Sugar Land City Manager Allen Bogard recently appointed a task force to provide a recommendation on the interment, memorialization and ceremonial funeral details of historical remains discovered on property owned by Fort Bend Independent School District.
The city is working on a detailed agreement with Fort Bend ISD for the future relocation of skeletal remains to the city’s Old Imperial Prison Farm Cemetery, 6440 Easton Ave.
The task force will ensure that the remains of the people discovered on the school district’s property are memorialized with the utmost dignity and in a manner that honors their historical significance. They will also provide a recommendation for future educational efforts to preserve a dark chapter of the region’s history. Those invited to participate include the city of Sugar Land, Fort Bend ISD, the Sugar Land Heritage Foundation, the Fort Bend Historical Commission, the Texas Historical Commission, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Houston Area Urban League, the Fort Bend Church, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Embassy Church, Rice University Professor Caleb McDaniel, Slavery by Another Name author Douglas Blackmon and members of the Sugar Land community.
Also invited to participate in the task force is Reginald Moore, of the Texas Slave Descendants Society (a group now called the Convict Leasing and Labor Project).
“The cemetery was found because of Reginald Moore’s advocacy and dedication to the history of convict lease labor in the area,” said Bogard. “I can’t stress enough the importance of our task force. It is important that it comprises diverse community stakeholders, and I believe we’ve accomplished this purpose.
“We are very pleased to continue to have the historical expertise of Mr. Moore from the Convict Leasing and Labor Project. He has been a long-time advocate of memorialization and education concerning this dark period of the state’s history. We believe that no one can speak ‘for the bones’ of these individuals with more passion and accuracy than Mr. Moore.”
The creation of the task force was recommended by the Texas Historical Commission and emulates a successful strategy implemented by the city of Waco after an unmarked historical cemetery was discovered during a construction project in the west Texas town. The Texas Historical Commission has requested the task force make a decision on DNA testing.
The task force is scheduled to meet for six months with meetings held on the first and third Wednesday of each month for the first two months and then one Wednesday a month thereafter. The first meeting will be held Sept. 5, from 6-7:30 p.m., at Sugar Land City Hall, 2700 Town Center Blvd. North.
The task force’s work will be an important part of the formal relocation agreement between the city and the school district.
“The city of Sugar Land is an adjacent property owner, so we’ve closely monitored the ongoing developments and worked to establish a continued dialogue with all groups involved in the process,” said First Assistant City Manager Steve Griffith.
Fort Bend ISD will be responsible for the continued exhumation on their property; submitting a petition to the court for removal and reburial; funding costs associated with storage, new burial vessels, transportation, interment and security; and procurement and placement of temporary markers for each grave.
The city will fund costs associated with layout, design and location, as well as maintenance of the city’s cemetery. And while a funding source has not yet been identified, the city will also work with community groups to explore funding opportunities for future park development (walking paths, interpretive historical information and parking) surrounding the city-owned Old Imperial Prison Farm Cemetery.
Should park development occur in the future, the city will work with the Texas Historical Commission and comply with all state antiquities laws and regulations governing archeological preservation prior to development. The city will continue its coordination with the Sugar Land Heritage Foundation, a group established by the city to preserve and document the community’s rich history – including the Old Imperial Prison Farm Cemetery on the city’s property.
The land owned by the city was proactively acquired in 2006 to preserve and protect the Old Imperial Prison Farm Cemetery and surrounding land. The property comprised just over 63 acres and has been designated as parkland — no development has occurred on the city’s site. The action taken by the city ensured that the cemetery would not suffer the same fate as many others across the country that have been neglected, forgotten and disappeared into history.
In 2016, the city’s cemetery was designated a state historical site. An official marker designating the history of the cemetery and prison was installed; this city-led initiative was the result of more than a year of extensive research and coordination with the Fort Bend Historical Commission and the Texas Historical Commission.
The city’s cemetery contains the remains of prisoners and guards who died from 1912-1942 at the Texas Department of Corrections’ Central Prison Unit. For more about the city’s cemetery and efforts to preserve, protect and honor the area’s past, visit http://www.sugarlandtx.gov/1694/The-Imperial-Farm-Cemetery.
“Just as we’ve worked hard to honor and protect those buried at the Old Imperial Prison Farm Cemetery, the city has a common interest in ensuring that the remains discovered on the school district’s property are memorialized with the utmost dignity and in a manner that honors their historical significance,” said Griffith. “We look forward to facilitating a coordinated effort that achieves this purpose and meets the needs of our community and our partners.”
Sugar Land’s interest in historical preservation is consistent with past efforts such as significant contributions to the Houston Museum of Natural Science in Sugar Land, which was built inside what was once the Main Unit, known as Two Camp, where the prison’s African-American inmates were held.
This is a News Release from the City of Sugar Land.