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Sugar Land 95's descendants deserve a voice

We came across this 2012 piece in the New York Times that offers some interesting perspectives on the treatment of unidentified remains: Determining a Final Resting Place for Unidentified Remains.

This article specifically deals with the unidentified remains of individuals who died in the September 11th terror attacks. But it resonates deeply with the stories of the victims of convict leasing, 95 of whom were found in Sugar Land in 2018.

From Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh, curator of anthropology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and an expert on the repatriation of Native American skeletal remains,

Over the last two decades, we have learned that with human remains, the most important stakeholders are the descendants and the best way to resolve conflict is through open and respectful dialogue. These lessons would recommend that the 9/11 museum start consultation by writing a letter to all of the victims’ families on this issue, holding a series of forums exclusively for them and inviting them to take a principal role in the decision.
This work will be hard but imperative. ... But more than offering a quick fix, the mere process of dialogue will demonstrate respect and an acknowledgment that curators do not have exclusive power over the dead. The families should be given the chance to give consent — to exercise their rights as kin.

From Thomas Lynch, a funeral director in Milford, Mich., and the author of several essay and poetry collections:

The impulse to regard the victims of 9/11 as somehow belonging to all of us is an honorable and natural one. They were our own. But the dead of that horrific crime belong first to their families, who have, after all, been brutalized not only by the murder of their family member but by the act that commingled their death with the disappearance of their physical being.

How very similar to the families of individuals who were kidnapped, convicted of fictional or greatly exaggerated charges and worked to death as virtual slaves in camps far removed from their homes.

There are sites available, such as the repository at the UT-Austin Texas Archaeological Research Library that could store the remains in a climate controlled vault while descendants are being located. Has the district even considered that possibility?


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