While beginning construction on Fort Bend Independent School District’s new James Reese Career and Technical Center, a disturbing site was discovered. The bodies of 95 people were found in a mass grave. The bodies are suspected to be the remains of black people who were “leased” into forced labor by the state of Texas and subsequently worked to death.
After the construction company began to break ground in February, the first remains were found leading archaeologists on a journey that would eventually uncover 95 people. According to the archaeologists, these people were probably part of Texas’ convict lease system.
The convict lease system first came about in Texas in 1867 when railroad companies needed cheap labor to construct their railways. Despite slavery being made illegal after the Civil War, black people were still rounded up and mass incarcerated only to be sold back into servitude through the government’s new program.
For decades, state prisons acted as forced labor camps and raised a significant portion of money for the Texas government. Although it was illegal for individuals to own slaves, when government officials came up with the convict lease system, it essentially created a loophole that legalized slavery — for the government only.
This system continued well into the 20th century and only ended when a reporter for the San Antonio Express began writing a series of articles exposing this horrific practice of state slavery. After the exposé on the convict lease system, the government ended all the leases and brought the black men back to the prisons where they were unfortunately still forced to work on state-owned farms, or on private property the state had acquired through long term agreements.
Remnants of this system are still alive today as prisons across the country pay prisoners — many of whom are incarcerated for victimless crimes — little to no money for their labor.
According to reports, the bodies found in the Sugarland location, just outside of Houston, were in wooden coffins. Investigators estimate that they could’ve been put into the ground as late as 1910.
Researchers noted that the bodies all showed signs that they were severely malnourished and must have undergone massive physical stress….