Sugar Land man wants to name streets after first black sheriff, fallen soldier, proposal voted down

A Sugar Land man says he’s not giving up in trying to rename streets in his community after two notable men from Fort Bend County. Currently, the streets are named after plantation owners.

"One is Walter Burton and he was a state legislator and the first [black] sheriff in Fort Bend County," Paul Matthews told FOX 26. "And, the other one is Lance Corporal [Garrett] Gamble who is an Afghanistan soldier who was killed there."

Gamble was also a Stephen F. Austin High School graduate.

Matthews hopes Burton and Gamble will replace the names of two plantation owners on street signs New Territory – a master plan community in Sugar Land.

"These are two individuals I think are worthy of having the street named after them," he added.

But last month, 85 percent of the residents voted the measure down and keep the two streets as is -- Cunningham and Ellis Creek boulevards. 

Edward H. Cunningham and L.A. Ellis owned Imperial Sugar beginning in 1875.

"It represents the two most egregious perpetrators of the convict leasing system," stated Matthews.

He says that also ties the two men to the Sugar Land 95, or the 95 unmarked graves discovered in 2018 in what was once the Old Imperial Central Cemetery. The bodies are believed to be of mostly black men leased by the state to provide convict labor to the sugar fields.

The two streets Matthews wants changed are through streets.

"There are no residents that live on the street. It was probably God sent that it was the through street," he said smiling.

He says that means residents would not have to go through the trouble of changing their addresses.

Matthews plans to do what he can to help his neighbors understand that.

"We have a very diverse community and I think once the information is out I think, they will be on our side," he concluded.

FOX 26 asked the Executive Director of the New Territory Residential Community Association if the measure can be taken up again. He says the petition to change the street names was forwarded to them by the City of Sugar Land, and it would be a question for the city. A spokesperson for Sugar Land says he will have an answer to us early next week to see if the petition can be resubmitted. 

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