Haunting as Agency
A Critical Cultural Landscape Approach to Making Black Labor Visible in Sugar Land, Texas
Keywords:Black geographies, urban planning, cultural landscapes, sprawl, suburban landscapes, labor
This paper contextualizes the most recent discovery of 95 forgotten graves of incarcerated laborers at a public school construction site within ongoing tensions around public history, race, and development in Sugar Land, Texas, a Houston-area bedroom community. Unearthed along with the graves is the state’s long history of Black labor exploitation, from enslavement to convict leasing to employment with Imperial Sugar. In this article, I engage the haunting of Black laboring bodies in the landscape from the perspective of both that of a researcher and former resident of Fort Bend County confronted with the purposeful forgetting of Black geographies, bodies, and lives. I expose through critical analysis of government documents, online digital exhibits, maps, photos, and autoethnographic recollection of the area, the haunting of Black laboring bodies in not only the site of burial discovery but also two sites within the Sugar Land cultural landscape: Mayfield Park and the Imperial Sugar Refinery. I argue developers and government agencies perpetuate a mythic local history that, until the discovery of the 95, allowed them to disassociate itself from Sugar Land’s history of Black labor exploitation before its incorporation as a city. The 95’s haunting allows for an inventive awareness of the Black laboring bodies and thus redefines the cultural landscape rooted in plantation logics as a Black geography. I conclude with a discussion of the ways Black laboring bodies’ haunting creates a space for a critical cultural landscape solution.
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