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Texas-sized tragedy: Dark truths about American history

JEFFREY L. BONEY | 10/8/2018, 11:38 a.m.
Slavery was a legalized institution that negatively impacted the lives of many people of African descent, while making countless Southern ...
Stock photo NNPA

The Texas Historical Commission has requested the task force make a decision on DNA testing of the remains, officials said. The task force will meet for six months with the first meeting being held Sept. 5 at Sugar Land City Hall.

Sugar Land officials are also working on a detailed agreement with Fort Bend ISD for the future relocation of the bodies to the city’s Old Imperial Prison Farm Cemetery, located at 6440 Easton Ave.

The city will fund costs associated with layout, design and location, as well as maintenance of the city’s cemetery. 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 that will include walking paths, interpretive historical information and parking surrounding the city-owned cemetery.

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, according to city officials.

The 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.

Slavery and forced labor have been a major part of the foundation of the nation since its inception. But when that system was interrupted as a result of President Abraham Lincoln’s issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, it hit plantation owners with slaves extremely hard in their pocket books.

The impact of this one legislative action was extremely significant for plantation owners who immediately found themselves having to continue their business operations without the ability to forcefully and legally use the labor of slaves.

Because they could no longer rely on legalized slavery to force Blacks to help them continue building their flourishing business enterprises, those same slave and plantation owners worked with their state governments to come up with creative new ways to use the law to their advantage.

In 1865, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified and included verbiage that attempted to officially abolish slavery in the U.S., stating, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Former slave and plantation owners, as well as politicians from Southern states soon realized that the protections from legalized slavery in the 13th Amendment did not apply to Blacks who had been convicted of crimes and sentenced to prison.

As a result, they collaborated together and developed legal systems within the state whereby an individual, typically a Black male, would be convicted of minor crimes, such as vagrancy or walking alongside railroad tracks, and then given felonies and sentenced to forced labor.

Those convicted individuals would then be leased out from the state government to Southern White business owners and forced to provide labor in the same way that Southern White slave and plantation owners enjoyed during the days of slavery.

This practice, known as ‘convict leasing’, became a burgeoning business model that caused demand to exceed supply and allowed Southern states and Southern White business owners to economically prosper.

Because Texas was the last state in the U.S. to officially end slavery after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, they were the first to adopt this model of a convict leasing system.

Over a four-year period, up to 1,000 Texas convicts were leased to private contractors to quarry granite for the Texas State Capitol building in Austin.

Time will tell if there are more bodies to be unearthed and discovered, with more stories to be told.