Bodies of nearly 100 slaves to stay at FBISD construction site for now

Nearly 100 remains believed to be those of slaves will stay where they are for now.

The bones, along with other artifacts, were found back in April during construction on land off Highway 90 that belongs to Fort Bend ISD.

A Fort Bend district judge ruled Monday the district is not allowed to move forward with construction of its new technical school. Instead, both parties are being asked to work toward an agreement that would work for everyone.

Archaeologists found 95 bodies, each buried in its own wooden casket. Researchers believe the bodies are those of freed slaves forced to work in convict labor camps.

“It’s huge. It’s unprecedented,” said Reign Clark, the site’s archaeological project manager, at the time of the discovery. “This will change our understanding of the convict labor system that was used all over the state.”

For now, construction in the area where the remains were found will remain on hold until more options are presented to the judge.

Some in the community feel where the bodies were found is a sacred site and the remains should not be moved, but memorialized.

Advocates for what are being called the SugarLand95 are asking for DNA analysis of the remains to try to identify them and locate descendants.

Others, including Fort Bend ISD, feel the remains are better suited at a different location, where they can be properly cared for. The district says it won’t be able to do that if the remains stay where they are.

Attorneys for the district petitioned for the removal of the remains to a nearby historical site, Old Imperial Farm Cemetery. However, the judge did not agree to it.

More than 100 years after they were buried, experts can still find signs of malnutrition and stress.

“When you do activity over and over and over again, and you’re doing heavy labor, it will actually stress the attachments where the muscles are attached to the bone. It will actually leave marks and actually change the shape of the bone,” explained bioarchaeologist Katrina Banks-Whitley. “We’re seeing a lot of (evidence) that shows they were doing very heavy labor from probably a very young age.”

Convict labor camps were widespread after the Civil War.

Freed slaves were arrested, then taken from state prisons and forced to work manual labor in places like Sugar Land, where sugar production drove the local economy.