Texas construction workers discover remains of 95 African-American workers from the beginning of the 20th century

“It [the lease program], was a way for African-Americans in the system so that the plantation owners could have cheap labor,” Brown said.

(Fort Bend Independent School District)

The bodies of nearly 100 people found at a school construction site in Sugar Land, Texas, is established, the possible remains of the Afro-American slaves, the officials said.

Officials announced Monday the remains are probably those of the people who worked on a plantation by a “convict leasing program” in the late 1800s and beginning of the 20th century. Archaeologists estimate the cemetery was used from 1878 and 1910. (To give that some context: The emancipation proclamation was issued in 1863, during the 13th Amendment slavery was abolished in 1865).

The cemetery on the site of the James Reese vocational and Technical Center, which is a part of the Fort Bend Independent School District, was first discovered earlier this year.


Forty-eight bodies have been unearthed so far.


At the time that the officials do not “have enough information or evidence to identify a timetable for the historic cemetery or an indication of who is buried at the site,” the Fort Bend Independent School District said in a statement in April.

The lease program is a “system in which Southern states leased prisoners to private railways, mines, and large plantations,” according to the Equal Justice Initiative. Although states have benefited from this scheme, “prisoners earned no pay and faced inhumane, dangerous, and often deadly work conditions. Thousands of black people were forced into what the authors call ‘the slavery under a different name in the 1930’s,” the district continued.

“You could get three years of hard work for nothing. [The lease program], was a way for African-Americans in the system so that the plantation owners could have cheap labour,” Ken Brown, professor in anthropology at the University of Houston, told Fox News Wednesday. Brown specializes in Afro-American archaeology.

The finding is “extremely rare” if the archaeologists’ hypothesis is correct, he added.

The chains and tools that archaeologists also found.

(Fort Bend Independent School District)

“They were really busy with a lot of heavy labour of the time that they were young,” Catrina Banks Whitley, a bioarchaeologist analysis of the excavated bones, told the New York Times.

In fact, between 1885 and 1887, many of the prisoners worked on the construction of the Capitol building in Austin, while others worked on the construction of the Texas State Railroad between 1893 and 1909, according to the Texas State Historical Association.

“The skeleton adjustments may relate to a life they had as slaves,” Brown said, but he noted there is a possibility the bodies may also be these once slaves become freedmen who were placed in a public cemetery, after they died.

Of the 95 burials identified so far, 48 have been unearthed, according to a statement from the school district. All the men but one, archaeologists said. Their ages ranged from 14 to 70 years old.

In addition to the finding of the remains, archaeologists also discovered rusted tools and chains the workers probably wore.

“It would give us a better idea of what life was like for them.”

– Ken Brown

The finding “could give us a better idea of what life for them was like,” Brown added.


“It really changes the history books in Texas,’ Reign Clark, lead archaeologist on the site, and said, according to the newspaper.

As soon as all the bodies are dug up and examined, officials plan to rebury the remains at another location.

Madeline Farber is a Reporter for Fox News. You can follow her on Twitter @MaddieFarberUDK.

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