Unearthing Sugar Land’s Past
Anthropology’s Naomi Reed collaborates on a new podcast series.
July 26, 2023
July 26, 2023
In 2018, construction crews made a startling discovery during the initial stages of building a new school in Sugar Land, Texas. Beneath the ground lay 95 unmarked graves, a somber testament to a dark chapter in our nation’s history. The revelation of these graves, which many in Sugar Land had hoped would remain concealed, sheds light on the lives of 95 individuals and exposes a century-long struggle for control.
For more than a decade, Naomi Reed, an assistant professor of anthropology at Southwestern, has immersed herself in research focused on U.S. history curriculum in high schools and racial dynamics in Sugar Land. The discovery of the Sugar Land 95 during this time captured her attention, motivating her to share its significance. She wrote an article for Anthropology News, an esteemed academic magazine, delving into the story of the Sugar Land 95 and the local school district that planned to build a school on top of the gravesite.
Coincidentally, journalist Brittany Martin had also become intrigued by the Sugar Land 95 and, being curious about further developments, kept a close ear to the ground. However, as time passed, she encountered silence. When she came across Reed’s article, Martin felt compelled to reach out. Expressing her fascination with the story and the potential of finding descendants of those buried in the graveyard, she proposed collaborating on a podcast. Thus, their journey to delve into the captivating tale of the Sugar Land 95 began.
In learning about Sugar Land’s past, particularly the presence of Black laborers who played a significant role in the city’s development, Reed said it can be both infuriating and empowering. For many, Sugar Land was perceived as a place where Black people did not belong. However, discovering the historical truth can challenge these perceptions and instill Black students with pride in their heritage. Simultaneously, it offers a perspective to white students, encouraging them to learn about and acknowledge their local history. Unfortunately, the effort to improve school curriculum faces challenges.
“I think it’s important to teach students local history accurately. Not a lot of details about any sort of pain, struggle, or labor exploitation that Black people went through in the creation of Sugar Land is taught,” Reed explained. “I think it’s important to push for a better curriculum, but outside of school, a podcast serves as a free medium to educate people about their history.”
The group responsible for finding the Sugar Land 95 descendants has remained secretive about their efforts. As a result, the podcast has taken matters into its own hands, using publicly available resources such as ancestry.com to identify these descendants and discover additional names that may belong to those buried in the area. While the school district and the hired group’s stance on the matter remains unclear, Reed and Martin reveal the names of three descendants and the existence of multiple graveyards.
As people become aware of the neglected state of the cemetery and the absence of DNA testing, pressure is mounting to address the issue. Reed said unveiling the identities of the descendants has the potential to impact how the remains are legally handled. If those featured in the podcast choose to assert their rights regarding their ancestors’ remains, the school district’s attempts to sweep the matter under the rug could become more complicated.
“Sharing this information can foster new consciousness among listeners, particularly young people, countering the suppression of Black history,” Reed remarked. “Though the outcomes are uncertain, we hope increased awareness leads to positive changes. The empowerment of the descendants is a primary goal, supporting their wishes and ensuring that they receive the respect and justice they deserve.”
The podcast aims to bring about positive change and hold those in power accountable for acknowledging and addressing this significant historical discovery. Finally, it is crucial to honor the legacy of Reginald Moore, a local historian and activist who initiated the journey of discovery of the Sugar Land 95. His dedication and efforts were instrumental in exposing this story and emphasizing the importance of recognizing and preserving the history of those who came before us.
Presented by the Texas Newsroom, Sugar Land, an eight-episode podcast, is now available for streaming with new episodes on Thursdays. You can listen to the series on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or any other platform where you access your favorite podcasts.
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