In 2018, construction workers found a cemetery for 95 people who were believed to be part of a convict-leasing period in the 1800s.
SUGAR LAND, Texas — It has been almost four years since 95 graves were discovered on Fort Bend ISD property. A construction crew was working to build the James Reese Career and Technical Center in 2018 when they found the remains.
They belonged to prisoners that were used for labor during Texas’ convict lease system in the late 1800s. According to the Texas State Historical Association, prisons and inmates in the state were leased to private individuals for profit. Those individuals wanted to get the most labor possible at the lowest coast.
It was practically a continuation of slavery after the Civil War.
The bodies of 94 men and one woman were found on the grounds of the James Reese Center. The center is now home to an exhibit that tells a story that few people knew about.
“It allows us to shed light on a much larger part of a lesser-known point in history,” said Chassidy Olainu-Alade, an FBISD Coordinator for community and civic engagement.
The majority of the convict laborers were Black. Many of them had been convicted of crimes that were questionable, if not fabricated.
Life on the prison farms was brutal and many of the prisoners died shortly after they arrived.
Researchers with the Sugar Land 95 Project are matching the remains with old Texas prisons records. One likely match belongs to 60-year-old Sebe Froche. He was sentenced to work on a prison farm after he was convicted of theft.
Froche tried to escape but was captured. Records show that he died months later from an infection after his leg was amputated. He was also wounded by a shotgun.
Researchers looked at x-rays and pictures of a body where you can see metal pieces from a bullet and cut marks in bones from a saw.
The remains are a likely match for Sebe Froche, but it’s can’t be confirmed without DNA testing.
“Individuals who think they may be related can contact us here in the district,” said Olainu-Alade.
DNA testing for centuries-old remains is a long and expensive process. Representatives with Fort Bend ISD say DNA profiles for 10 of the 95 remains should be done in the spring.
It’ll take the project one step closer to finally name those unmarked and forgotten graves.
Note: The following video was uploaded in November 2019