubela, FBISD’s director of external communications and media relations.

The Sugar Land 95 are believed to be African American men who provided labor through Texas’ convict labor leasing program—essentially slavery that was practiced in the late 1800s and early 1900s after slavery was abolished.

In June, the district was authorized by the Texas Historical Commission to extract bone and tooth samples from the bodies for DNA testing. The samples were then sent to the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, affiliated with The University of Texas at Austin, to act as the storehouse.

Although the TARL is storing the remains, the lab is not conducting the research, TARL Head of Collections Marybeth Tomka said in an email.

“TARL is not doing the research on the samples from the Sugar Land site,” Tomka said. “We are merely the repository for the collected samples and the results when they ultimately come in.”

Earlier this past fall, the Texas Historical Commission also approved a research proposal for the extraction and analysis of the DNA at the University of Connecticut, Bubela said.

“Researchers have secured funding for the first batch of DNA extractions,” Bubela said. “Additional funding will be needed to fund the remaining DNA extractions, analysis, comparisons to existing databases, public outreach and genealogical studies.”

The University of Connecticut needs $40,000-$80,000 to complete the total project and has secured about $3,000, according to Deborah Bolnick, an associate professor at the university.

From discovery to reburial

FBISD purchased the land for the James Reese Career and Technical Center in 2011. Before buying the land, the district commissioned an investigation of the site that revealed the property was formerly part of a 2,000-acre tract of Central State Prison Farm land, according to district officials.

With this information, the consulting firm that administered the investigation told the district no additional archeological work would be necessary, FBISD officials said.

Local activist Reginald Moore warned the district they might find historic human remains ahead of the discovery in February 2018.

The Sugar Land 95 were exhumed from June 2018 until November 2019.

In September, the board of trustees approved a $284,000 contract with Missouri City Funeral Directors at Glen Park for reburial services.

“I assure you, we are working with an honorable and capable professional who respects the sheer weight of the responsibility given to them,” FBISD Superintendent Charles Dupre said during the Nov. 17 ceremony.

As of mid-December, the portion of the school where the human remains were reburied was enclosed by a fence lined with black tarps.

A formal memorial will be held in the spring, and FBISD students will help lead the program commemorating the discovery, Dupre said.

“During the past two years, there has been controversy, heated conversation; decisions made and then revisited,” Dupre said. “These things were part of this journey, but so was the learning; so was the engagement, the partnerships, the opportunity to shed light on the past.”
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.


The June 2 march will culminate with a rally at the steps of Houston City Hall. (Courtesy city of Houston)
Houston city buildings, some METRO services planned to shut down ahead of June 2 march for George Floyd

Ahead of the June 2 march with members of George Floyd's family through downtown Houston, several city services are planning to shut down early in the afternoon.

Businesses shuttering their doors due to coronavirus restrictions lowered the sales tax revenue collected by cities in May compared to May 2019. (Andy Li/Community Impact Newspaper)
Texas comptroller reports 13.2% year-over-year state sales tax revenue drop in May

Tax collection revenue fell significantly in several sectors from May 2019 to May 2020, according to the comptroller's office.

Renters and homeowners in Fort Bend County who are struggling to pay their bills can apply for financial assistance from federal funds received by the county. Pictured above is the 1879 apartment complex at The Grid in Stafford. (Claire Shoop/Community Impact Newspaper)
Fort Bend County launches $19.5M rental assistance program June 1

The maximum amount that an approved applicant can receive is $2,000 per month per household.

Here are the latest coronavirus updates for Fort Bend County. (Community Impact staff)
Fort Bend County reported 49 new cases May 30-June 1

Over the weekend, Fort Bend County reported a total of 49 new cases of the coronavirus, 62 additional recoveries and three deaths.

A march for George Floyd culminated at Houston City Hall on May 29. Another march is planned for June 2. (Emma Whalen/Community Impact Newspaper)
Ahead of June 2 George Floyd march, Mayor Turner calls for peace, coronavirus protection

The march is led by Houston rappers Bun B and Trae Tha Truth and by members of George Floyd's family.

Demonstrators gathered at the Texas Capitol on May 31 to protest police brutality. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Texas officials respond to demonstrations, unrest in wake of George Floyd killing

Gov. Greg Abbott issued a state of disaster in Texas on May 31, while various city officials and law enforcment responded to protests and violence over the weekend.

Caleb Rule, a Fort Bend County Precinct 4 deputy constable and a former member of the Missouri City Police Department, was killed in the line of duty May 29. (Courtesy Missouri City)
Missouri City elected officials, police chief mourn death of of former MCPD detective

Caleb Rule, a Fort Bend County Precinct 4 deputy constable and a former member of the Missouri City Police Department, was killed in the line of duty May 29.

Here are the latest coronavirus updates for Fort Bend County. (Courtesy Fort Bend County)
Fort Bend County confirms 49 coronavirus cases May 29, highest single-day total since early May

Missouri City now has more than 300 confirmed coronavirus cases.

Texas Medical Center continued to see week-over-week decreases in the total number of active COVID-19 hospitalizations but also saw a significant increase in patient deaths, the medical center reported May 29. (Community Impact staff)
Texas Medical Center sees another week-over-week decrease in COVID-19 hospitalizations

Texas Medical Center continued to see week-over-week decreases in the total number of active COVID-19 hospitalizations but also saw a significant increase in patient deaths, the medical center reported May 29.

YogaSix opened on University Boulevard in Sugar Land on May 18. (Courtesy YogaSix)
YogaSix opens Riverstone studio with increased health precautions during coronavirus pandemic

The yoga studio, which opened May 18, is offering in-person and livestreamed classes.

The Willie's Grill & Icehouse restaurant in Copperfield is temporarily closed after reopening in mid-May. (Courtesy Willie's Grill & Icehouse Copperfield)
Study predicts coronavirus spike and other top Houston-area stories

Read some of the most popular Houston-area content on Community Impact Newspaper’s website from this week.

The syrup drums being repurposed into rain barrels were donated from Coca-Cola. (Courtesy Galveston Bay Foundation)
Galveston Bay Foundation to host virtual, drive-thru rain barrel workshop

The Kemah-based nature conservation nonprofit is hosting a rain barrel workshop this weekend for Houstonians thirsting for a way to help conserve the community’s water supply.