ABOVE: Anthony Muhammad and Deric Muhammad with youth protestor
There is an old African proverb that states, “He that beats the drum for the mad man to dance is no better than the mad man himself.”
As it relates to the handling of the remains of the Sugar Land 95, which has garnered international attention, many stakeholders, elected officials and community leaders have expressed their utter disappointment in the way FBISD Superintendent Charles Dupree has carried out the bidding of the FBISD Board of Trustees.
As part of FBISD’s September board meeting, the Board of Trustees approved an agreement with a locally-owned funeral home that included plans to rebury the Sugar Land 95, whose remains were discovered in February of 2018 at the construction site of the new James Reese Career and Technical Center, which opened its doors at the beginning of the year.
The highly controversial ‘memorial ceremony’, as they referred to it, took place on November 17th, was countered by protests and a public outcry from community leaders and elected officials.
In the last Legislative Session, House Bill 4179 was signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott. On top of that, FBISD publicly committed to transfer the property and the care of the remains of the Sugarland 95 to Fort Bend County. However, in a stunning move, FBISD completely disregarded the legislation and completely reneged on the deal they committed to publicly.
One of the most stinging statements regarding these latest developments has come from State Senator Borris Miles, who worked tirelessly with his fellow Fort Bend colleagues during the last Legislative Session to pass legislation enabling Fort Bend County to operate the cemetery.
“I am shocked that Fort Bend ISD held a ceremony for the Sugarland 95 after receiving so much public outcry,” said Sen. Miles. “The school board unilaterally moving forward with ceremonies such as Sunday’s is a breach of the public trust. All parties, including the community, thought the matter was settled. Countless community members and public stewards came out against the School Board’s new plan for the Sugarland 95. The board’s actions sparked heated public meetings, and even the school board’s hired-gun community consultant publicly resigned from the district’s planned project because the school district is acting ‘notwithstanding the [Sugarland 95 Planning and Memorialization] Committee’s recommendations or the outcries from the community stakeholders.’ Fort Bend Independent School District needs to restore community faith and stop disrespecting the community’s desire for the Sugarland 95.”
Sen. Miles went on to question the intent and actions of the FBISD Board and the Superintendent, as it relates to their attitude regarding the people who elected them to office.
“Fort Bend ISD’s Board and Superintendent are making decisions unfit for their respective offices,” Sen. Miles continued. “Before the board’s most recent election this May, their attitude was different. But they still serve at the behest of their community, and are up for election every May. If they do not listen to the community, they are breaching the duties of their office. We hope for better public servants. The Fort Bend County Commissioners’ Court has long stood ready to provide permanent care for the Sugarland 95 by maintaining a cemetery and memorial. But it has been rumored in the community that Fort Bend ISD’s Board thinks it knows what is best for “those people,” their constituents. Fort Bend ISD’s Superintendent Charles Dupre has said it is callous to describe his plan as a mass grave, but reburying all the remains in a “unified vessel” without notice to descendants nor the consent of family members is not only in violation of the Texas Health and Safety Code, it is callous and out of touch with reality. Maybe it is time for us, the community, to elect leaders who listen and have our best interests at heart.”
Several of the elected officials who worked to bring about a proper handling of the Sugar Land 95 remains, chose to boycott the ceremony, including U.S. Congressman Al Green.
“I stand with activists and colleagues who have persisted in this fight,” said Congressman Green. “I strongly urge the district to work with the appropriate Fort Bend County leaders to consummate their original agreement.”
Several months after FBISD broke ground on their new technical center, one of the construction workers noticed what turned out to be one of the bodies of the former convict-leasing system workers, now known as the Sugar Land 95. As has been previously reported by the Forward Times, the discovery of the remains of the Sugar Land 95 could have happened long before this issue became as polarized as it has become, if FBISD, elected officials, state employees, community leaders and others would have listened to the man who told them the bodies were there in the first place, Mr. Reginald Moore.
Moore, also skipped the ceremony.
Outside of the ceremony, protestors showed up to express their disapproval of FBISD’s plans to move forward without plans to properly identify the descendants.
National Black United Front member Swatara Olushola, who has also served as the lead organizer for the Sugar Land 95, wore spiritual war paint at the protest outside of the ceremony.
“FBISD should release the names,” said Olushola. “How can you bless the ground you desecrated? How can you have a private reinternment when no lineal descendants have been identified? This is a spiritual battle being manifested on the physical plane. We rely on our Egun – Ancestors to guide our steps. We need some lawyers to step up for the #Sugarland95.”
Local activist Sam Collins, who has been actively involved with this issues as part of the Convict Leasing and Labor Project (CLLP), also says that FBISD won’t release the names they have, but that he, along with others, are searching the records themselves.
“It will take some time,” said Collins. “We can’t match names with bones, but we could likely find the names of prisoners at the site during that 30 year time period. We are working diligently to do what Fort Bend ISD refuses to do in respect to honoring the victims of this horrific tragedy and their descendants.”
There are seven members of the FBISD Board of Trustees – 5 White and 2 Black, and the FBISD Superintendent is Black. As the issue has progressed, the diverse group of individuals who have stepped up to defend the honor and sacredness of these uncovered remains have been louder than that of the FBISD Board and their hired representative.
Now that the ceremony has come and gone, FBISD plans to rebury the remains of the Sugar Land 95 in a process that is slated to allegedly take a few weeks to complete. The Forward Times will continue to follow this troubling story to see if the wishes of the community will be honored and whether anyone from the FBISD Board of Trustees will listen to the vocal members of the community who are demanding justice and decency for the Sugar Land 95.