Rice University’s New Archive on Texas’ Convict Leasing System

The Woodson Research Center at Rice University in Houston, Texas, has announced that the Reginald Moore Sugar Land Convict-Leasing System Research Collection is now available for researchers. The collection was donated to the university in 2015 by local activist Reginald Moore.

Moore is known for preserving physical proof of the system that routinely leased out prisoners to local plantations and other private landowners such as the Imperial Sugar Company, where they were worked under horrendous conditions. Large numbers of these leased prisoners were African Americans.

History professor Lora Wildenthal, now associate dean of the School of Humanities at Rice University, first met Moore when the activist approached Rice in 2015 about helping out with preservation efforts. The resulting Sugar Land Convict Leasing Project was created by Professor Wildenthal and a team of students under the auspices of Rice’s Center for Civic Leadership’s Houston Action Research Team program. Some of what Moore donated could be found in public records, but much of it — such as commissioned archaeological surveys and reports — was not publicly accessible anywhere else.

The new archive is particularly important given that in April 2018, 95 bodies were found buried on land that once belonged to the Imperial State Prison Farm in Sugar Land. “There could be more bodies out there, and we just don’t know where they are,” said Amanda Focke, archivist at the Woodson Research Center. “It’s not a question anymore.” She hopes that records contained in the collection may lead to more discoveries that shed light on the convict leasing system.

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