Claims of racism and slavery in Sugar Land 95 report questioned

SESHADRI KUMAR
The Bulkhead Camp Cemetery, known as Sugar Land 95, now part of the history curriculum in Fort Bend ISD schools, has been portrayed as a symbol of racial injustice.

“The data helps create a precise timeline for the use of the site as a forced labor campus and increases our understanding of the brutal treatment and unimaginable conditions that caused the death of the men buried at the Bullhead Camp Cemetery,” according to a report published by the Fort Bend ISD.

Not so fast, says a local history buff, Leon Anhaiser, born and brought up in Sugar Land, who has intimate knowledge of the historic sugar mill.

In a research publication honoring the Sugar Land 95, FBISD has published a report titled “Back to Bondage: Forced labor in post-reconstruction Texas.”

The report includes some profound conclusions based on bio-archaeological analysis of the Bullhead Convict Labor Camp at the site of the James C. Reese Career and Technical Center campus.

Based on the research data contained in the report, Anhaiser challenges several conclusions of the researchers. He concludes that they are unsubstantiated and the data in the report does not establish that the camp was “another form of slavery that lasted for nearly 50 years past the end of the Civil War.”

Some of the claims in the report disputed by Anhaiser are:

(1) “It was not uncommon for Black men to be arrested for minor crimes, given overinflated sentences or even convicted on false charges.” “Vagrancy statutes – laws penalized individuals or homeless- brought about increased incarceration of newly freed black people…. set the stage for the discriminatory Jim Crow Laws”.

(2) After the Civil War (under Federal Military Marshall Law) the state of Texas was broke and the economy destroyed, “to offset costs of maintaining the prison, lawmakers explored ways to make it (prisons) more self-sufficient.”

(3) “Anglo convicts were sent to wood cutting camps of East Texas and Hispanic convicts were sent to work on the railroad. Black convicts were sent to cultivate crops – primarily cotton and sugar cane. Often the same plantation from which they were freed only six years prior.”

(4) “Black people made up 50 to 60 percent of prison population during the convict leasing period 1871-1911”

(5) “From 1880-1910 the number of inmate population varied from 57 to 387.” Actually 1879-1909.

(6) “Brutal treatment and unimaginable conditions caused the death of the men buried at the Bullhead Camp Cemetery”.

The research report shows 74 men were buried here, with one man not a prisoner, and two men buried at the Old Imperial Cemetery. Also, it was “impossible to name any individual buried at the Bullhead Camp Cemetery.”

It should be noted that only 10 escaping convicts were killed over the 30-year period or an average of one in 3 years, an astonishing low number, considering how many convicts were housed at Bullhead Camp over the 30-year period.

Had conditions been so terrible, it seems more escapes would have occurred. Working in agriculture fields presents more chances to escape than in confined prisons, says Anhaiser.

The record shows 26 convicts died within two months of arrival indicating that convicts with poor health, heart problems or other illness were sent here, where a doctor was present and a cemetery was located. That was 37% of the deaths over 30 years.

This indicated poor health upon arrival. Total deaths of 2.37 per year for the 30-year period and, excluding those killed while escaping, it was only 2 per year.

Life expectancy at this time was about 39 years of age. The cause of death, listing illnesses, does not support the claims of abuse as alleged, according to Anhaiser.

Sugar cane was planted in the spring, January to February, and only every two years. Two crops were harvested per one planting. Harvesting was in the fall/winter from November to January. These were the cooler months of the year to work in the fields. This means that there was 7-8 months for the cane to grow with little or no labor required.

Anhaiser concludes that there is no data to indicate that the production of sugar cane was the primary cause of deaths.

Prisoners in this camp convicted of crimes were from 43 different counties, and only two were from Fort Bend County during the 30-year period. One would expect a large number of Black convicts from this county considering the large Black population in the county.

The data does not support that the legal system during this period continued to support the slavery system.

In fact, the length of sentencing for attempted murder, burglary and theft were within responsible or even lenient terms. Again, the types of offenses and numbers do not support the FBISD claims that Jim Crow laws in the camp continued slavery.

Bullhead camp only had Black convicts and that was for a reason. Separation of ethnic groups was known to reduce gang formation and fights between prisoners. It was common to bury groups by religion preference and ethnic choice for hundreds of years.

The FBISD report does not call the Anglo and Hispanic convict camps a condition of slavery, unless there is evidence to suggest that only the black prisoners were treated differently.

The data does not support any of the accusations made by the authors of this report that this was a continuation of slavery as the Anglo and Hispanic convicts were purposely separated to different work camps, accounting for the concentration of Black convicts in the Bullhead Camp.

The causes of death in the report do not suggest brutality, nor does the number of deaths, two per year, suggest malnutrition and brutality.

The reason for convictions like murder, theft and arson does not prove the claim that the Blacks were routinely arrested for minor crimes or that it was an application of Jim Crow laws to continue slavery. Nor does the conviction in 43 different counties support accusations of Jim Crow laws.

Anhaiser says, “The FBISD report completely ignores victims. The physical and emotional harm to the victims, victims’ family and victims’ friends could be devastating. Victims suffered enormously during the crimes and later in fear of the convicts returning after their sentence was completed to cause more harm. Nowhere does the FBISD report condemn the violent criminal actions on the victims or harm to the victim’s family. FBISD should spend the same amount of time to identify the victims and victims’ families to give them an equal chance to tell their stories of their physical and financial damages.”

Back to Bondage

Total Buried 74

TOTAL COUNTIES REPRESENTED 43

County List and Deceased per County

County Deceased County Deceased County Deceased

Fort Bend 2 Fayette 5 Bastrop 3

Wilson 1 Roberson 1 Washington 5

Jefferson 1 Travis 1 Cherokee 1

Jackson 2 Lavaca 6 Guadalupe 3

Anderson 1 Lee 1 Caldwell 1

Houston 2 Wood 1 Trinity 1

McLennan 2 Dallas 1 Dewitt 2

Colorado 2 Grimes 1 El Paso 1

Walker 1 Casa 1 Austin 2

Harrison 1 Smith 2 Webb 1

Rusk 2 Panola 2 Bandera 1

Grayson 1 Galveston 1 Milam 1

Liberty 1 Burnet 3 Brazos 1

Harris 2 Bexar 1 Burleson 1

Lamar 1 N/A 1





ILLNESSES REPORTED

ILLNESS: No.

Pneumonia 10

Sun Stroke 9

Accident 6

Escaping 10

Heart 6

Malaria 6

Diarrhea 4

Lungs 8

Dropsy/

Fever 10

Other 2



LIST OF CONVICTED OFFENSES



OFFENSE: No.

Murder Attempt 14

Burglary 22

Theft 25

Rape/Sex 3

Arson/Forgery/

Financial/Perjury 7

None 1