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New podcast explores how a cemetery forced a 'sweet' city to confront its history

"Sugar Land," a new investigative podcast series from The Texas Newsroom, explores how the discovery of an unmarked cemetery containing 95 bodies forced the city of Sugar Land to confront its history. It asks why – years after the discovery – these 95 have still not been identified.

By Corrie MacLaggan, The Texas Newsroom

When a construction team was building a new school in 2018 in Sugar Land, in the Houston area, workers discovered something shocking: An unmarked cemetery containing 95 bodies.

The graves dated to the years after the Civil War, when hundreds of Black men were sent to convict labor camps in the area to harvest sugarcane. Activists had warned local and state officials that remains were buried in and around Sugar Land. But officials weren’t looking for them.

“Sugar Land has a dirty little secret, and it ain’t sweet,” says activist Reginald Moore. “It ain’t sweet at all. OK? And we – the people of America – we don’t want to talk about it.”

Who were these people? How did they end up there?

"Sugar Land," a new investigative podcast series from The Texas Newsroom explores how the discovery of this cemetery forced the city to confront its history. It asks why – years after the discovery – these 95 have still not been identified.

The Texas Newsroom is a public radio journalism collaboration that includes NPR, KERA in North Texas, Houston Public Media, KUT in Austin, Texas Public Radio in San Antonio and other stations across the state.

The eight-episode podcast launches June 16, with new episodes to follow weekly. It is hosted by Brittney Martin, an independent journalist based in Houston, and Naomi Reed, an anthropology professor at Southwestern University in Georgetown.

Listen to the trailer and subscribe to "Sugar Land" through KUT & KUTX Studios or any podcast platform.

"Sugar Land" is a production of The Texas Newsroom and was completed with the support of a grant from Columbia University's Ira A. Lipman Center for Journalism and Civil and Human Rights, with funding provided by Arnold Ventures. The podcast also received a grant from the Convict Leasing and Labor Project. The Texas Newsroom received support for "Sugar Land" from FRONTLINE’s Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.