Juneteenth tribute to Sugar Land 95; capital campaign for National Museum launched
The event, “Juneteenth proclamation for justice for the Sugar Land 95,” was held at Fort Bend ISD’s James Reese Career and Technical Center, abutting the hitherto unmarked cemetery, on Saturday, June 19.
It was organized by the Society of Justice and Equality for the People of Sugar Land-S.O.J.E.S (sojesjustice.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to seeking justice for the Sugar Land 95.
Robin Cole, a Sugar Land resident and president of S.O.J.E.S., sought “to get justice for the Sugar Land 95, their unimaginable lives of forced labor, and explain why people should never again be subjected to such inhumane and cruel practices that benefitted only a few.”
S.O.J.E.S. believed that the plight of the Sugar Land 95 should be fully revealed, the community needs to be educated and justice for these victims should be won by honoring and memorializing those buried, leading to the healing of the community.
As the remains of the 95 victims still lie in unadorned graves in the grassy field, marked only by flat, black rectangular stones engraved with numbers, Cole announced that S.O.J.E.S. will build a national convict leasing museum and educational center named after the late activist Reginald Moore, to inform the world about the harrowing system of racial oppression that existed in Texas and throughout the South from the late 1800s to the early 1900s.
The museum will be part of “the Sugar Land 95” experience, a collaborative effort developed by SOJES to take visitors through a journey of awareness through education, memorialization, healing and reconciliation between the past and present.
The museum will include examples of slave replicas, prison life and simulate the deplorable working conditions of a sugar plantation, in essence what life was like for the Sugar Land 95.
“We are on a journey for justice,” Cole said and urged the community at large and corporates to contribute to the building of the national museum.
June 19, a day known as “Juneteenth,” is when Texas slaves learned they were officially freed two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
Reminding the audience that the tragic tale of the monumental discovery of the “Sugar Land 95” is far from over, on this historic date, the Sugar Land community group paid tributes to the Sugar Land 95, in a ceremony designed to seek justice for the 95 African American victims who died as part of the state-sanctioned convict leasing system.
Fort Bend ISD’s Chassidy Olainu-Alade, spoke about the importance and relevance of teaching this part of American history as part of the school curriculum.
Helen Graham, Professor of Humanities at the Houston Community College, lead genealogist and co-author of the book “Back to Bondage,” reminded that slavery did not end on the Emancipation declaration or on Juneteenth of 1865, but continued until 1963 in many southern states. Also, the convict leasing program in Texas was another name for slavery, she said.
Elected officials including Fort Bend County Judge KP George, Fort Bend County Pct. 4 Commissioner Ken R. DeMerchant, State Rep. Jacey Jetton, and Sugar Land City Councilmember Naushad Kermally delivered their remarks and presented proclamations. Former Republican Congressman from the area, Pete Olson, was notable among the audience.
State Rep. Jacey Jetton presents a proclamation to the SOJES committee.
Marilyn Moore, wife of the late Reginald Moore, former Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) guard and long-time historian and community activist who sought to tell the truth about convict leasing in Sugar Land, recalled the how passionate he was about the victims of the convict leasing program.
Before the Civil War, Confederate states used slaves to build agricultural and industrial empires. As a result of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, these states no longer had free labor and their economies fell into ruin. Even though the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in 1865, it contained a loophole : “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” This clause legalized a new form of human oppression in which individuals convicted of crimes became enslaved by forced convict labor.
For years, Reginald Moore and others knew that the remains of victims of convict leasing would likely be discovered. And on February 19, 2018, a backhoe operator hired by the Fort Bend Independent School District (FBISD) discovered the first of the 95 human remains on the site of the new James Reece Career & Technical Center (JRCTC). The school district, which had obtained the property previously owned by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice years earlier, halted construction while more remains were unearthed and a decision about their fate made its way through the courts.
Today, the Sugar Land 95’s burial ground is intact. The names and identities of those buried there are not certain and await further DNA testing. The school district is constructing an indoor display of the discovery and history within the school building and beatification of the cemetery.
“S.O.J.E.S. is committed to giving a voice to the voiceless by emphasizing that truth telling is a form of advocating for justice, not only in the past, but also for the seeking meaningful change and real solutions to contemporary issues through education and reconciliation between past and present,” says Anna Lykoudis-Zafiris, vice president of S.O.J.E.S.
“We hope museum visitors leave with the question ‘Where do we go from here?,’ We invite all members of the community, nation and the world to join us in this important journey for truth, honor, justice and healing for the betterment of all humankind.”
Earlier, Pastor David L. Sincere, Jr., a board member of SOJES, delivered the invocation and Will Starkweather of St. Martin’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, rendered the benediction.
Janet Dokes sang the African American National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.
KPRC 2 Television Meteorologist Khambrel Marshall was the master of ceremonies.
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Digital Edition 061921
Vote for your favorite, a la American Idol
Judges have had a challenging task choosing winners in the “Student Spotlights of the Month” talent event, but a total of six finalists emerged to claim their spot in the final competition for top prize.
Winners from the March, April and May rounds of competition, are now competing in the final round of the talent showcase and the community is asked to vote for their favorite talent!
Sugar Land’s Cultural Arts Foundation Youth Board opened the teen talent competition in March to students in grades 9th – 12th who attend Sugar Land area schools. Interested students submitted a 3‐minute video showcasing their art where a panel of judges from the SLCAF Board selected two winners
from the entries each month to advance to the final round and a chance at $450. Those that have advanced to the final competition are now posted where fellow students, family, friends and the community can vote for their favorite performance online – American Idol‐style. Voting ends June 15.
The “Student Spotlights of the Month,” talent competition is part of SLCAF mission to highlight the presence of the arts and culture in the Sugar Land community.
For more information visit Sugar Land Cultural Arts Foundation
Reimagined Fort Bend Museum set to open July 15
A $2 million renovation of the Fort Bend Museum will soon be complete. A ticketed reveal will take place on Thursday, July 15, with the new museum officially opening to the public on Saturday, July 17.
Improvements to the original building encompass a complete overhaul of both the exterior and interior. Architecturally, the new museum matches the look of the historic Moore Home next door, with more windows, higher ceilings, and covered porches flanking both sides of the building.
“Think carriage house next to the main house in a unified setting with an expansive lawn and outdoor courtyard tying everything together,” said Claire Rogers, Executive Director of the Fort Bend History Association.
Inside is where history itself will be reimagined. The museum’s larger and more flexible exhibit space will feature newly designed exhibits telling the story of Fort Bend County in an all-new way. Virtually every aspect of the interior has been changed or added. Hands-on exhibits encourage interactivity. Colorful graphics and nearly life-sized cutouts of historical figures tell the story of the initial settlers right up to present-day development of new communities. The space itself is more than a third larger than before, allowing for a wider variety of displays representative of the diversity of county residents and what brought them to southeast Texas. An open lobby with natural light and a redesigned gift shop will welcome guests upon entering and set the stage for all that follows.
Another unique aspect of the new museum is a flexible design concept in the middle of the space. Here, a series of rotating exhibits can easily be incorporated, allowing for new stories to be added or old ones to be retold in modern-day context. Flexibility also means being able to move these exhibits to the side, opening the space to accommodate seating for presentations, guest lectures, and sit-down dinners.
“In this way, the museum can serve as a community resource “a hub of history so to speak,” said Ana Alicia Acosta, Site Manager.
“We’ll have so much flexibility to offer residents. We like to say you could have your wedding ceremony on the front steps of the Moore Home, step into the courtyard for a cocktail hour, and have a sit-down dinner in the new museum - all without leaving the property.”
The overall project, dubbed “History Rising,” was a true community effort with individuals, foundations, and local companies all stepping up financially to make the dream of a new museum space a reality.
“History really does unite us,” said Keely Knipling, FBHA board member. “It was very gratifying to see all the different people and entities who helped make the dream a reality. We can’t wait to share the finished project with everyone.”
The chance to experience the finished museum will start on July 15, with a special opening night gala. “A History-Making Night” is the theme and guests purchasing a $75 ticket will be the first to step inside. Each of the “New 300” attendees will be featured on a special placard
commemorating the event and their presence as the new museum’s initial visitors. Then, two days later on Saturday, July 17, a free “History for All” event opens the doors for a communitywide celebration where food, music, and history can come together.
To learn more about the opening weekend events and the new museum itself, visit: fortbendmuseum.org/historyrising.
Historic school gym is now “Landmark Center”
The 86-year-old Missouri City Middle School gymnasium, initially destined for demolition, is now a landmark, as Fort Bend County officially unveiled the “Landmark Center” at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on June 5.
Fort Bend County’s Precinct 2 Commissioner Grady Prestage, the man behind the monumental project, led the ceremony.
Exuding a sense of satisfaction, Prestage narrated “the long and arduous journey” that began in 2008, when a group of former students of the school, such as the late Allen Robinson, ex-council member of Missouri City, and late John Ferro, a Stafford resident, approached him to save the building from extinction.
The late Stafford Mayor Leonard Scarcella also attended this school.
While largely preserving the original structure, the renovated community center features a new lobby, basketball rims, mezzanine level on both sides, fitness center, game center, juice/coffee bar, meeting space and a museum.
Acquired by the county from Fort Bend ISD in 2016, Commissioner Grady Prestage led the effort to completely restore the building to its original art deco design as he felt this was an opportunity to save a piece of local history.
Located at 100 Louisiana Street, the gymnasium was built in 1935 as a part of Missouri City High School when Missouri City and Sugar Land had their own school districts.
The two districts consolidated to create Fort Bend Independent School District on April 18, 1959, and Missouri City High School became the new district’s white secondary school.
With desegregation in 1965, black high school students were brought to the building from M.R. Wood School in Sugar Land. Missouri City High School then became Missouri City Junior High School in 1975.
FBISD opened the current Missouri City Middle School behind the gym in August 2008.
The gym building had a small fire and there was vandalism. Consequently, it remained boarded up. The district closed the building in 2009.
Fort Bend ISD, during the tenure of Superintendent Tim Jenney, held a bond election to build the new middle school behind the gymnasium and the district earmarked some funds for renovating the building, but that did not happen.
Proposals for an early childhood center and later, a competitive college basketball and volleyball center, failed to take off.
In 2016, Fort Bend County Commissioners Court voted to take over ownership of the building from FBISD after the district chose not to allocate funding for the renovations.
In 2015, the voter of fort bend county approved a parks bond election. That provided some money to get this project started, Prestage said.
The challenges ahead was to first start with someone who could see this vision.
“So we were fortunate enough have a local architects, Lina & Michael Sabouni of AutoArch, who helped in understanding what could be done in organizing the building, and also not got paid enormously as they get paid for this,” Prestage said.
There were built in bleachers, not needed for a community center and the plan was to take the bleachers down and add a mezzanine level on both sides that would give about 4,000 square feet of usable space.
But, in August 2017, the first day of Hurricane Harvey hit the front factory clock and the roof on both sides collapsed, but the gym remained intact. The beautiful barrel shaped room protected the floor.
When the structural integrity of the building is compromised, the building had to be saved for the public so that the building can last for a number of years, Prestage said.
“We finally figured out, thanks to our architect and the city consultants, a solution to make this building work,” Prestage said.
When the crew decided to take the unsightly ceiling down, a beautiful ceiling with original steel was uncovered and after scrapping the stain , a pristine floor emerged.
There were 54 windows in this building. When air conditioning came around, the school district decided to put bricks and blocked off the windows.
City of Missouri City and Fort Bend County put in through the tax increment investment zone about a million dollars.
The $4.6 million project was carried out by Teal Construction Company, and funded in part through the county’s 2015 facility bond.
Now, it is time for the community to make this center flourish by suggesting programs they want and by doing workouts, holding concerts and recitals, having meetings and promoting fellowship, among the youth, adults and seniors, Prestage said.