Texas officials are investigating after a mass grave with what’s believed to be the remains of nearly 100 African-American prisoners was unearthed during construction in mid-April.
The property, owned by the Fort Bend Independent School District, is now considered an active archaeological site as scientists work to carefully exhume and preserve the human remains, local station WFMY News reported.
Construction has been permitted to resume at the site where the unmarked graves were uncovered almost three months ago. The Fort Bend ISD has been working to complete its project, a $59 million career and technical center, while the exhuming process continues.
“My understanding is that this was the largest previously undiscovered gravesite in the state,” Kim Icenhower, of the Sugar Land Heritage Foundation, told the station.
According to CBS News, the remains are thought to be those of Black prisoners dating back over a century. Local historian Reginald Moore said he believes that a mix of prisoners and sugarcane plantation workers are buried beneath the community of Sugar Land, Texas. He said the enslaved workers were likely tied to land by plantation owners that paid Texas for labor contracts after slavery ended.
“I just want to be spokesperson for them and make sure that they get some type of recognition and acknowledgement,” Moore told KHOU.
He added that it’s likely there are other sites buried in open fields and under homes spanning the Sugar Land area.
Moving forward, local residents say the burial site should be handled with care.
“If they’re going to develop something, they should have some respect for what might’ve been there before,” one woman said.
So far, archaeologists have unearthed artifacts at the site as well, including what appears to be a pole barn.