The remains are likely those of people who worked at a plantation through a “convict leasing program” in the late 1800s and early 20th century. Archaeologists estimated the cemetery was used from 1878 to 1910. (To give that some context: The emancipation proclamation was issued in 1863, while the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in 1865).
…The leasing program was a “system in which Southern states leased prisoners to private railways, mines and large plantations,” according to the Equal Justice Initiative. Though states profited from this arrangement, “prisoners earned no pay and faced inhumane, dangerous and often deadly work conditions. Thousands of black people were forced into what authors have termed ‘slavery by another name’ until the 1930s,” the school district continued.
…Between 1885 and 1887, many prisoners worked to build the Capitol building in Austin, while others worked to construct the Texas State Railroad between 1893 and 1909, according to the Texas State Historical Association.
…Out of the 95 burial sites identified thus far, 48 have been exhumed, according to a statement from the school district. All were male but one, archaeologists said. Their ages ranged from 14 to 70 years old.
In addition to finding the remains, archaeologists also uncovered rusted tools and chains laborers likely wore.