The Old Imperial Farm Cemetery sits in the sprawling suburban town of Sugar Land as a symbol of the city’s past, present and future. The cemetery is the resting place of 31 convict workers, a space surrounded by iron fences and decaying barbed wire. Freedom still eludes these prisoners, even in death. It hosts figures like Fred Carson and Taylor L. Odom, men who died while trying to escape. Their graves are marked with cracked head markers, eroding names and inmate numbers. It’s their final resting place, sinking into the dry ocean of the Texas heat.
It’s a cemetery whose importance is hidden in its history. Specifically, that of convict leasing. Convict-leasing was a system of chattel slavery enacted post civil war. The South lost its access to free labor and created in its stead, a cheap, unregulated labor market to sustain itself. Soon after its creation, African Americans, particularly men, were arrested for minor offenses like jaywalking or not following town and county curfews.
Legal officers convicted these men of felonies then sent them to labor camps. The South found its new labor source. The Imperial Prison Farm story is one regarding Fort Bend County and the state of Texas at large collaborating to build a system of labor on the backs of prisoners. According to the historic marker in place, the private prison was founded in 1878 post civil war due to area plantation owners struggling to work the fields and the mill. The owners, years later, formed Sugar Land after the convict lease programs were financially successful. Soon after the state of Texas emulated this success across the state creating successful towns and areas of business and commerce based around the labor and revenue generated from prison labor. For Reginald Moore the steward of the Old Imperial Farm Cemetery he believes the city of Sugar Land , Fort Bend County and the State of Texas owe the men and women who are interned in this sunken prison. “Sweat equity… “he said These guys wrongfully incarcerated for trumped up charges and they have sweat equity in this land that they should be compensated for this. “ These people and their descendants should have some type of compensation, some type of apology, some of restitution, recognition and reparation of some sort for all the sweat equity they put in. They brought Texas out of a destitute situation, out of the Civil War and all the companies that benefited from the exploitation of these men and women .
Moore believes that the labor of the inmates should be compensated by the State of Texas Department of Corrections whose leasing of the workers to private entities and municipality rebuilt Texas and created billions of dollars in infrastructure and private construction.
Moores battle to save the true history of Sugar Land and Fort Bend County has extended into the council chambers . To this day he has not received real agreements in writing on the preservation of the historical sites and finds.