Fort Bend Independent School District, Brooke, Douglas Blackmon discussed on The Takeaway

The Takeaway
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Last April in Texas. The fort bend independent school district found the remains of ninety five black Americans while breaking ground on a new technical center in the city of Sugarland. The bodies are over one hundred years old and believed to be the remnants of the state's Jim crow era convict lease program which allowed prisons to lease inmates to work for private companies in the decades after the civil war, but there's a dispute between the school district and some community members over what should be done next this week a county judge ordered to stop the reburial of remains found at the site, pending a full investigation. Joining me now is Brooke Lewis reporter covering fort bend county for the Houston chronicle and Douglas Blackmon the Pulitzer prize winning author of the book slavery by another name and a professor at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Brooke Douglas, welcome to the takeaway having thanks for having us. So Brooke what's at issue here? What's the actual dispute? So I think that the main issue. Is you have a group of community activists who feel really passionate about remains that are buried at a construction site and forth bend, and then you have the school district who is wanting to build a technical center where the remains were found and now it's unclear on where the remains will be moved to the school district wants to move or Maine's to a nearby cemetery. That has a similar history, and then the community activists want to keep the remains at the school district site. Why can't the school be built somewhere else? Brooke I think because this site was funded by a bond that the school district set back a few years ago, and there's money you're marked for this technical center, and the construction has been going on for months now. And a lot of the building frame is already up. And I believe the school district is just set on keeping the technical center there because all. This progress has already been made, and they don't want to have to tear down the construction and find other land to to build a site on. So let's talk a little bit Douglas about some of the history here. The folks that are in this burial site from what we understand were part of something called the convict lease program. Can you tell us what that was the convict leasing system was the way that after the civil war and in some places deep into the twentieth century some places all the way up to the beginning of World War Two the southern states would essentially sell the prisoners in the state prison system and in county prisons, essentially in every state in the south participated in this and prisoners rather than being held in prisons or jails would be turned over to private farmers or coal mine operators or certain of industrial operations, and so what was happening here in this part of Texas which. Since the very beginning of its settlement by Americans moving into what was Mexican territory. This was sugarcane production led and the agricultural work on sugarcane farms is among the most brutal labor imaginable. The labor the way that it was done in those days was absolutely relentless and backbreaking. These men would have been constantly whipped in the fields by overseers using the lash they were chained together when they did this work, and that work was done before the civil war by slaves of the kind that we're familiar with and after the civil war much of it was done by prisoners forced to do this work in a new kind of involuntary servitude..

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