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Local Spotlight: The not-so-sweet past of Sugar Land, Texas

The town ofSugar Land, Texasgets its name from the crop that made it rich and prosperous – sugarcane.But in 2018, while building a new school, a secret came to light. Construction crews uncovered a cemetery containing 95 unmarked graves.

One man namedReginald Mooreknew about local history and, having worked in law enforcement, about convict leasing. He raised the alarm to the Fort Bend Independent School District that there might be bodies buried in that land. Reggie worked tirelessly, telling the stories of those who worked in the fields, making sure their remains were treated with respect and returned to their families.  

According to reporters and hosts of the podcastSugar Land, Naomi Reed and Brittney Martin, prison records, news reports, and legislative documents show the Imperial Sugar Company leased convicts through at least 1912:

A less discussed part of [Sugar Land’s] history: Near the turn of the 20th century, the area was the largest hub for convict leasing in Texas. The practice of leasing convicts for labor was adopted across the South in the decades following the Civil War. At the time, it solved two major issues white landowners faced: It provided a cheap workforce to replace the slaves they’d lost and allowed them to continue treating Black people as second-class citizens.

In episode 8 of the podcast, we hear fromBrandon Jackson. Brandon is a possible descendant of one of those buried in the unmarked graves. He discusses what that connection means to him.

Produced in collaboration withthe Texas Newsroom,Sugar Landexplores the story of the Sugar Land 95, how they got there, and Sugar Land’s reckoning with its not-so-sweet past. The podcast also explores the impact of convict leasing and how its impacts are still felt today.   

This is the latest installment of ourLocal Spotlightseries – where we talk with journalists whose local work is making an impact.

Copyright 2023 WAMU 88.5

Barb Anguiano
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