The Society of Justice & Equality for the People of Sugar Land - S.O.J.E.S. - is united in its dedication to causes of social justice and equality... starting with convict leasing and the Sugar Land 95.
JUNETEENTH PROCLAMATION FOR JUSTICE FOR THE SUGAR LAND 95 A HUGE SUCCESS
More than 250 people attended S.O.J.E.S.'s inaugural community tribute to the Sugar Land 95 at FBISD's James Reese Career and Technical Center on Saturday, June 19. It was a spectacularly diverse and glorious public debut for S.O.J.E.S., which announced plans to build a museum and educational center on the sacred site of the Sugar Land 95. Learn more here.
The discovery of the Sugar Land 95 through the construction of a Fort Bend ISD high school 2018 exposed a state-sanctioned system many people had never heard about: Convict Leasing.
In short, convict leasing was a new form of slavery. It involved the forced labor of mostly African-American men in conditions so horrendous the majority of its victims died within two years of entering the system.
Yet, as S.O.J.E.S. strives to memorialize and educate our community about convict leasing, its members often hear this statement:
They were prisoners, weren't they? They committed crimes. Why should I, or anyone, care about their situation?
Our response is simple: The convict leasing system was wrong. It was outrageous and inhumane. It benefitted only a handful of people at the expense of thousands of human lives. It was riddled with abuse and atrocities... just like or worse than slavery.And we must educate others, learn from this system to heal as a community, and do all that we can so it never happens again.
S.O.J.E.S. believes, as a community, it is imperative that we all do the difficult work of confronting our history of racial injustice. Our painful, yet candid connection with history shapes our present and helps build a future embedded in justice.
To be sure, Texas was not the only Southern state to practice convict leasing. The system can be traced as far back as the 1840s in Georgia, according to Digital History. Below is how the Equal Justice Initiative explains the evolution of convict leading in Texas and the South:
"After the Civil War, convict leasing persisted because Southern states leased prisoners to private railways, mines, and large plantations. While states profited, prisoners earned no pay and faced inhumane, dangerous, and often deadly work conditions. Thousands of Black people were forced into what authors have termed “slavery by another name” until the 1930s.
The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1865, prohibited slavery and involuntary servitude, but explicitly exempted those convicted of crime. In response, Southern state legislatures quickly passed “Black Codes” – new laws that explicitly applied only to Black people and subjected them to criminal prosecution for “offenses” such as loitering, breaking curfew, vagrancy, having weapons, and not carrying proof of employment. Crafted to ensnare Black people and return them to chains, these laws were effective; for the first time in U.S. history, many state penal systems held more Black prisoners than white – all of whom could be leased for profit.
Industrialization, economic shifts, and political pressure ended widespread convict leasing by World War II, but the Thirteenth Amendment’s dangerous loophole still permits the enslavement of prisoners who continue to work without pay in various public and private industries. As recently as 2010, a federal court held that 'prisoners have no enforceable right to be paid for their work under the Constitution.' " ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Society of Justice & Equality for the People of Sugar Land - S.O.J.E.S. - believes it is important to become a necessary catalyst in propelling our community to bravely confront the unknown truth about our past local history of racial oppression and exploitation from slavery to convict leasing to segregation, through a creatively and cohesively proposed organized collaborative effort located on the sacred burial grounds including a cemetery (a final resting place), memorial park with monument, educational center and museum (with both indoor and outdoor learning exhibits) called The Sugar Land 95 Experience.
References and sources: Mintz, S., & McNeil, S. (2018). Digital History. Retrieved (May 29, 202) from http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu Equal Justice Initiative: https://eji.org/news/history-racial-injustice-convict-leasing/
The Society of Justice & Equality for the People of Sugar Land | 5826 New Territory Blvd. #711, Sugar Land, TX 77479 | email@example.com