Texas Rep. Ron Reynolds has introduced six new bills in a push to honor 95 victims of convict leasing whose bodies were found in graves near a Fort Bend Independent School District construction site.
The bodies were found about a year ago, each in its own casket. Researchers believe that the remains belonged to freed Black people who were forced to work in convict labor camps.
Reynolds noted that many southern states, Texas included, enacted “Black Codes” laws that only applied to African Americans to trap them in the criminal justice system as a way of bypassing the 13th Amendment, which prohibited slavery but made an exception for those convicted of crimes. These “Black Codes” prosecuted Black folk for perceived infractions such as loitering, breaking curfew, or not carrying proof of employment, ABC13 notes.
Texas would then “lease” out prisoners as cheap labor. And by cheap, that meant that the prisoners received no pay and were forced to work under brutal conditions—essentially slavery by another name. ABC13 notes that more than 3,500 prisoners in Texas died between 1866 and 1912 when convict leasing was finally outlawed.
Reynolds’ bills seek to honor the legacy that these laborers had to endure through education, and also offer some justice by administering reparations to their descendants.
Through his legislation, Reynolds calls for replacing the Confederate monument in the state capitol with a plaque honoring the legacy of the 95 souls who were buried in Sugar Land. He also seeks to have a study done to unveil the legacy of convict leasing in Texas, as well as create a museum to educate the public on the history and legacy of the practice. He has also called for some $95 million in reparations to the descendants of the Sugar Land 95.