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Bodies of 95 black forced-labour prisoners found in US

UNEARTHED: The site of the mass grave (Image: Fort Bend School Independent School District)

THE BODIES believed to be those of 95 black Jim Crow era forced-labour prisoners have been discovered in Sugar Land, Houston.

What is today a Houston suburb was home to sugar cane plantations and prison camps during the time of Jim Crow.

Black male prisoners were loaned out by the state authorities to work for plantation owners. Some were worked to death on the plantations, according to records.

Archeologists have discovered the mass grave of 95 bodies at the former Imperial State Prison farm site.

There was no indication from the ground that the burial site, where the skeletons laid just two to five feet below the earth, existed, according to reports.

The tireless efforts of one man to uncover the truth and the building work for a new school on the grounds led to the skeletons being unearthed. Reginald Moore, a local historian and African-American who had spent many years researching the fate of the prisoners, alerted the Fort Bend Independent School District (FBISD), which is planning to build on the site, to the possibility that human remains could exist on the grounds.

“I felt like I had to be a voice for the voiceless,” Moore told the Washington Post.

Back in April, Charles Dupre, the FBISD superintendent of schools, said: “We appreciate the Texas Historical Commission for their expertise and guidance through the process, as well as Mr Reginald Moore, whose passion for honoring our history brought to our attention the possibility of archaeological artifacts in the general area. We recently invited Mr Moore to tour the site, and we are all anxiously awaiting more information once exploration is complete.”

In a statement released yesterday, the FBISD said: “The exhumation and onsite analysis is a methodical and extensive process. Each exhumation takes approximately 36 to 48 person hours per grave, followed by four to eight hours for cleaning and an additional 12 to 15 hours for analysis.”

Dr Catrina Whitley, a bioarchaeologist and lead anthropologist for the exhumations and analysis at the site, said: “All of them are male, except for one female of the ones that have been analysed so far.

“They’re ranging from five feet, two inches to six feet, two inches in height, and anywhere from 14 years of age to 50 to 70 years of age.”

The findings have been described as “completely rare” by one archeologist.

Reign Clark, archeological project manager for the excavations, told the Washington Post: “This place was almost truly lost to history.

“Considering who owned the property and what the property was used for throughout time...it would be 10,000 to 1 that it’s not the convict-lease cemetery.”

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