Months after a school district in Texas opened a new technical center, archaeologists there made a startling discovery: the long-buried remains of 95 people.
The first remains were discovered in February in Sugar Land, a suburb southwest of Houston. And now officials have learned who these people were – liberated blacks who were forced to work in forced labor camps.
These tombs were underground and untouched for over a century. But the discovery that they were probably the remnants of slaves proclaimed Monday by researchers highlights an era that has been largely forgotten in history – a time when slavery was illegal, but many blacks were still essentially enslaved.
The Sugar Land property is owned by the Fort Bend Independent School District, which builds its new technical school in the country
"It is a remarkable opportunity for our community and our school district to learn much more about the history of our region "Superintendent Charles Dupre said in a statement.
The site's archaeological project manager agrees.
"It's a rare opportunity," said Reign Clark of Goshawk Environmental Consulting CNN. "We'll tell the story of what it's like to live here, work here, and in some cases die here."
How they were found
It started with a hunch.
Reginald Moore became interested in historic cemeteries after working as a prison guard in Texas in the 1
One of its main focuses: getting people to recognize the abuses of Sugar Land's punishment-leasing system in which prison inmates were forced to work  "I felt as if I had a duty to be an advocate to be for her and speak from the grave for these people, "Moore told CNN.
Moore is the janitor of another cemetery in Fort Bend County: the Imperial Farm Cemetery, which is located behind a mall off the highway. Near the cemetery is the school's new James Reese Career and Technical Center.
When last fall the construction of the school in Sugar Land began, Moore told the officials that other cemeteries might be nearby.
"He has documented and provided much information about the history of this cemetery, and has many ideas on where the burials could have been," said Chris Florance of the Texas Historical Commission, who has played an advisory role in the project.
What they found
The bodies were each individually buried wooden caskets. From the analyzed so far, all but one man are men. Researchers say they could be as young as 14 and as old as 70.
They were probably buried between 1878 and 1910, Clark said.
Despite the time, researchers say the workers were malnourished or ill and were exposed to physical stress while they were still alive.
Clark said there was much evidence that they were doing a very hard job, some of which started at a young age.
"We can tell from the condition of the bone and muscle attachment characteristics that these were heavily built individuals, some bones were deformed by mere muscle and work," Clark told CNN.
It's no surprise in Texas
Moore was not the only one who was not shocked at the discovery. Florance said his commission had played a role in the project and knew that such a find could be found.
"It's not uncommon in Texas," he told CNN.
What was shocking was how hard the graves were to be found. The Commission had carried out assessments before construction began, Florance said, but the land has changed so much over the years that it was hard to know there would be something there.
"One of the biggest problems with old cemeteries has gone away the markings – there is no evidence on the surface," he said.
There are 177 cemeteries in Fort Bend County, but there could be up to 50,000 cemeteries across the state. Only 1,706 have a historic Texas cemetery designation
The "Hellhole on the Brazos"
President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of 1860 said that all slaves were free. That does not mean that forced labor did not continue.
After the Civil War ended in 1865 and slaves were banned, the Texas economy went into deep depression. Businesses needed a new form of cheap labor. So they resorted to prisons.
The condemned system was basically slavery. Prisoners were taken out of state prisons and leased to private businessmen who worked the workers as hard as they could for the cheapest price. And the less food, water and shelter these workers have, the less they cost.
"A 14-year-old was 6 feet tall," Clark told CNN. "This population was selected by hand." Sugar Land's economy had thrived on sugar cane plantations, largely based on slave labor. For example, two Confederate veterans, Edward Cunningham and Littleberry Ellis, signed a treaty with the state in 1878 to lease the state's prison population.
The conditions were so bad that the city got a nickname: "Hellhole on the Brazos"  "It had the worst reputation of any prison farm in Texas," said sociologist Richard Vogel of CNN's daughter KTRK.
What happens next
Digging and analyzing all 95 graves requires serious time – probably more than nine months. Value of work.
Each unburial lasts up to two days, plus up to eight hours of cleaning and up to 15 hours for analysis, said the school district. So far, they have dug up 50 graves and analyzed more than 22, Clark said.
Once excavated, a team of forensic archaeologists will search for more information about the bodies, their medical conditions and how they died. After that, the school district will work with the state's state commission to find out where they can be restocked.
Moore wants to get a monument to the group as a form of restitution.
"I speak for those who had no voice then and now," he told CNN. "I felt like I was called to set her free."