Honeyland Festival Honors Sugar Land 95 As Celebration Starts

The Honeyland Festival, a sprawling two day affair held from Nov 11-12 in Sugar Land, TX opened up on Nov 9 with an acknowledgement of the Sugar Land 95.

The Honeyland Festival, a sprawling two-day affair held from Nov. 11-12 in Sugar Land, TX, held a special acknowledgment of the Sugar Land 95 on Nov. 9.

The Sugar Land 95 refers to a mass grave containing the remains of 95 African Americans–94 men and 1 woman–found in 2018 at the location of a construction project in Sugar Land. According to the Houston Chronicle, it was important to both the festival organizers and Fort Bend county leaders that the history of the city be accurately told. 

Precinct 4 Fort Bend County Commissioner Dexter McCoy told the Chronicle, “The whole purpose of this festival is to celebrate Black culture. We can’t do that in this space without also honoring the Sugar Land 95. It was very important to invite them into the space because they are very much a part of who we are in Fort Bend County.”

McCoy continued, “Our ancestors were slaves who came here. And we also know in this community, the first Black sheriff of the nation came from here. The first Black state representative in the state of Texas came from here in Fort Bend County. Let us never forget where we came from.”

Sugar Land has been deeply involved in discussions about how to properly honor the individuals who died as a result of the State of Texas’ practice of convict leasing. Convict leasing was essentially slavery by another name, according to a 2021 article in the National Institute of Health. Convicted criminals, who were often Black and targets of racist laws called Black Codes, were turned over or “leased out” to private individuals to perform whatever labor they desired. 

Organizers of the festival expect it to draw thousands, and its expansive lineup includes Mary J. Blige, Jazmine Sullivan, Chloe Bailey, and Miguel, among others. Central to the festival’s appeal is its focus on Black culture. In addition to the music, the festival also celebrates Black art, food, and spirits. The Honeyland Fund, which was created to endow funds to Black creatives, has invested $1 million as part of the festival.

Fawn Weaver, Honeyland’s beverage curator, spoke to the Chronicle about how Black innovators in the mixology scene have not received their just due.

Weaver said, “Honeyland puts the focus on our whiskey or bourbon — things that we began — our cocktails. It’s never really been celebrated as it should. So much of what we drink in this country in terms of cocktails began with African-American bartenders.”

Staci Hallmon, vice president of Arts and Entertainment for IMG Events as well as an organizer of the festival, told Texas Standard about her motivation for choosing the Houston suburb to host the festival.

“Houston was so intentional for us in developing a destination for a Honeyland,” Hallmon said. “One, it’s one of the top five culinary destinations in the country. There are a significant number of black-owned restaurants and black-owned food experiences there across the board. And we’re working with so many of them.”

Hallmon capped her remarks by complimenting the diversity found in the Houston area, saying, “So, we’re celebrating all of that as a part of this experience and really bringing it to the center and making it an important part of the narrative of how culturally rich and diverse this area is and why it’s the perfect destination for us to mount our inaugural Honeyland experience.”

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