State representative proposes millions in reparations for families of inmates in Sugar Land cemetery

Fort Bend County Commissioner's Court and Fort Bend Independent School District have agreed to maintain the land where 95 black prison inmates were found under a construction site in Sugar Land. Now, a state representative wants the family members of those inmates to be compensated.

They were a part of a convict leasing system where inmates were contracted to perform cheap labor across the state. State representative Ron Reynolds has filed legislation proposing that Texas pays $95 million in reparations to the descendants of the inmates. Each inmate's family would receive $1 million, which would come from the state's general revenue for the rainy day fund. 

To be able to identify the remains and locate families, part of the legislation would allow the Texas Historical Commission to perform DNA testing on the inmates. 

Rep. Reynolds is hopeful about winning bipartisan support for the initiative.

"I'm optimistic. Texas has a moral responsibility because Texas sanctioned this, which was modern-day slavery by another name," he said. "These folks were human beings that were forced into labor, and the state of Texas benefited from it."

The bodies were found on land that was to be the construction site for a new Fort Bend ISD school, each placed in an unmarked grave.

"I think historically, we have to realize that this took place after the Emancipation Proclamation and after Juneteenth," said Kofi Taharka with National Black United Front. "It was a way for the state and private companies to figure out how they could re-enslave people to use that free labor."