Black Laborer (264895)

Workers at a Sugar Land, Texas, construction site have unearthed 95 bodies possibly the late 1800s or early 1900s that officials believe are Black laborers. According to Fox News, the remains are likely those of people who worked at a plantation through “convict leasing program.” Archaeologists believe the cemetery was in use from 1878 until 1910. The leasing program was a “system in which Southern states leased prisoners to private railways, mines and large plantations,” according to the Equal Justice Initiative. Though states profited from the arrangement, “prisoners earned no pay and faced inhumane, dangerous and often deadly work conditions. Thousands of Black people were forced into what authors have termed “slavery by another name” until the 1930s. “You could get three years of hard labor for nothing. [The leasing program] was a way of getting African-Americans into the system so plantation owners could have cheap labor,” Ken Brown, a professor of anthropology at the University of Houston, told Fox News. Brown specializes in African-American archaeology. The finding is “extremely rare” if the archaeologists’ hypothesis is correct, he added. “They were really doing a lot of heavy labor from the time that they were young,” Catrina Banks Whitley, a bio archaeologist analyzing the exhumed bones, told the New York Times. In fact, between 1885 and 1887, many prisoners worked to build the Capitol building in Austin, while others worked to construct the Texas State Railroad between 1893 and 1909, according to the Texas State Historical Society. “The skeletal modifications could relate to lives they had as slaves,” Brown said, though he noted there’s a possibility the bodies could also be those of once slaves-turned freedmen who were placed in a public cemetery after they died. Out of the 95 burial sites identified thus far, 48 have been exhumed, according to a statement from the school district, which is building a technical college on the site. All were male but one, archaeologists said. Their ages ranged from 14 to 70 years old. In addition to finding the remains, archaeologists also uncovered rusted tools and chains laborers likely wore. Officials said they plant to rebury the remains at a different location.