The Sugar Land 95 is the name given to the remains of 95 men found in an unmarked grave when a Texas school district broke ground on a new career and technical center in 2018.
A new report, compiled by the school district and released Aug. 31, 2020, found that the men were likely inmates at the Bullhead Convict Labor Camp between 1879 and 1909.
That camp was part of a state-sanctioned convict leasing system in Texas that lasted into the 1910s. The system allowed prisons to lease convicts to plantation owners, providing cheap labor for those plantations and sending money back to the state.
"This unjust system provided inexpensive labor to wealthy plantation owners following the abolition of slavery in 1865," according to the report.
'Penology for Profit,' a book published by Texas A&M University Press, details the state-sanctioned program, detailing high mortality rates, abusive guards and intolerable conditions.
"Blacks, who lacked social standing, legal counsel, and the rights to vote, testify, and sit on juries, made up a disproportionate amount of the prison population and were usually sent to work in the fields," according to the book's summary.
The new data in the Fort Bend ISD report identifies names and detailed descriptions of many of the Sugar Land 95.
"Laboratory analysis has concluded that the remains of the men who labored and died on Bullhead Camp showed signs of disease, repeated injury, and gunshot wounds likely sustained during escape attempts," the report read.
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Researchers said one or more of those things happened to Nathan Pope. He was 18 years old and was imprisoned after being convicted for burglary. He died in 1879 during an escape attempt after two days of being at the camp.
Then, there's Robert Brown who served at several convict camps. The report states he was given 25 lashes for laziness, 25 lashes for disobedience and 25 lashes for impudence to a guard. He later died--like many others at the camp--of heat stroke.
The researcher goes on to say, "They endured the indignity of corporal punishment, hunger, insufficient clothing, exposure, and severe overwork. The study of their remains was an opportunity to reveal the results of another form of slavery that lasted for nearly 50 years past the end of the Civil War. The data presented here provides a close look at the tragedy that befell the men who died on Bullhead Convict Labor Camp between 1879 and 1909."
Fort Bend ISD said the inmates at the prison camps were responsible for building Fort Bend County and the city of Sugar Land. While they died and were forgotten in the 1900s, the school district said it is committed to bringing awareness to the Sugar Land 95 and educating future generations about that piece of American history.
"We remain committed to bringing awareness to their lives and legacies, and revealing the true story of the injustices and exploitation associated with the system of convict leasing," school district officials wrote.
The work to reveal more of the Sugar Land 95's history continues. At the University of Connecticut, researchers are currently working on ancient DNA analysis and genealogy data to locate family members of the Sugar Land 95.
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